Thursday, August 12, 2010

Second Lives by Daniel Alarcón

“Second Lives” is the oil / water separation between starting a new life and being tied to an old one through family responsibility. Families hold the key to our history and ultimately to our identity while starting a new life forces us to adapt and reinvent ourselves. The two situations never blend but remain separate leaving the main character to abandon his family in the middle of a revolution and a neighbor to leave his wife to the neighborhoods ridicule of her situation.

The main character illustrates this idea through his older brother, Francisco’s whos first letters describes the weather as a bather might notice the pools temperature while not committing to dive. Then by the fourth letter, immersed in his new life “he omits to ask the family how they are instead focusing the content on his developing social life at school.”

Then a again a few line down the main character notes “We did eventually get a photo of the few American friends Francisco acquired in those first months, and perhaps this could have clued us in about his eagerness to move on.”

The name of the family Francisco stays with is, Villanueva, means new house. Francisco who no longer shares his family’s experiences, instead lives in a new house, with a new family, in a new culture. The word “new” itself seems to imply a relacement of that which can now be considered old which in his case is his past, his family, his origins.

Francisco having completely acclimated to his new life continues to move from area to area even though this makes it difficult for his parents and brother to get their visas through him enabling them an escape from a difficult revolution. The main charactuer surmises that Francisco’s attitude must stem from him wanting to forget where he had come from in order to be american. After all, this is what the Villanueva’s children were attempting in their refusal to learn the Spanish language and which was stressed again when they warned Francisco immediately upon his arrival that they didn’t speak his language even though their father was Spanish and a Spanish teacher.

The younger brother soliloquizes that he understands the need to have a second life which he compares to peoples interest in avatars and virtual realty. He himself imagined an American life for years bolstered by his brothers experiences, and pictures as well as through his attempts to learn American culture.

Then their was another character that underwent this transition as well. The neighbors husband who left his wife to live with a mistress is another way of starting a new life. The writer draws out the treachery the wife suffers of being left behind which forces her to evaluate how well we know each other and perhaps who we really are.

She asks the mother “where are your people from?” then she continues “How well do we know each other, really, Monica? Do I know what you do?”

In the end, we comprehend this need to adapt and shed an old life but we are torn because we also cannot help but feel compassion for those left behind just like the little brother who hurt and bitter attempts to forget Francisco but fails.

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