In the opening line of Hunger for Memory, Richard Rodriguez states, "I have taken Caliban's advice. I have stolen their books." Is he admitting guilt over some sin at this point or is he invoking a muse for his writing?
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This powerful autobiographical account of one man's journey from humble Mexican beginnings to educational acclaim is one that highlights the position of ethnic groups in a world that is dominated by white American English speaking individuals. Rodriguez, in the opening remark quoted in this book, identifies himself as Caliban, the pitiable character from Shakespeare's The Tempest who lives in an enslaved state thanks to Prospero and Miranda. However, what Rodriguez has done is to metaphorically "steal" the books of those who are in a position of power over him, through this act learning the same knowledge and information that gives white Americans such power over his own people. There is no sense therefore in which this is an admission of guilt, but rather Rodriguez is simply stating his strategy for moving upwards in society.
Education is one of the key themes of this book, and although there is a certain ambiguity to the feelings of Rodriguez regarding the benefits that education has brought him, it is undeniable that he recognises that education has given him a voice in order to talk about his own life and the difficulties he has experienced. This book talks very openly about how he feels that education has made it more difficult to talk to his parents, as he occupies such a different world. Although he identifies what he has lost, he also clearly talks about what he has gained in being able to articulate his position:
If, because of my schooling, I had grown culturally separated from my parents, my education finally had given me ways of speaking and caring about that fact.
Thus this Caliban-like figure has been able to better himself through the "books" that have given him an education. Even though there have been some negatives as a result of this process of change, the positives clearly outweigh the negatives. There is nothing of a confession in this opening remark therefore, and Rodriguez simply uses Caliban as an apt metaphor to describe his process of moving upwards in the world.
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