In the Name of Salome: Mother and Daughter Forever
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Julia Alvarez’s novel “In the Name of Salome” weaves together the life and spirit of Salome Urena, and her daughter, Salome Camila, through a journey of political turbulence in the Dominican Republic. Throughout her life, Salome describes the chaotic days of rebellions and the calmness of transitory peace between political powers. The book trails the history of the Dominican Republic through Salome, voiced through her daughter Camila, whose history weaves together her mother’s life and her country’s unrest, finally bonding mother and daughter together posthumously.
The novel begins in the 1960s with Camila trying to tell her mother’s story to her best friend Marion. Rich in imagery, the novel transcends time by linking the history of the Dominican Republic to the life of Salome. Utilizing a wide variety of themes, Alvarez takes readers through political rebellions, love and family, and reveals the pains and battles of education and self-identity. Alvarez crosses the bridge between the past and the present, incorporating poems and letters to tell the women’s stories. In using this form of storytelling, Alvarez brings the women’s different life experiences together, connect time, place, and characters into the politics of their country, the emotions of love, and the journey of self-discovery.
One of the themes of the novel is the difference of political struggles and war with the inner struggles and oppression Salome and Camila experience. The ongoing political struggles for power were not understood by the Salome, a mere girl at the time. She only knew that “one side was red and the other side was blue-color being the only way we could tell one side from the other, though both sides said that whatever they were doing, they were doing for la patria” (13), despite the fact that no one could explain la patria when she asks. Spending many days in a hole under the house, fearful of what was happening in their very own streets, is an experience that connects mother and daughter, both hiding within themselves, afraid to reveal who they are to the outside world. The weight of war forces most of the Dominicans to live in a destitute state, seeking ways out of their own motherland.
None are more demoralized than the women, who, like Salome, simply bow their heads and conceal themselves until they find their way out through writing, education, or self-discovery. By writing poetry under a pseudonym, Salome finds a way to share and release what she holds inside, until she feels comfortable enough to write under her own name. This is how she speaks to the people of her country, giving hope and building a firm groundwork to stand upon. Salome wins the respect of the people of the Dominican Republic by offering an opportunity, through her poetry, to actually attain freedom. In pursuing the dream of peace by stepping away from her boundaries as a woman, she takes the chance to educate young girls in reading and writing, offering a better path for other women, a path she herself went down thanks to her radical mother and Tia Ana.
It is through Salome’s poetry that Camila crafts her own path of breaking free from her ho-hum daily life, as well as her less-than-stellar history. Through self-discovery and uncovering her own passions for her country, learning about her mother’s history, and finally coming to terms with being the daughter of a highly-respected, distinguished mother, Camila learns to accept herself and subsequently finds her own freedom. One display of this transition in life is when she decides to pose for Domingo, a man commissioned to sculpt a bust of her father. Domingo has been told that she resembles her father and comes to her door, stuttering yet charming. In a bold move that goes against her characteristic modesty and quiet reserve, she agrees to meet up with this strange man and work closely with him for the next few weeks.
Nestled in the midst of the tones of political rebellions and inner struggle are those of love and betrayal. The love for family, country, and other human beings, whether man or woman, are relationships both mother and daughter struggle to understand. They long to know what love for another means, a curiosity burdened by failed romances. And if part of that love is betrayal, can love overcome everything else? Salome asks a dear friend, “Is love stronger than anything else in the world?” (259).
Suffering from the pain of loss through death and betrayal, both women find consolation in love for each other that makes everything else bearable; when Salome is suffering the worst of her consumption, it is in Camila that she finds her strength. It is through experiencing love that they gain an understanding (though understandably not an acceptance) of what life has to offer. Their everlasting love and devotion to one another and a better la patria overcomes the boundaries of time and brings the reader into their lives as well.
Keeping the spirit of Salome Urena alive is another theme addressed in In the Name of Salome. Because of the way the story is structured and alternates between the lives of the two women, Salome is very much alive throughout much of the novel. It is, however, when Camila’s life becomes more entangled in her mother’s as she tells the story of the famous poetess that Salome’s energy and spirit transcend time, keeping her memory thriving and vivid. Alvarez revitalizes Salome through her striking and descriptive imagery; giving the reader a full view of the country, its people, the daughter Salome loved so deeply, the characters, the emotions, and the experienced oppression.
[indent]Still, as she walks home, she cannot forget the indifference in their voices, the casualness of their dismissal. Everything of ours-from lives to literature-has always been so disposable, she thinks. It is as if a little stopper that has contained years of bitterness inside her has been pulled out. She smells her anger-it has a metallic smell mixed in with earth, a rusting plow driven into the ground (39).[/indent]
It is this descriptive imagery that keeps readers turning the pages, hoping to find the ultimate unification of a separated-yet-deeply connected mother and daughter, country and people, true freedom and expression. Even at the end of the book, the story is not done; it has not been told in full. Nothing was resolved and the world was not vastly changed. However, the voice and spirit of Salome has been kept alive by the power of words and love, transcending time.