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...
(The entire section is 1202 words.)
Prologue: ‘‘Middle-Class Pastoral’’
In the prologue, Rodriguez introduces himself and his book, referring to it as ‘‘essays impersonating an autobiography; six chapters of sad, fugue-like repetition.’’ He makes clear that his purpose in putting together the book was to write about how education moved him from boyhood to manhood.
Chapter One: ‘‘Aria’’
In this essay, Rodriguez focuses on how the use of language has marked the difference between his public life and his private life. When he was a young child, he spoke primarily Spanish. Spanish was the comfortable language of his home life, while English was the language he heard spoken by strangers outside the home.
Soon after Rodriguez starts attending a Catholic elementary school, the family receives a visit from his teachers, concerned about Rodriguez’s poor performance and his siblings’ academic achievement. The teachers ask his parents to speak only English in the home. This event changes everything, according to Rodriguez, including how he feels at home with his parents. At first he is frustrated with speaking only English, but the day finally comes when he feels comfortable enough with English to answer a question in class. ‘‘The belief, the calming assurance that I belonged in public, had at last taken hold,’’ he remembers.
Though Rodriguez feels that he lost something when he and his family...
(The entire section is 1371 words.)