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.