In the Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez uses the construct of the ‘scholarship boy’ to put his own experiences into context. In discussing the concept, he examines what it means to be a scholarship boy both in a general sense as well as in his own specific situation. In this way, he helps the reader understand the tensions and contradictions that afflict him during his education and his early employment.
In general, a scholarship boy, according to Rodriguez, is a student torn between two worlds. Such students at once feel the pull of family and tradition while also trying to fit an academic ideal. They are often self-conscious of both aspects of their life, and the introspection that comes from this causes them to doubt themselves. They are not, he believes, good students even though they may be able to perform well on academic tasks. They focus on regurgitating knowledge rather than true learning:
For although I was a very good student, I was also a very bad student. I was a "scholarship boy," a certain kind of scholarship boy. Always successful, I was always unconfident. Exhilarated by my progress. Sad. I became the prized student - anxious and eager to learn. Too eager, too anxious - an imitative and unoriginal pupil.
Rodriguez also explores the sense of loss, especially with respect to his place in his family, that he felt as a scholarship boy:
The scholarship boy reaches a different conclusion. He cannot afford to admire his parents. (How could he and still pursue such a contrary life?) He permits himself embarrassment at their lack of education. And to evade nostalgia for the life he has lost, he concentrates on the benefits education will bestow upon him.
As Rodriguez recounts his academic life, he sees his successes and failures through the eyes of the scholarship boy that he believes he was. He finds that his self-doubt follows him to college, where he attempts to balance his academic performance with concerns that he is not deserving of his success. He fears that he is a mere product of affirmative action, not his own merits, and that the interest that professors and other students show in him is a result of novelty, not his ideas. These self-doubts follow him into his professional life, leading him to avoid employment that he feels is based on his ethnicity rather than his accomplishments.
Richard himself is the scholarship boy. He means someone who gets a scholarship to a school and is known for that within the school.
He says of his auto-biography:
‘‘the story of the scholarship boy who returns home one summer to discover the bewildering silence, facing his parents. This is my story. An American story.’’
He is the scholarship boy, the book is his story.
Richard Rodriguez is himself the scholarship boy in Hunger of Memory. He cites quotations from Richard Hoggart's book The Uses of Literacy and employs them to explain his own life.
The scholarship boy "feels himself weighted with knowledge of his own and [his class] situations, which hereafter forbids him the simpler pleasures of his mother and father" (Hoggart 246). Rodriguez uses this definition of scholarship boy and explains how lack of a common language prevents communication between him and his parents, even though they are all sitting in the kitchen.
A scholarship boy is someone who comes from a working, middle class family, but excels through his intellect, however the education drives him away from parents and family and he finds solace in books. He is someone who learns to achieve academic growth not the practical uses of the knowledge.
"...Then one day, leafing through Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy, I found, in his description of the Scholarship boy, myself" (Rodriguez 623).
Rodriguez uses this information to transform himself to become a better person; he realizes that he has to get back to his roots.
A scholarship boy or girl is labeled for receiving paid tuition at a school they otherwise usually couldn't afford. They may possess high intelligence, athletic skill, or some other talent that the school desires to foster and develop. This places them in a position that separates them in the minds of other students, and even the faculty, in ways that can be both good and bad depending on the circumstances and character of the school.
At home, and in their own community, the scholarship students find themselves growing more distant in their relationships as their new experiences and knowledge cannot be truly understood by the family and friends that don't share this new frame of reference.
So they find themselves in a world where they are seen as different by both their school community and their old community and must find their own way as they grow in knowledge and skill yet are not always given the guidance on how to use their gifts and opportunities to become a better and more fully-realized individual from the experience.
Richard was utlimately successful in this endeavor but encountered difficulty through the experience as shared in his story.
Richard Rodriguez is the scholarship boy. The scholarship boy is someone who must move between environments, the his home and the classroom, which are at cultural extremes. With his family he has intense intimacy, but at school he learns to trust lonely reason. From his parents he learns to trust a nonrational way of thinking. At school there is mental calm. Many years pass before the boy will be able to sketch the cultural differences in his day this abstractly.