Narrative contributes in a number of different ways to the effectiveness of “Aria,” the opening chapter of Richard Rodriguez’s book Hunger of Memory. Such ways include the following:
- Rodriguez begins the chapter by describing his first day in grade school, when his vocabulary was limited to less than fifty English words. His thus makes us doubly sympathetic to him: first by emphasizing his youth, and secondly by emphasizing his lack of proficiency in English. He makes us want to “root” for him for both reasons, and the skill with which the opening sentence is written immediately implies that he has long since overcome whatever deficiencies in English he may once have had.
- By beginning by telling us about his childhood, he introduces abstract issues (such as multiculturalism and bilingualism) by anchoring them to actual lives, including his own. He doesn’t deal with them from a distance but makes us see the relevance of his own life to the arguments he will later make.
- By setting his narrative in the past, he allows us to consider how things may have changed, culturally and socially, since his youth.
- As Rodriguez himself says about his reason for opening with narrative,
Memory teaches me what I know of these matters; the boy reminds the adult. I was a bilingual child, a certain kind – socially disadvantaged – the son of working-class parents, both Mexican immigrants.
- As the preceding quotation suggests, Rodriguez narrates not only the story of his own life but the story of his family. And, by doing so, he symbolically narrates the stories of other young immigrant children and their families, whose stories may resemble the one he tells.
- By narrating a personal story, Rodriguez allows himself to deal with the real human intricacies, complexities, and complications that abstract issues can raise for particular human beings. He doesn’t just make generalizations; he grounds his generalizations in his own experiences. He doesn’t just challenge opponents by offering statistics and other abstract data; he responds to opponents by writing as someone who has actually experienced the problems and opportunities he is discussing.
In short, Rodriguez uses narrative quite effectively in “Aria,” particularly in the ways already mentioned.