Richard Rodriguez opens Hunger of Memory with a reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest : “I have taken Caliban’s advice. I have stolen their books. I will have some run of this isle.” He alludes to the recommendation that the creature gives Stephano and Trinculo about how to kill Prospero and...
Richard Rodriguez opens Hunger of Memory with a reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “I have taken Caliban’s advice. I have stolen their books. I will have some run of this isle.” He alludes to the recommendation that the creature gives Stephano and Trinculo about how to kill Prospero and take over the magical island.
After being exiled to this island, Prospero used his books on sorcery to subdue nature on the island and to control its sole inhabitant, the half-monster Caliban. When a second shipwreck strands more people on the island, Caliban seizes the opportunity to shake off Prospero’s shackles by advising castaways Stephano and Trinculo about how to overthrow him.
First to possess his books, for without them
He’s but a sot, as I am...
Caliban knows that the secret to Prospero’s power is his books. Similarly, Rodriguez realizes that the way to gain power in American society is through books. He began life as a disadvantaged minority, but he became a celebrated writer. By creating books—which are the source of power—he ascends to a commanding social position.
Once upon a time, I was a “socially disadvantaged” child. An enchantedly happy child. Mine was a childhood of intense family closeness. And extreme public alienation. Thirty years later I write this book as a middle-class American man. Assimilated. Dark-skinned. To be seen at a Belgravia dinner party. Or in New York. Exotic in a tuxedo.
Rodriguez’s odyssey hearkens back to the theme of colonial domination that many 20th century scholars explore in their readings of The Tempest. Prospero is seen as the invading European who takes over and enslaves the native Caliban. His books represent the culture of the interloper that eradicates and invalidates the culture of the natives. As a Mexican-American man who becomes a writer, Rodriguez reverses the traditional power structure by seizing the source of the dominant culture’s power.