Dreaming in Cuban and the Non-Linear Narrative: The Role of Narrative Structure in Works of Fiction by Women Writers of the Twentieth-Century

Sadaf Ayaz Professor Yelizaveta Shapiro Eng 32000-02: Multi-ethnic American Literature 20 August 2017

Similar to choosing to write a story in the first-person point of view or in the second- or third-person point of view, choosing between a linear and non-linear narrative is an important decision for a writer. While non-linear narratives are often used to complicate a story and provide new emotions to readers which cannot be achieved through a linear narrative, for women writers it serves a whole different purpose.

I believe Garcia’s decision in write Dreaming in Cuban with a non-linear narrative rooted from a deeper intention than a gripping unwrapping of the plot. Like many twentieth-century women writers, Garcia’s decision to tell a non-linear narrative was made to question the limited roles of female character and to empower women. In this paper, I will be using the different elements of Garcia’s novel in conjunction with the analyses of twentieth-century women writers in contemporary fiction to see the relation of the non-linear narrative of Dreaming in Cuban with Garcia’s intention of reframing the narrative of women through fiction, and the overall importance of the manipulation of storytelling techniques of women writers for the feminist movement to create an active reading experience that is meant for change in thought. 

Specifically, in the case of Garcia’s novel, the non-linear narrative played a significant role in unraveling elements like history and politics, culture, and character personality alongside the general plot of her novel. To delve deeper into the subject towards an analysis of the relation of the above mentioned elements with the non-linear narrative and Garcia’s intentions to empower the female fictional character, I have divided my paper into three different sections. In the first section, I will be discussing Garcia’s use of multi-voiced narratives to further the non-linear plot. In the second section, I will be discussing the role of non-linear plots in rewriting the history of female characters. In the third section, I will be discussing the use of nonlinear structuring to create a sense of the broken and unstructured framework of the narratives of women in literature and history.


Garcia’s use of multi-voiced narratives served as a clever tool to move her non-linear narrative forward while simultaneously creating an underlying psychological message for the readers.

Multi-voiced narratives were used in an unconventional manner in Dreaming in Cuban. Not only does Garcia focus on multiple characters’ narratives by dedicating sections to different characters to highlight their perspectives, but she also uses multiple point of views in her narration. She skillfully avoids a narration pattern and certainly disregards general laws of multi-narratives and perspectives in novel-writing by not sticking to a singular voice in point of view as she jumped from character to character. At time she uses the first-person point of view for characters like Pilar and Ivanito and third-person omniscient and limited for characters like Celia, Lourdes, and Felica. 

In doing this, she adds multiple layers to both her story and characters. These added layers of unconventionalism in narration create a complexity that in of itself tells a larger story.

In context to Garcia, her complex format of narrating her story shows an underlying truth in the way society works in how it views women in comparison with what that individual may think and feel about themselves. 

This is the first place where we can immediately see Garcia’s direct use of non-linear narratives for a feminist intention. She’s not only giving her characters a chance to reclaim their narratives but also helps the reader empathize with others. 

In Writing Beyond The Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-century Women Writers Rachel Blau Duplessis writes about the role of women writers in going against the tide in terms of narrative and story structure to reframe the lives and expectations of women. In essence, explaining the thought process of many twentieth-century women in their writing style. “It is the project of twentieth-century women writers solve the contradiction between love and quest and to replace the alternate endings in marriage and death that are their cultural legacy from nineteenth-century life and letters by offering a different set of choices. They invent a complex of narrative acts with psychological meanings, which will be studied here as ‘writing beyond the ending.’” (Duplessis, 4)

Like the twentieth-century women writers Duplessis discusses, Garcia’s decision to use a complicated format of perspective mixed with multi-voiced narratives created a complex narrative act that held a psychological meaning. By going against the tide and writing a story which has a format that goes against general novel-writing rules, Garcia is already setting the tone very clearly: this novel is meant to break all the societal stereotypes and baggage that women carry leading to a predefined life. This novel is meant to redefine the cultural legacy of women in Cuba, and by using the non-linear narrative she is able to actively prepare her readers for what is ahead.

Moreover, by choosing the various decisions to unravel the stories of characters through different perspectives, Garcia was able to expand her horizons of unwinding her plot in a non-linear fashion. She was able to not only show the different character’s opinions on other characters, but also gave the characters a moment to justify their actions. Starting with the generally preconceived notions of a character in the eyes of society and then placing questions for the reader to wonder where their judgments could falter. For example, Garcia’s character, Lourdes, was portrayed with multiple shades. We didn’t just see Lourdes as a mother, but Lourdes as a daughter, Lourdes as leader, Lourdes as an innocent girl who was violated, Lourdes as a woman who was fearful, Lourdes who hated her country, Lourdes who was loving. 

In doing this, the non-linear narrative was a very effective tool that further strengthened the psychological meaning of society’s views on people, especially women.


Although in order to rewrite history through fiction, Garcia used elements of multiple voices to forward her non-linear narrative, I believe it is important to focus separately on the subject of the use of a non-linear plot and it’s effectiveness in writing a woman-driven story. 

In an interview of Garcia with Scott Brown for A Conversation with Cristina Garcia for A Reader’s Guide at the end of the novel, Garcia confirmed her use of multiple characters to write history specifically in relation to history of the Cuban revolution. She says, “I realized I wanted to create very specific characters and chronicle their obsessions, while at the same time explore the trickle-down effects of the Cuban revolution on their lives and relationships. I also wanted to focus primarily on women. So much of history is written by and about men. I hoped to explore the more personal repercussions of a big political event.” (Garcia, 250)

History is often written by men highlighting other men and their beliefs and actions. By creating a novel that primarily held the narratives of women, Garcia challenged the writing of history by prioritizing the differing thoughts of women in Cuba and the hand they had in the revolution. By showing the dedication to the revolution from the perspective of Celia and Lourdes’s grave hatred for it, we were able to see the perspectives of women.

Through a non-linear narrative, Garcia is best able to share why the opinions differ so much and why at times it is difficult for others to understand the factors that influence a belief of a character. In a way, exposing all the things that aren’t often mentioned in the history of a revolution or a war. Through Lourdes, we first saw a character who seemed to have hated her country and didn’t want to even discuss the revolution which continued around the same time as we saw Celia’s incredible dedication to it.  However, as the story progresses, we get to see why Lourdes’s past that took away part of her freedom and self impacted her decision. We got to see an insight of all the women who were violated and silenced during the war–the opportunities the soldiers had gotten because of the revolution that were probably rarely discussed in the history of the Cuban Revolution, were addressed in a way that had a lasting impact.

Moreover, it is through a non-linear narrative that Garcia is able to unravel Lourdes’s character along with Celia’s opposing character to show the multiple shades of personalities created because of the revolution and all the factors that are revealed a layer at a time to answer the questions of readers rather than feeding them everything straight through. This is an effective strategy in that Garcia is able to actively engage her readers in getting them to question the elements of history beyond just understanding the details. She makes her readers question the dramatically opposing beliefs of these women, and when the past is revealed as a memory that still haunts a character like Lourdes, we are able to feel her loss and understand the hidden layers that make her the woman we witness in the story. 

At one point in the novel, Garcia, through the thoughts of Lourdes, talks of the unfortunate reality of the meaninglessness of the history that is often not recorded but has affected the lives of many–especially women. “What she fears most is this: that her rape, her baby’s death were absorbed quietly by the earth, that they are ultimately no more meaningful than falling leaves on an autumn day. She hungers for a violence of nature, terribly and permanent, to record the evil. Nothing less would satisfy her.” (Garcia, 227) Through this very vulnerable thought of Lourdes, we see the importance of hearing the alternative history. 

It’s also important to note that should Garcia had included the scene in a linear fashion, the depth of the effect of the disappearance of history, of Lourdes’ history, would not have been the same. A linear narrative would’ve required a focus on the events moving forward and events that lead to that moment which would’ve been unnecessary and useless to the point of the scene. The non-linear narrative created an active engagement of readers with the text by creating a focus of the scene therefore making the memories and thoughts relating to it clearer.

Ellen Cronan Rose in American Feminist Criticism of Contemporary Women’s Fiction  backs this thought through her discussion of the relationship of readers’ with a text and their reevaluation of their “perceptual constructions” by reading of hidden moments of a particular scene or character that are slowly revealed in the literature, in a way making readers realize the alternative lives of real people in their lives. 

This active engagement of the reader, after being realized, creates a greater understanding of how limited history and the unfortunate yet very innate characteristic we often are prey to in taking people for face value. Through reading the multiple perspectives of characters and their respective understandings of each other and moments in their lives, we were able to see the effect of history on them–the side that of the disappears from textbooks documenting the encounter of the moment of history.

With her decision to explore the “trickle-down effects” of the revolution, the non-linear plot gave way for more questions and answers. While a linear narrative would’ve told a story in sequence, like most content documenting history, it would’ve lost the flare of seeing exactly how time and events affect the characters. By allowing readers to explore characters in their current mindset while providing an insight into their past then allowing the characters to move forward, Garcia enables readers to focus on the specific elements and events that created the trickle-down effect that caused the growth and struggle in the character. 

One of the key arguments presented by Rose in American Feminist Criticism of Contemporary Women’s Fiction was derived from a citation of a quote by Wolfgang from her novel The Act of Reading: “interaction between narrative schemata and lived experience … by which readers, as well as writers and characters, identify new possibilities for women’s lives” (202). Rose uses this citation to make the argument that works of fiction by writers like Garcia bank on the relationship of readers with text. By using a non-linear narrative to unscramble her plot, and essentially revealing the political history of the Cuban revolution, we’re able to see the wrongs and rights it has done for different characters. In showing the different eras of the revolution in stark contrast to each other using the non-linear narrative structure, Garcia is able to nail the differing moments of history and their affects on women.

Moreover, in her essay, Rose examines the concept of experience through the lense of women writers and what it means for female writers to write about them. Because literature and history has primarily been written by men, it has often presented limiting or negative images of women if women were included in the stories. By doing the complete opposite by creating parallel romantic stories to show the effect of the revolution on the relationships of the characters, Gracia provides an alternative history in which men are the victims of limited and negative connotations in the account of the revolution. This connects back to Duplessis’ explanation of “writing beyond the ending” in which she explains the notion of women using complex narrative strategies to create psychological meanings. Like her use of multi-voiced narratives, Garcia’s deliberate decision to not include the perspective of the men in the novel (aside from Ivanito who is only a young boy), highlights the subtext of a women-driven document of history through fiction.


The last focus of this paper is the use of the broken base of a non-linear narrative structure to show the overarching broken and unstructured framework of women in history. By providing bits and pieces of the stories of multiple characters through the novel in conjunction with her use of varying perspectives to narrate the stories of these characters, Garcia’s novel is hard to read and in a sense visually broken apart.

Like Duplessis’ previously mentioned note of women writers using structure and framework, the non-linear narrative creates resistance through telling. It’s not merely a taste of characters like Celia, Lourdes, and Felicia and their historical moments never documented but the multiple stories like theirs that weren’t.

By creating a work of fiction that directly challenges this by only telling broken pieces of a multiple characters, it is resisting against the documentation of history while also setting the new standard: the defining narratives of men that define history must be documented alongside the narratives of women because they matter and they too have paid a sacrifice.


Non-linear narrative was important for Dreaming in Cuban to create room for the subtext of the recreation of history by proving alternative voices in terms of politics, culture, and religion. Whether the use of multiple voices as a partner tool, or the significance of developing a story that retold history along with showed the broken nature of history overall, a non-linear narrative accomplishes much more than what a linear narrative could’ve in stories of edited history. A linear story would’ve taken away the significance of this rewriting by forcing the writer to focus on the stories of men who had already been documented in history. A non-linear narrative with multiple characters brought special attention to the topic and forced readers to see the parallel stories that often were different from the generic written history through multiple lenses. Almost questioning the reader’s knowledge of history.

In conclusion, we can see Garcia’s decision to write a novel with a non-linear plot rooted from a desire that many twentieth-century women writers from different ethnicities hope to do: transgressing against the box female characters are limited to and showing society a new side to the role of women. Specifically in the case of Garcia by inventing her own rules of sharing the stories of her characters through a non-linear narrative, and also by making readers question history as it is written by unraveling it in a non-linear fashion. 


Duplessis, Rachel Blau. Writing Beyond The Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-century Women Writers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Print.

Rose, Ellen Cronan. American Feminist Criticism of Contemporary Women’s Fiction. The University of Chicago Press (Winter, 1993): Accessed Web. 13 Aug. 2017.

Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980 

García, Cristina. Dreaming in Cuban: a novel. New York, Ballantine Books, 2017.

Leave a Reply

Free SSL