The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child

by Francisco Jiménez

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Last Updated on September 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 850

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child defies a simple genre classification. Most booksellers, libraries, and literary websites label the book as a short story collection. This is accurate, for there are twelve short stories that could, conceivably, be read in isolation. Yet the stories do follow a chronological sequence and present the experiences of a migrant family over several years. Further, those experiences are at least partly nonfictional. The author himself notes that the book is semiautobiographical. The people and events he describes have a basis in fact. The characters are truly representative of Francisco and his family, and their experiences are rooted in reality. At the same time, though, the author’s narrative technique casts them in such a way as to make them read like fictional stories.

The author’s choice of point of view contributes to this fictional overlay. Jiménez chooses to present his stories through the eyes of his younger self. The character Francisco sees the world as a child would. He speaks in the first person from his own perspective, focusing on his own fears and trials, perceptions of his family, and interactions with the larger world. This lends a sense of immediacy to the stories that a regular memoir perspective of an adult looking back on his childhood would not have been able to capture. Francisco’s response to the death of his pet parrot, for instance, is vivid and realistic for a young boy. He wants to escape, even to die, and he runs off and hides in a shed where he repeats a prayer over and over until he calms down. Then he prays for his father in an act of forgiveness. Yet his prayer is not one of understanding. Francisco never indicates that he grasps why his father killed the bird. He does not know. Such motives and frustrations are beyond him. His perspective is accessible to younger readers but at the same time draws older readers back to the heartaches and questions of their own childhood.

The genre and point of view of The Circuit contribute to the author’s purpose for his stories. Jiménez wants to present a firsthand account of the struggles of a migrant family in the 1940s and 1950s, but he also seems to be trying to come to terms with his own life. Through his stories, Jiménez presents a group of people who are often overlooked in literature, yet their lives are important and meaningful, and the author shows this in his portrayal of hope and hardship, family and faith. These are human beings trying to make their way in the world with few resources, almost no support, and many threats and dangers. It is a story that must be told, and Jiménez tells it in a way that is appealing, accessible, and perhaps even cathartic for the one who lived through it as a child and can now look at it through a more objective lens.

Since The Circuit is technically a book of short stories, it does not follow the narrative arc of a typical novel. It is essentially episodic in nature, but it does provide something of a plot structure in Francisco’s growth over the stories. Francisco is a small boy as the book opens, only four years old and with a limited perspective, yet he grows as he encounters new experiences and people. He learns responsibility, faces and overcomes challenges, makes mistakes, and becomes a hardworking, thoughtful young teenager by the end of the book. Tracing Francisco’s development allows Jiménez to present something of a coming-of-age tale layered on top of the migrant experience.

The book does not, however, offer a resolution or a happy ending to Francisco’s story. In fact, some readers may find the ending of the final tale unsatisfactory, yet the author leaves it that way for a reason. In the last scene of the book, an immigration officer arrives at Francisco’s school and takes the young man with him. They are on the way to pick up Roberto at the high school. Then the story ends. The fearful worry that the family has faced throughout their time in California has come to pass. Immigration has caught up with them, and readers are left to wonder what will happen to Francisco and his family. Since Jiménez is telling his own story, there is a sense that somehow things turn out for the best in the end, yet there is no hint of how that happens. Jiménez seems to be illustrating both the instability and the unknown of migrant life. Disaster can fall at any moment, and sometimes even family members do not know what becomes of their loved ones. Readers are given a sense of that anxiety, for by this point in the book, most of them are invested in Francisco and his family and care deeply about what happens to them. Indeed, the lack of resolution reflects true life for many migrants as they struggle to survive in an often hostile world.

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