Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodríguez is a memoir that explores Richard Rodríguez’s coming-of-age in an America that challenges him to understand what it is to be a Mexican American and what it is to be a Catholic in America. At the heart of this autobiography is Rodríguez’s recognition that his is a position of alienation, a position that he accepts with resignation and regret. As the title of this collection of autobiographical pieces suggests, he remembers his early childhood with nostalgia, while acknowledging that his coming-of-age has resulted in his displacement from that simple, secure life.
The most critical aspect of his education and his development of an adult self is language. He explores his first recollection of language in the opening essay, which describes his hearing his name spoken in English for the first time when he attends a Catholic elementary school in Sacramento, California. He is startled by the recognition that the impersonality and public quality of this announcement herald his own adoption of public language—English—at the expense of his private language—Spanish. Rodríguez has begun to be educated as a public person with a public language.
This education, as he recalls it, occurred before the advent of bilingual education, an event that Rodríguez soundly criticizes. In his view bilingual education prevents children from learning the public language that will be their passport...
(The entire section is 473 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Richard Rodriguez, in his autobiography Hunger of Memory, recounts how his education has led to both benefits and losses. Rodriguez had acquired a first-rate Catholic-school education in the white suburbs of Sacramento, California, which allowed him to pursue higher education with all of the adequate scholarly preparation that most Mexican American youth are not afforded. The social and personal costs of this education, however, have been high.
Rodriguez’s education cost him his connection to his culture and family. Although this loss had been painful, he adds, it also gave him entrée into American society, which is what his parents had always wanted for him.
The autobiography is divided into a prologue and six chapters. Each chapter, an essay both personal and political, also focuses on a theme and follows a loose chronological telling of Rodriguez’s education. In the prologue, Rodriguez states the purpose of writing the book: to document the history of his schooling. He also affirms that the autobiography is about his Mexican heritage and about the way language has determined his public identity.
In chapter 1, “Aria,” Rodriguez discusses having lived in a white middle-class neighborhood in Sacramento and having attended a Catholic elementary school. The author then begins a discussion on private language (Spanish) and public language (English), saying that nuns from his school had visited his home to encourage his parents to speak only English at home, which they had done from that point on. The author had noticed the silence that took over the home once everyone began to speak only English. He then engages in a discussion on bilingual education and why he rejects it.
Chapter 2, “The Achievement of Desire,” offers a long reflection on how academic success changed Rodriguez: It separated him from his parents and his culture. He describes his mother’s jobs as a typist and his father’s jobs as a laborer, and he discusses his love for books, which, he says, were crucial to his academic success. Also while in college, he had traveled to London on a dissertation fellowship and then returned home to his parents for the summer. Chapter 3, “Credo,” discusses growing up Catholic and examines the differences between Mexican Catholicism and Anglo Catholicism and secular culture and Catholic culture. Finally, he tells his readers about his dislike of the changes in the liturgy.
In chapter 4, “Complexion,” Rodriguez recollects family members’ fears of having children with dark skin and his mother’s constant concern that Rodriguez stay out of the sun. At the age of eleven or twelve, Rodriguez had attempted to shave off the brown of his skin. One summer, while in college at Stanford, he had taken a job working construction. He writes that after working at this job, he no longer felt ashamed of his complexion. He became convinced, more than ever, after working...
(The entire section is 1202 words.)