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The main character in Gary Soto's Buried Onions, must work very hard to overcome his poverty and racial discrimination in an environment very different from where he came from. He has a past filled with sorrow from the loss of family, gang violence, and very limited opportunities. The story is set in the fields of Fresno, where many Mexican-Americans can find employment as migrant farm workers.
Eddie, the main character, takes many menial jobs in order to get by. He ends up taking the job of caring for a white man's lawn. This only brings him pain, as he is wrongly accused of stealing from the man. Plus, Eddie is constantly being hounded by gang members trying to initiate Eddie into a life he definitely does not want. So many sad things happen to Eddie, such as the death of his father, his cousin's murder, his failure at community college, and the incessant demands of gang members for Eddie to avenge the death of his cousin, that it appears that nothing goes right for Eddie.
The title, Buried Onions, is significant because Eddie must overcome much adversity in order to make sense of his life in the barrio. The image of buried onions represents the Fresno farming fields, his dying dreams, and his need to bury the past in order to have a successful future. Onions represent tears shed and the layers of Eddie's life as they peel away, leaving more scars on an already embattled life. Furthermore, the onions are buried to symbolize that Eddie is trying so hard to bury the past, and put his troubles behind him. The fact that the produce is an onion represents the ever present nature of temptation for Eddie to return to his past. If you bury an onion, then it cannot be seen, make you cry, or remind you of a distasteful experience, all of which Eddie seeks to void. It is better for Eddie to bury the past, as he unwaveringly strives for a better quality of life.
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