How does Marta Salinas’s use of shifting (changing) moods within the eavesdropping scene from “The Scholarship Jacket” support the themes “You shouldn’t compromise on things that you have earned” or “You should stand up for yourself when something you deserve is being denied”? (You can pick either of those.)

How to answer a question like this:

  • The question first asks about shifting moods—meaning the mood changes from the beginning of the passage to the end. So you want to identify what those moods are, and explain the shift to your audience (give text evidence).
  • Secondly, the question asks you to show how the shift in moods supports (or helps to show) the theme. So what you want to do is explain how your changing mood while reading would lead you to the theme. You might think about how mood is often connected to moral judgments—what you think is wrong or right.
  • Here’s the passage:

    In May, close to graduation, spring fever had struck as usual with a vengeance. No one paid any attention in class; instead we stared out the windows and at each other, wanting to speed up the last few weeks of school. I despaired every time I looked in the mirror. Pencil thin, not a curve anywhere. I was called “beanpole” and “string bean,” and I knew that’s what I looked like. A flat chest, no hips, and a brain; that’s what I had. That really wasn’t much for a fourteen-year-old to work with, I thought, as I absent-mindedly wandered from my history class to the gym. Another hour of sweating in basketball and displaying my toothpick legs was coming up. Then I remembered my P.E. shorts were still in a bag under my desk where I’d forgotten them. I had to walk all the way back and get them. Coach Thompson was a real bear if someone wasn’t dressed for P.E. She had said I was a good forward and even tried to talk Grandma into letting me join the team once. Of course Grandma said no.

    I was almost back at my classroom door when I heard voices raised in anger as if in some sort of argument. I stopped. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, I just hesitated, not knowing what to do. I needed those shorts and I was going to be late, but I didn’t want to interrupt an argument between my teachers. I recognized the voices: Mr. Schmidt, my history teacher, and Mr. Boone, my math teacher. They seemed to be arguing about me. I couldn’t believe it.I still remember the feeling of shock that rooted me flat against the wall as if I were trying to blend in with the graffiti written there.

    “I refuse to do it! I don’t care who her father is, her grades don’t even begin to compare to Martha’s. I won’t lie or falsify records. Martha has a straight A-plus average and you know it.” That was Mr. Schmidt and he sounded very angry. Mr. Boone’s voice sounded calm and quiet.

    “Look. Joann’s father is not only on the Board, he owns the only store in town: we could say it was a close tie and—”

    The pounding in my ears drowned out the rest of the words, only a word here and there filtered through. “... Martha is Mexican ... resign ... won’t do it ...” Mr. Schmidt came rushing out and luckily for me went down the opposite way toward the auditorium, so he didn’t see me. Shaking, I waited a few minutes and then went in and grabbed my bag and fled from the room. Mr. Boone looked up when I came in but didn’t say anything. To this day I don’t remember if I got in trouble in P.E. for being late or how I made it through the rest of the afternoon. I went home very sad and cried into my pillow that night so Grandmother wouldn’t hear me. It seemed a cruel coincidence that I had overheard that conversation.

    Expert Answers

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    At the beginning of the text, the narrator is excited about her upcoming graduation. It’s probably her middle school or junior high graduation, as she is fourteen. She expresses typical teenage angst over her appearance, unhappy when other kids call her “bean pole” and “string bean” but aware of her...

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    At the beginning of the text, the narrator is excited about her upcoming graduation. It’s probably her middle school or junior high graduation, as she is fourteen. She expresses typical teenage angst over her appearance, unhappy when other kids call her “bean pole” and “string bean” but aware of her flat chest and narrow hips. She’s equally aware of her brain and her athletic abilities. Although she knows her strengths, she’s at the age where her appearance matters more. She’s looking forward to gym class, where she excels.

    She has a valid reason for returning to the classroom; she needs to retrieve her gym shorts. When she enters the room, she overhears an argument. She’s shocked when she realizes they’re arguing about her. Her math teacher says that recognition for the best grades must go to another student. The narrator is a Mexican; the father of the other student is a board member and owns the only store in town. Her history teacher is indignant and refuses to go along with the charade. In fact, he offers to resign.

    Nowhere does the narrator directly state she expects or wants the prize. But her history teacher confirms that she’s an A-plus student, the best in class.

    Her response is immediate and intensive. She zones out, not paying to what’s going on around her. She’s very sad but tells no one what has happened. Instead, she cries into her pillow when she goes to bed. Her tears are not tears of anger, but of regret. She considers it cruel that she has overheard the conversation. Her attitude suggests she would prefer ignorance. She feels the cruelty, but we see no anger.

    In the passage provided, the narrator passively accepts the inequity. She says nothing to the teacher who defends her, nor to her grandmother. I ask myself, “Why?”

    I was in a similar situation to the narrator. In high school, I was neck-in-neck in achievement with the daughter of the school superintendent. I was the daughter of a single mother on welfare. I knew I was a good student; I didn’t know I was number one until the class rankings were announced at the end of our senior year. The other girl was salutatorian, in second place. I give my school credit for allowing our achievements to stand, and I give myself credit for achieving against the odds.

    My heart goes out to Martha. I wouldn’t have been surprised, although I would have been disappointed, to be in second place. Academically, the superintendent’s daughter and I were twins. But if I somehow learned she had been chosen as valedictorian only because of her father’s position? I would have gone ballistic.

    That’s why the theme “stand up for yourself when what you deserve is denied” resonates with me. It’s true of life in general, and of the school setting in particular.

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