(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

And the Earth Did Not Part is made up of twelve thematically linked pieces bracketed by introductory and concluding chapters. Consisting of interior thoughts and third-person observation, the book, narrated from multiple perspectives, focuses on Mexican migrant workers in Texas as they struggle against the cruelties of Anglo bosses and the insularity brought on by their minority status.

In “The Lost Year,” an unidentified character, imprisoned in a cycle, believes he is awake when he is, in fact, dreaming. “The Children Were Victims” describes one hot day when an angry boss shoots a worker’s young son as the child drinks from a scarce water supply. “A Prayer” is for a man’s son fighting in Vietnam. “It Is Painful” presents a dialogue between two Mexican boys, one of whom is jumped by white boys in the school bathroom but who is the only student expelled as a result. The boy fears going home, worrying what his parents will say. “His Hand in His Pocket” concerns a young boy sent by his parents to live with a Mexican couple. They murder an elderly man for his money, then force the child to help bury the body. An unnamed boy in “It Was a Silvery Night” creeps out one night and defiantly tries to summon the devil; he is victorious when the devil does not appear. In “. . . And the Earth Did Not Part,” a boy, having already witnessed the tuberculosis-related deaths of his aunt and uncle, is furious at God when his father suffers sunstroke while out in the fields. When the boy’s brother is struck by heat exhaustion after being denied water while working, the boy curses God. To his amazement, the earth does not swallow him. In “First Holy Communion,” a man recounts his preparations for his first childhood communion. The...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

And the Earth Did Not Part, Tomás Rivera’s only published novel, exerted a great influence on the blossoming of Chicano literature. The book explores the psychological and external circumstances of a boy who is coming of age in a Mexican American migrant family. The novel is a collection of disjointed narratives, including twelve stories and thirteen vignettes, told with various voices. This unusual structure evokes impressions of a lifestyle in which the continuity of existence is repeatedly broken by forced migration, in which conflicting values tug at the emerging self, and in which poverty creates a deadening sameness that erases time.

The story begins with “The Lost Year,” which indicates the boy has lost touch with his identity and with the reality of events. Several sections portray the dismal, oppressed condition of migrant farmworkers. “Hand in His Pocket” tells of a wicked couple—immigrants who prey on their own people. In “A Silvery Night,” the boy first calls the devil, then decides that the devil does not exist. Religious awakening continues in the title chapter, in which the boy curses God and is not punished—the earth remains solid.

The nature of sin, the mystery of sex, and the injustices and tragedies visited upon his people are all confusing to the boy. Brief moments of beauty are eclipsed by injuries and horrible deaths. A mother struggles to buy a few Christmas presents for her children and is thwarted by the disturbing confusion and noise of the town. In a swindle, a family loses their only photograph of a son killed in the Korean War. Bouncing from place to place in rickety trucks, the workers lose all sense of continuity. The boy becomes a man, hiding under his house. The final scene offers a glimmer of hope, as he climbs a tree and imagines that someone in another tree can see him.

The simple language and humble settings make the book accessible, but the novel’s unique structure and symbolism present challenges to the reader. And the Earth Did Not Part has been reprinted several times, and a retelling in English (This Migrant Earth, 1985) was published by Rolando Hinojosa. A film version, And the Earth Did Not Swallow Him, was released in 1994.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“. . and the earth did not part” is the title story in a book of linked stories, a sequence of vignettes in which an unnamed Chicano boy confronts his memories of the past year in an attempt to define himself and to understand more fully the lot of his people. In each of these brief pieces, averaging four or five pages in length, Tomás Rivera presents one facet of the life of a community of migrant workers. The workers and their children—who are indeed workers themselves—are exploited by seemingly uncaring or blatantly callous American bosses. Brutality, however, is not limited to Anglo-Chicano relations, and the author also shows Chicanos exploiting their own people. “. . . and the earth did not part,” which appears midway in the sequence, recounts a crucial experience in the young protagonist’s life, a decisive change in his outlook.

The story begins with a directness characteristic of the volume: “The first time he felt hate and anger was when he saw his mother cry for his uncle and for his aunt.” The fate of the aunt and uncle is quickly sketched: Having contracted tuberculosis, they were sent to separate sanatoriums, their children “parceled out” among various relatives; the aunt died, and the uncle, allowed to go home, was spitting blood. The boy’s mother was “crying all the time,” and it was then, he recalls, that he began to be angry—“angry because he could not strike back at anyone.”

These emotions...

(The entire section is 567 words.)