Anna In The Tropics Summary

Nilo Cruz

Anna In The Tropics

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Anna In The Tropics Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz.

Nilo Cruz’s play Anna in the Tropics won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2003. It is set in 1929 in the Ybor City region of Tampa, Florida, the center of the cigar industry. The cigar making industry was brought to Florida by Cuban immigrants in the nineteenth century. In addition to the traditional techniques involved in the long days of hand rolling every cigar in the factories, there was a less-known tradition also common among the workers. In the factory would be a reader who was eloquent and well dressed. The reader’s job was to read to the workers as they went about their daily business. Readers informed and entertained the laborers into the 1930s when both the workers and the readers were replaced by modernization.

As the play opens, the owners of a cigar factory, a Cuban-American family, are expecting their new reader, Juan Julian, to arrive at any time. Santiago is the head of the family. Santiago and his wife, Ofelia, may be argumentative, but they seem to be content with their lives. They have two daughters, Conchita and Marela. As is the tradition, Juan has been hired to read to the workers as they roll cigars for hours on end. The family is happy to have him, but their enthusiasm soon wanes as he begins reading the classic Russian novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The scandal filled lives of the characters in Tolstoy’s book resemble situations in the lives of the workers listening to Juan read about them.

It is an oppressively hot summer in Florida. While it might seem the opposite would be true, the effects of the heat on people is similar to the effects of the oppressively cold winter in Tolstoy’s Russia. Problems related to family relationships, financial issues, and violence emerge, and Santiago’s family deals with life and relationships. His daughter Conchita’s husband, Palomo, has been involved in extramarital affairs, while Conchita, Palomo discovers, is in a relationship with Juan Julian. Santiago’s half-brother, Cheche, whose wife ran off with the previous owner of the factory, is attempting to wrestle control of the cigar factory from Santiago. Santiago, meanwhile, has fallen deeply into debt with gambling losses.

As Juan reads to the workers from Anna Karenina, Marela, Conchita, and Ofelia all become taken in by his voice and the passion of the story. Cheche chides the women for falling under the spell of love stories and suggests that having a reader will lead to a tragic love story at the factory. The men are not enthralled by the novel, but for the women, it prompts discussions of love triangles and has Conchita reflecting on her own life. They wonder if there is a value in having dreams. When later Conchita confronts Palomo about his mistress and Palomo offers her a divorce, she responds that she would rather take a lover. He blames Anna Karenina for giving her such ideas.

The second act of the play opens with the sound of Juan reading a passage from Anna Karenina where Anna’s inner feelings are being explored. Conchita and Juan make love in the factory, and he tells her he would like to meet her at a hotel. As they are talking, they hear Cheche arguing. He has workers gathered around him and, as part owner of the factory, demands that he be listened to. He is talking about other factories and of how they have adopted automated technology which he says ultimately is necessary for the factory to continue and not be trapped operating in the past. The need for readers in factories is also debated. Events continue as Juan persists in reading passages from the book reflecting the lives, or the states of mind, of characters in the play. The climactic Anna Karenina and Anna in the Tropics “crossover” comes at the end of the play.

Juan is reading aloud a passage from Anna Karenina in which a duel involving Anna’s husband is being discussed. As this is being read, Cheche enters with a gun and shoots Juan. Days later at the factory, the silence from Juan’s absence is deafening to Ofelia. She suggests that perhaps they should continue reading from the book, which Palomo agrees to do. As he reads from a section about Anna’s husband and a decision he reached, Palomo looks at Chochita and reads, “In his letter he was going to write everything he’s been meaning to tell her.”

Much like in Anna Karenina, Santiago and his family meet with a tragic end. The New York Times wrote of the play, “Mr. Cruz has created a work as wistful and affectingly ambitious as its characters. Anna in the Tropics reaches for the artistic heavens—specifically, that corner of eternity occupied by the plays of Anton Chekhov, where yearning is an existential condition.”