Hunger of Memory Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)

Richard Rodriguez

Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Rodriguez’s account of his alienation through ethnic heritage, language, and education relates closely to many young people’s confused feelings of isolation. Young people from any background relate to Rodriguez’s sensitive discussion of his changing roles and relationships with his family, the world around him, and himself.

Hunger of Memory also represents an autobiography subgenre focusing both on ethnicity and education, including such closely related works as Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970) and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976). Such narratives provide strong role models of people whose humble, common beginnings lead to meaningful experiences that are often similar to those in the lives of many young readers. Although Hunger of Memory and these other works represent diverse cultures and backgrounds, they all portray young people struggling to find their own places in a complex world.

Rodriguez’s appeal to young people in Hunger of Memory also results from his writing style. Rodriguez sees himself straddling not only two ethnic worlds but also two worlds of writing: journalism and literature. He claims to read more newspapers and magazines than novels or poetry, he questions people he meets on the street about social and political issues, and he writes about everyday concerns. Rodriguez couples journalism with literature by taking a long time to write because of “separating the prosaic world from the poetic word.” Rodriguez’s model in the marriage of journalism and literature is George Orwell, who Rodriguez claims was able to look up from his writing to see the world outside. Rodriguez, like Orwell, recognizes, understands, and accepts the divergent worlds of public and private language by unifying them. Rodriguez’s great strength in Hunger of Memory is his unification of different worlds.