Buried Onions

by Gary Soto

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What would be good names for the chapters in Gary Soto's novel Buried Onions?

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Authors often leave the chapters of their books unnamed. They may not want to give away any details of the chapter or they may not want to influence the reader's impression of what is happening in the book. Great books such as Great Expectation, The Grapes of Wrath and Animal Farm, for example, leave the chapters untitled. On the other hand, both Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels and Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote use very descriptive chapter titles. 

In Buried Onions, Gary Soto opts for the former style and leaves each of the nine chapters untitled. But, I have suggested titles that seem representative of each chapter.

Chapter One: Mortuary Students—In the beginning of this chapter Eddie, the protagonist, is contemplating the deaths of the people around him, including his father, two uncles, his best friend from high school Juan and, most recently, his cousin Jesús. It is appropriate then that as he sits on campus at Fresno City College he sees the students who are taking classes to become morticians. He even imagines that the coffee the students drink turns cold as soon as they touch it.

Chapter Two: The Road to Salvation—Eddie goes off to his job painting curbs in this chapter. He hopes that honest work will help deliver him from the grip of poverty and violence he experiences in his Mexican-American neighborhood in Fresno.

Chapter Three: Mr. Yellow Shoes—In this chapter Eddie tails a guy with yellow shoes to a class at Fresno City College. He has been told the guy who murdered his cousin Jesús was last seen wearing yellow shoes. Like many things in the novel it is hearsay, or "chisme." Eddie never discovers who really killed Jesús.

Chapter Four: Buying Onions—Onions are symbolic for the grief which pervades the neighborhood where Eddie grows up. He imagines an onion buried under Fresno which causes the people above to cry. Even Juan's sister Belinda has a tattoo of a tear on her cheek. One of Eddie's best childhood friends, José, has returned home on leave from the Marines. While out for breakfast they are accosted by a man selling bags of onions. José, out of a sense of philanthropy, agrees to buy three bags. Not long afterward he is stabbed by "cholos" while trying to recover a truck which had been stolen from Eddie. The scene seems to represent that José, even though now in the service, can never escape the grief of life in Fresno.

Chapter Five: Queenie—Violence and death haunts the novel and in chapter five Eddie volunteers to help his nina, or godmother, take her old dog Queenie to the SPCA to be euthanized. Appropriately his godmother's eyes are full of tears.

Chapter Six: Barbecue Chips—Because Eddie can't seem to escape his plight by going to college or through working, his playground coach suggests he join the military. When he arrives at the recruiting office he is at first nervous. He is greeted by posters of nuclear submarines and the president. When the recruiter appears, Eddie's nervousness increases as he is asked several questions and told to fill out a form. The formality of the situation is broken when a "stoner" Eddie knew from high school arrives. That and the fact the recruiter is eating barbecue chips in his cubicle leave Eddie unsure about his decision. The military may be no more redeeming than college or work.

Chapter Seven: Cockroaches—While spending time alone in his apartment Eddie discovers several cockroaches have also made his apartment home. He attempts to kill them by trapping them in an ice cream carton. When they return he resigns himself to their presence. They seem to represent the "cholos" like Angel, Lupe and Juan who always seem to be lurking. No matter how hard he tries, Eddie can never escape them.

Chapter Eight: Homeless—While trying to avoid Angel, who he believes is out to get him, he jumps over a fence and is greeted by a little boy who thinks Eddie must be homeless. At this point in the story Eddie is homeless. He can't return to his apartment for fear of confronting Angel and he seems rootless after failure at college and in work.

Chapter Nine: Chisme—"Chisme" is the spanish word for gossip. Much of the violence in the novel, especially the fight between Angel and Eddie, is caused by gossip. Eddie has heard that Angel was really the one who killed Jesús but neither the reader nor Eddie is ever sure.

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