Home Course in Religion Analysis

Gary Soto

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Home Course in Religion,” a long narrative poem, does not adhere to a specific rhyme or rhythm scheme. Instead, this prose poem relies on a variety of structural devices to provide unity. As with many of his other poems, Gary Soto is more concerned with creating and conveying an image with short, tight lines and direct, succinct diction than he is with rhyme and rhythm. For example, Soto consistently juxtaposes two seemingly ordinary, terse words (such as “Top Ramen” and “cereal bowl”) that together reinforce the reality of the persona’s poverty, a poverty that influences his every action: “I was living on Top Ramen and cold cereal.” The socioeconomic concept of poverty and its resulting oppressiveness is pervasive in the poem. Building on this sense of poverty, the poem, written in the first person, allows Soto to create a persona whose view of the world and whose experiences are very similar to his. Thus, the poet speaks directly to and intimately with the audience, conveying an experience that is immediate and authentic.

The poem universalizes the archetypal journey of an eighteen-year-old college student as he struggles to find the “quiddity,” or essence, of his life. As the title “Home Course in Religion” implies, the student undertakes his introspective journey by turning to religion. He begins by reading “a really long book” that “ought to be read by anyone/ Who has had a formal or home-study course in...

(The entire section is 529 words.)

Home Course in Religion Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Soto defines himself as “an imagist, one who tries to provide a stark, quick image.” His definition could well apply to the prominent images and metaphors he creates in “Home Course in Religion.” Although he employs biblical allusions, ambiguities as a rhetorical device, and irony, Soto relies on central images and metaphors to convey the physical, psychological, and spiritual hunger of the young man.

Soto directly addresses the physical hunger the young man and his brother experience as they exist on Top Ramen, crackers, and cold cereal, which he eats in his Top Ramen bowl. Occasionally, the brothers are treated to “oranges that rolled our way” or peanut butter that the narrator’s girlfriend gives them. Soto’s continued, matter-of-fact references to these images resonates and heightens their emotional impact. By understating the multifaceted deficiency, the author explicitly conveys a deep sense of hunger that is reinforced when he says, “People with big cars don’t know how much it hurts.” This hunger precipitates the young man’s spiritual quest as a means of abating, or at least understanding, his pain and suffering; therefore, he begins reading religious books.

After trying to understand the content of one of his religion books, the young man plays basketball to “get the air” back into his brain. At first, the image of “air” conveys a positive, vibrant, life-affirming quality. When juxtaposed with...

(The entire section is 564 words.)

Home Course in Religion Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Blasingame, James. “Interview with Gary Soto.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 47 (November, 2003): 266-267.

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Patricide and Resurrection: Gary Soto.” In Chicano Poetry: A Response to Chaos. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.

Candelaria, Cordelia. Chicano Poetry. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Cooley, Peter. “I Can Hear You Now.” Parnassus 8, no. 1 (1979): 297-311.

De la Fuentes, Patricia. “Mutability and Stasis: Images of Time in Gary Soto’s Black Hair.” American Review 16 (1988): 188-197.

Murphy, Patricia. “Inventing Lunacy: An Interview with Gary Soto.” Hayden’s Ferry Review 18 (Spring/Summer, 1996): 29-37.

Olivares, Julián. “The Streets of Gary Soto.” Latin American Literary Review 18 (January-June, 1990): 32-49.

Soto, Gary. “The Childhood Worries: Or, Why I Became a Writer.” Iowa Review 25 (Spring/Summer, 1995): 104-115.

Williamson, Alan. “In a Middle Style.” Poetry 135 (March, 1980): 348-354.