How does Richard Rodriguez establish his character and moral nature in the opening paragraphs of "Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In the opening paragraphs of his essay “Aria” (from his book Hunger of Memory), Richard Rodriguez establishes his character and moral nature in a number of different ways, including the following:

  • By opening the essay by focusing on himself as a small child, Rodriguez immediately wins some sympathy from most readers, who are more willing to listen to a child than to an already-opinionated adult. We are naturally curious to hear about this child’s experiences and what the child learned; we might be much less curious to read about an adult’s views, which might already be written in stone.
  • By emphasizing his childhood experiences, Rodriguez presents himself as somewhat vulnerable and uncertain. Most readers will be able to recall their own first experiences with school and will thus be interested in hearing how Rodriguez’s experiences resembled and/or differed from their own. They will be able to “identify with” Rodriguez the child more readily and willingly than with Rodriguez the adult.
  • By quickly implying his opposition to bilingual education, Rodriguez intrigues, leading us to wonder why he is adopting this point of view.  He thus implies that he is willing to take – and defend – a position that might be unpopular in his own community. He thereby suggests that he has an independent mind – that he thinks for himself and doesn’t necessarily take “expected” positions.
  • By emphasizing that his parents felt different from their Anglo neighbors but were not intimidated by them, Rodriguez implies something about his own character: he admires his parents, he shares some of their values and attitudes, and he is not the sort of person who feels any need to toe any particular line but is capable of appreciating non-conformance of various kinds.
  • By presenting himself and his parents as persons who, in a sense, stand between two groups, feeling no pressure to submit to either, Rodriguez implies the independence and self-reliance both of himself and of his parents. He therefore leads us to expect a book that will honestly express unpredictable opinions. He implies that he shares the courage and autonomy he admires in his parents.
  • By implying that he values education more than he values any narrow group identity, Rodriguez suggests again that he is capable of thinking for himself and that he is willing to do so.
  • By expressing his opinions forcefully, he suggests that he must speak out, even at the risk of offending some readers, as when he responds to the ideas of those who favor bilingual education:

I hear them and am forced [emphasis added] to say no: It is not possible for a child – any child – ever to use his family’s language in school.

This quotation implies that Rodriguez has a strong sense of what is right: he will say what he thinks is right even if doing so proves unpopular.  This quotation also creates a sense of paradox and intrigue: how can it possibly be (we wonder) that no child can ever use his family’s language in school?  Rodriguez, of course, will explain later, but for the moment he has certainly intrigued his readers.



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