(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Black Hair” is a brief autobiographical story that deals with Soto’s working experiences. The narrator introduces that theme in the first sentence: “There are two kinds of work: One uses the mind and the other uses muscle.” The work that uses muscle is degrading, but it is the only choice the narrator has during the troubled period he is going through. Muscle work is also the only option for both the small group of workers with whom Soto comes into contact and the larger group who are condemned to such labor by their race or birth.

The main character is a seventeen-year-old runaway. He takes a romantic swim in the ocean at a Southern California beach, but he must then confront the world of work to survive. He sleeps in abandoned cars and houses and walks miles to Glendale to apply for a job in a tire factory.

The work is exhausting and dirty, and the character has no place to live until he receives his first paycheck. At the tire factory, he is isolated from the black workers by race and the Mexican workers because of his poor Spanish. He is alienated from everyone, without the support that a home supplies, and he must survive with his muscle and what wits he has.

In one scene, the narrator is united with the poor Mexican workers who had spurned him earlier. When immigration authorities make a raid, his boss thinks he is an alien, so he runs with the others. Afterward, those who fled make up outrageous stories about...

(The entire section is 522 words.)