Tomás Rivera Essay - Critical Essays

Tomás Rivera Short Fiction Analysis

Although his writing career was comparatively brief, Tomás Rivera developed a singular voice that spoke for a whole group of displaced people. It was his dual passions, academic advocacy and literature, which fueled his desire to have the Chicano experience regarded seriously by the greater academic community. In regard to his style, critic Juan Bruce-Novoa, commenting on and the earth did not part, states that Rivera “achieves the evocation of an environment with a minimum of words.” Rivera admires Sherwood Anderson and William Faulkner, and Mexican writer Juan Rulfo.

In the novella and the earth did not part and in such stories as “The Zoo Island,” Rivera conveys his characters’ thoughts seemingly without editing or judgment. He even resists inclusion of how a line of dialogue is delivered, leaving the interpretation open to the reader. His style has a documentary feel to it, bearing witness to the years of migrant work Rivera did that undoubtedly honed his ear for dialogue. He admired the field worker’s spiritual strength, but he did not sentimentalize his subjects, recognizing, perhaps, the potential people have to be cruel or indifferent to even their “own kind.” The idea of searching provided a compelling metaphor for Rivera, who saw in it the origin of American identity. His characters are often adolescent boys, and as such, the ones who most yearn for inclusion while fiercely protecting their turf. The young boys of his short stories struggle to remain loyal to their mothers’ wishes but gravitate toward the forbidden world of sex under cover of darkness. The women are often lost, unable to pull their spouses, fathers, or sons from the wreckage of a migrant worker’s transitory lifestyle. There is some indication Rivera had written another novel, “La casa grande,” but no such manuscript was found among his papers after he died of a heart attack in 1984.

and the earth did not part

Although he wrote essays and short fiction, and the earth did not part, a novella set in the 1970’s in southern Texas, is the centerpiece of Rivera’s literary career. It comes closest to what one would imagine the lives of field workers to be: gritty, dismal, and rife with daily challenges to survival. Narrators in the twelve thematically connected pieces vary from an omniscient third person in “His Hand in His Pocket,” concerning a boy’s perilous association with a murderous Mexican couple, to a dialogue between two young Mexican students in “It Is Painful.” In the latter story, one of the Mexican boys is attacked by white boys in the bathroom, but only he faces expulsion. In the title story, a boy has seen several relatives die of tuberculosis. He then grapples with an unjust God who also strikes down his father with sunstroke as he labors in the fields. After his kid brother also succumbs to the heat, the boy curses God and is later amazed when the earth does not swallow him, as he had been told would happen. While contemporary critics regard and the earth did not part primarily as a novel narrated by one central character, it can also be viewed as a mosaic of short stories from a variety of perspectives....

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