The poem’s italicized epigram consists of two place names, Ciudad Trujillo (now known as Santo Domingo, a port city in the Dominican Republic) and New York City, along with the date 1960. This important information sets the stage for the exile experience in terms of time and place. It becomes apparent, then, that the poem will consist of adult recollections of childhood memories, and the use of direct address to the persona’s father, who never speaks, reveals the close relationship that the two share. His name, Papi, is repeated six times in the poem, reinforcing his importance in the persona’s life as well as his preeminence in the family, thus evoking a great sense of loss as the poem develops to reveal his metamorphosis into an uncertain outsider in his chosen land of exile.
Dramatic contrasts such as the images of the family’s homeland compared with New York City, the father’s fall from knowledge to uncertainty, and the expectation of the vacation at the beach that is promised compared with the false beach scene that awaits the persona and her father in the reality of New York all demonstrate the conflicting nature of culture shock and its unnerving effects on newly arrived immigrants. The inner conflicts faced by those in exile from their homelands are further developed by the repeated use of water imagery to reinforce the struggle of the immigrants to resist submersion in their new culture. They must adapt and learn to navigate the deep,...
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The poem “Exile” by Julia Alvarez dramatizes the conflicts of a young girl’s family’s escape from an oppressive dictatorship in the Dominican Republic to the freedom of the United States. The setting of this poem starts in the city of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, which was renamed for the brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo; however, it eventually changes to New York when the family succeeds to escape. The speaker is a young girl who is unsophisticated to the world; therefore, she does not know what is happening to her family, even though she surmises that something is wrong. The author uses an extended metaphor throughout the poem to compare “swimming” and escaping the Dominican Republic. Through the line “A hurried bag, allowing one toy a piece,” (13) it feels as if the family were exiled or forced to leave its country. The title of the poem “Exile,” informs the reader that there was no choice for the family but to leave the Dominican Republic, but certain words and phrases reiterate the title. In this poem, the speaker expresser her feeling about fleeing her home and how isolated she feels in the United States.
The poet uses four line stanzas or quatrains, and this is a narrative poem because the speaker tells a story. The speaker seems a little odd in a way because she does not know what is happening; “Worried whispers” (6) is an alliteration, and it also symbolizes the speaker’s anxiety. Both her uncle and father do not tell the truth to the speaker, instead they “Sugarcoat” it. This is similar to Emily Dickinson’s poem “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” because the children might get scared if they learn the truth right away. In the line “What a good time she’ll have learning to swim,” (11) the poet again emphasizes how adults lie to children so they do not hurt them. The speaker feels as though her parents are lying to her; however, she just trusts them because she believes that what adults do cannot go wrong. Also, “A week at the beach so papi get some rest” (15) sounds as if the speaker’s father has to leave the Dominican Republic because he is some kind of danger.
The speaker struggles throughout the poem because she is leaving everything she has known behind, and she is going to a new land that she knows nothing about.
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“My arms out like Jesus’s on his cross,” (22) illuminates her faith in religion and family and how it helps her to stay positive. “Stroke by difficult stroke” is symbolizes the speaker’s family’s escape, and it again stresses how much the family is struggling. The poet uses an alliteration in “Dark, deserted” (37) to create the mood of fear. The family struggles with the fact that they have to leave their country, and “Your eyes scanned the horizon” (40) suggests that the family is trying to remember their country for one last time. When they go the new land, New York, the speaker feels isolated in her exile, especially when she sees a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, and her father has to explain that it part of the “genetic code”. “Superimposed, big eyed, dressed too formally” (63) is a good example of imagery that accentuates the speaker’s feeling of isolation through being exiled.
Throughout the poem, the speaker faces hardships from her exile to the United States as if it is learning to swim and then swimming and on and on. Even when the speaker goes to the United States, she still feels as trying to stay afloat because she does not fit in the culture of America. The speaker’s state of mind is revealed when she states “All night in fitful sleep, I swam” (38). Nevertheless, the poet ends the poem with the hopeful ending. “Eager, afraid, not yet sure of the outcome,” (68) illustrates that the speaker is willing to face challenges.