Tony Went to the Bodega but He Didn't Buy Anything

by Martin Espada

Tony Went to the Bodega but He Didn't Buy Anything Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A political poet, Espada sings of the urban poor and other disenfranchised members of society. A Puerto Rican activist from Brooklyn, Espada has worked as a tenant lawyer and advocate for socially liberal causes. His poetry often describes the struggle of immigrant Americans striving to overcome economic disadvantage, discrimination, or political corruption. In “Tony Went to the Bodega but He Didn’t Buy Anything” Espada portrays the struggle some Latinos encounter in bridging two cultural spheres.

The poem suggests more than it tells about Tony’s life story, which is consistent with Lowell’s description of the tendencies of the imagist poet. Each of the six stanzas presents a snapshot of the boy’s experience as an inner-city immigrant lad. The poet elicits the readers’ sympathies with his vignette of the nine-year-old “puertorriqueño boy.” Tony is “mongrel-skinny” and “had to find work” even though he is just a child. The scene in the bodega shows how Tony learns from experience. He takes lessons from Makengo the Cuban to learn how to do business. Stanza 3 reveals that Tony is an intelligent youth. He is able to leave the projects and attend law school. However, the opportunity does not offer Tony a better life as might be expected. Tony misses Spanish speakers and the smell of cooking in his neighborhood hallways. Divorced from his roots, Tony is lost in a hostile landscape of “white faces.” In these stanzas, Espada is...

(The entire section is 498 words.)