How does narrative contribute to the effectiveness of Rodriguez's argument in "Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood"?

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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his essay, Rodriguez takes on the subject of bilingual education in American schools and crafts an argument against it. In doing so, he cites his own experience as an English language learner.

Rodriguez opens the essay with the memory of entering elementary school in California knowing "some fifty stray English words" and feeling the strangeness of hearing, for the first time, an English speaker pronounce his name. Beginning his argument with the story of himself as a small boy separated from his Spanish-speaking family for the first time, he accomplishes the dual purpose of establishing ethos for his argument and introducing the pathos that makes his argument more than an academic exercise. The essay emerges, through Rodriguez's narrative, as an educational journey fraught with pain for himself and his family—but nonetheless is an argument against bilingual education for children.

After the nuns from his school visit and advise his parents to speak only English at home in order to help Richard gain fluency, the family's warm, intimate dynamic becomes compromised, and distance grows between Richard, his siblings, and their parents. The essay's tone becomes poignant when Rodriguez acknowledges that as he became fluent in the public language, English, "The special feeling of closeness at home was diminished by then. Gone was the desperate, urgent, intense feeling of being at home; rare was the experience of feeling myself individualized by family intimates. We remained a loving family, but one greatly changed."

Rodriguez's argument acknowledges, through the interwoven narrative, what it cost him and his family for him to learn the "public language" that he recognizes as vital to his success in America.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The importance of the narrative aspect of Richard Rodriguez's essay "Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood" lies in the fact that he is not offering a fictional perspective.

Rodriguez, in his essay, is providing the reader with a first hand account of what life was like for a student in the American schools whose native language was not English. Without this poignant perspective, many readers (both Spanish speaking and American speaking) would, most likely, fail to see the true impact of his story.

Many first-person narrations are essential to an author's desire to engage the reader, gain their sympathy (or empathy), and relate true facts to the reader. Without the first-person recollection, some readers may find the text to be fictitious.

Therefore, the narrative aspect of the essay provides readers with a true historical recollection of Rodriguez's life as a student in American schools fighting for the right to keep his family's language separate from that of the English language. It is necessary for the narrative to function in such a way that allows readers to understand Rodriguez's reasoning regarding keeping his family's language sacred.

Read the study guide:
Hunger of Memory

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