Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 719
The Rodriguez boy
The Rodriguez boy (rohd-REE-gehs), a gifted student and would-be rebel in “The Boy Without a Flag.” The Rodriguez boy and his friend Edwin have a crush on their young teacher, Miss Colon, and they help her decorate her classroom at Halloween, earning her gratitude. They also defame her by producing and distributing a comic book called “Slut at the Head of the Class.” To earn his father’s respect, the Rodriguez boy reads voraciously and writes novels and plays. His father, a poet, tries to discourage him, knowing that he will not be able to earn a good living as a writer. Influenced by one of his father’s tirades against American imperialism, he decides not to salute the American flag at school.
Nilsa (NEEL-sah), a fiery tomboy in “No More War Games.” She loves to play war games and cringes at the thought of giving them up, but her friend Cha-Cha, formerly a tomboy, insists that she must act sexy and feminine if she wants to get a boyfriend. As she stalks her prey in one last battle inside a dilapidated building, she feels powerful and sexy. She imagines herself as a new type of woman, one who can play soldier and dress in tattered clothes and still look beautiful and date boys. When she commands Patchi, her prisoner, to tell her she is pretty, he says, “Yuh all right.” His response devastates her. She realizes that boys are not attracted to powerful women.
The narrator, a sixteen-year-old heroin addict in “Babies.” Abused as a child, she uses heroin to escape her painful memories. She is torn between a desire to become a mother and the realization that her world is “no place for babies.” Her maternal instinct is manifested in her compassion for others. Her abortion signals her surrender to the powerful environmental forces working against her. Like the flame on her birthday candle, she shimmers precariously, about to expire.
Angel, the adolescent narrator of “Birthday Boy.” He is physically and mentally precocious and has a sense of humor, which he displays in the police station. For more than eleven years, he enjoyed a happy relationship with his father, but then his father became mean and abusive, blaming him for his mother’s infidelity and eventually driving him onto the streets. Although he steals, he is not a bad person. His refusal to stab his father during a violent beating indicates his morality. He struggles to remain independent of Spider’s crack operation. His burglary of an apartment is probably to get money for his pregnant girlfriend, Gloria, and to support himself.
Marty, a railway motorman in “Short Stop.” He stops his train to help a suicidal teenager. Unlike the female conductor, who refuses to announce the stops correctly, or the two transit cops, who release the obviously distressed and suicidal teenager, Marty cares about people and his job. His capacity for affection and his desire to nurture are evident in the camaraderie he shares with his fellow motorman, Clint; his fondness for his wife, Melissa; and his yearning to be a father.
Dalia, a junior-high-school student in “The Lotto.” She is shy, nervous, and superstitious. When boys talk to her, she averts her eyes. She is especially vulnerable to peer pressure. At her friend’s prodding, she has sex with a street boy and later feels guilty about it. Her guilt manifests itself as morning sickness, which she interprets as a sign of pregnancy. Infected by her mother’s distorted religious beliefs, she worries that God will reveal her pregnancy to her parents.
Elba, a teenage wife and mother, the title character of the last story. Although she once loved her husband, Danny, she now despises him, so much so that she scrubs her body clean of his unpleasant touch and dries herself off with a “virgin” towel, one not used by him. She views their cramped, roach-infested apartment as a prison cell. Although she tries to be a mature and responsible mother, Danny refuses to cooperate. He frequently comes home drunk and treats her like a whore. Her revulsion for Danny undercuts her affection for their baby, who looks like his father. Elba’s act of rebellion takes the form of a symbolic prison break.