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Caramelo

Caramelo is a 2002 novel by American author Sandra Cisneros. It was inspired by her Mexican heritage and childhood in the barrio of Chicago, Illinois. The main character, Lala, is the only girl in a family of seven children and her family often travels between Chicago and Mexico City. Because Cisneros also has six brothers and her family moved frequently when she was a child, the novel is semi-autobiographical. The novel could also be called a bildungsroman, as it focuses on Lala's development from childhood onward. It was shortlisted for the 2004 International Dublin Literary Award.

Characters in Caramelo

Celaya (Lala)- The narrator, and self-appointed family historian, Lala tells the story of the extended Reyes family, including a rich explanation of her parents' marriage and the surprising tale of how her "Awful Grandmother" (Soledad) met and married her "Little Grandfather" (Narciso) in Mexico. The history is so different from previous versions Soledad has told her family that Lala is often interrupted by her "Awful Grandmother" in order to correct Lala's version. As the youngest child and only daughter of seven children, Lala feels overshadowed by her brothers and unappreciated by her mother.
Inocencio- Lala’s father/Zoila's husband. The favored son of his mother, Soledad, Inocencio is nicknamed "el Tarzán" by his family, after he unsuccessfully swings from a tree and breaks both of his arms as a child. His fatherly affection and understanding of Lala is contrasted with a shameful, secretive nature that unravels itself as the story progresses. He runs an upholstering business with his brothers, but often disagrees with them about quality and passion for the furniture they agree to produce. Because of this, the Reyes upholstery business is only moderately successful.
Zoila- Lala’s mother/Inocencio's wife. Logical and careful, a sharp contrast to her mother-in-law. Zoila is not religious and doesn't trust anyone who says they are. Frugal and strict with her daughter, Lala often mistakes Zoila's nature as cruel. While her sons regard their mother as perfect, Lala questions her mother's love and passion for life. Their relationship seems to mirror the one between Aunty Light-Skin and Soledad.
Soledad (Awful Grandmother)-At first presented as a meddling, old-fashioned, superstitious woman who favors one son over her other children, the second part of the story uncovers the painful reasons Soledad governs her family the way she does. Orphaned by her mother at eleven, her father handed the responsibility of raising her to a disinterested aunt who already had many children. Soledad's story with Narciso begins when she moves in with his family as a live-in servant. Happiness will find her when Inocencio is born, and she remains fiercely protective of him, seeking to be a greater influence over her son than even his wife, Zoila. Lala's narration is blisteringly honest, and often Soledad weeps as she breaks in to correct her granddaughter. In part three, she moves in with Inocencio and Zoila's family, where the narrator by telling about Candelaria. She is just generally unpleasant and brings the people down around her, but she has a strong relationship with Celaya it seems.
Narciso (Little Grandfather)- Husband of Soledad, former military soldier . As a young man in Mexico, he fell in love with a glamorous performer, who did not return his affections. In turn, he generally views Soledad as a wife that is good, but not one who holds his heart. In an effort to connect with his grandchildren, he calls them "his troops" to reconnect with a feeling of camaraderie.
Rafa (Rafael), Ito (Refugio), Tikis (Gustavo), Toto (Alberto), Lolo (Lorenzo), Memo (Guillermo)- Lala's brothers, sons of Inocencio and Zoila. All older, stereotypical men with machismo habits and rationale. Lala feels alternately outnumbered and entertained by them.
Uncle Fat-Face (Federico) and Uncle Baby (Armando)- brothers of Inocencio- their nick-names given to them by Soledad, even though they have outgrown them. The Reyes brothers work together in the upholstery business in Chicago. Every summer, they take their families on a caravan trip down to Mexico.
Aunty Light-skin (Norma)- Inocencio's sister, who sometimes interrupts part of the narration. She relates to Lala because they both feel undervalued.
Antonieta Araceli- Aunty Light-Skin’s daughter by the man whose name shouldn’t be mentioned.Caramelo pida pelo.
Amor and Paz- daughters of Uncle Baby and Aunty Ninfa.
Eleuterio- Father of Narciso, married to Regina. Left his family in Spain and went to Mexico. Impregnated Regina, then fled back to Spain. Returned later and married her. A friend to Soledad and supposedly influences Narciso to marry her after she gets pregnant.
Regina- Narciso’s mother. She loves him very passionately. She makes most of the income selling things at flea markets. When the war breaks out, she gets very rich by basically becoming a trading post, specializing in cigarettes.
Candelaria- Daughter of washerwoman. Not a large role in the novel, but her presence seems to infiltrate the whole thing because she is Inocencio's child out of wedlock.
Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron- Uncle Fat-Face and Aunty Licha’s children. Named after people she finds in her horoscope.
Ernie (Ernesto) Calderon- A good catholic boy that is friends with Celaya’s brothers. They get romantically interested and run away together, but Ernie ends up choosing his mother over Celaya.
Exaltacion Henestrosa- Exotic woman who Narciso falls in love with while married to Soledad. She then leaves him for a female singer in a traveling circus, Panfila Pal

Plot



Each summer, Celaya (Lala) and her family return to her grandmother's home in Mexico City. At the house, Lala meets Candelaria, the maid's daughter, who she secretly admires for her beauty and her "caramelo skin" that is almost too pretty to look at. The Awful Grandmother, having chased out the renters to make room for her family, controls everything from the family's activities to what will be served for dinner, as the Little Grandfather looks on. As the narrative unfolds, Lala starts to understand how her dysfunctional family members became the way they are. One by one, the members of the family reveal pieces of their life that helped shaped their personalities: Narciso lived in Chicago for a time, where he fell in love, but was injured in the war and had to come home; after Soledad's mother died, she has cherished a silken rebozo but has never truly been loved, other than by her son; Aunty Light-Skin had an affair with an unnamed movie star. One by one, secrets are exposed, the cruel ones that usually wreck a family. Through it all, Cisneros illustrates how the ties between families are similar to those that bind the ancient silken rebozo. The rebozo (shawl) is central to the story, as it is a caramelo, not especially the most valued or sought after color of scarf, but the rebozo is the only thing that Soledad has that belonged to her mother. The symbolic shawl parallels familial relationships, perhaps not the first choice or the most beautiful, but even in dysfunctional relationships, families can maintain a culture of interconnected relationships.