Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although the book is slim, with a deceptively simple narrative, its structure, tone, and message resonate deeply. Each of the twelve sections is prefaced by a paragraph of often elliptical introduction. Sometimes these introductions are in the third person; sometimes they include lines of dialogue. Throughout the stories, actual dialogue, the characters’ interior thoughts, and changes between characters are not announced. The cumulative effect is of a random intrusion of desires, fears, hopes, and dreams as they tumble out of the migrant workers’ collective psyche. What binds the stories to one another is the unidentified man in the beginning and end who tries to make sense of his childhood and adolescence as a member of a marginalized group. The other thematic consideration is that of the Chicano experience as it is affected by the devil, God, Mexican folklore, and a sense of doom. In “First Holy Communion,” a boy on the brink of his initiation into a Catholic life is confronted with adult sexuality in its most primal form. Unable to erase the image of a man and woman in the throes of sexual ecstasy, he subsequently sees all adults as naked, their faces contorted. Part vignette, anecdote, short story, and memoirs, And the Earth Did Not Part traces a year in the lives of people whose struggle for survival in an alien land can only be tempered by communal support and a faith that things will improve. The novel also concerns itself with the coming-of-age of the unnamed boy through whose eyes readers witness acts of murder, cruelty, sex, and racism. While the unidentified Anglos are not solely responsible for the workers’ troubles, the culpability for their suffering is abundantly clear.

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Many Chicano stories and novels present an adolescent character, usually a boy, in the throes of discovering his own identity in a world that is not of his making but that he must make sense of. This adolescent moves between two worlds, that of his parents and that of his own adulthood, and in the process often confronts the relative nature of good and evil, deception and reality, morality and immorality; in short, he must rethink and reevaluate what he sees and experiences. The position of the Chicano, caught in the tension of his dual (Mexican and American) heritage, is analogous to that of the adolescent in that the Chicano must evaluate the cultural trappings passed on to him and must decide which ones to keep and which to reject as he sets about defining himself anew.

This is precisely the issue faced by the nameless Chicano character who recalls, synthesizes, and eventually evaluates the experiences of a year in his and his community’s life. Paramount in the young Chicano boy’s recollections is the cyclical pattern of suffering and disillusionment suffered by the boy’s community. At first, he is unable to understand why he and his community suffer, but his review of the year allows him to discover that suffering is not unique to Chicanos and that brutality and exploitation know no boundaries of race, place, or time.

Indeed, these vignettes are above all directed at Chicano readers, urging them to self-awareness. The periodic ills of the Chicano community are caused by the economics of migration and peasant labor, neither of which fosters the building of strong individuals or communities and both of which prevent the acquisition of a good education. Ignorance of the lands where the migrants work and of the world beyond their community exposes them to economic exploitation, while an almost stereotypical passivity, ingrained by the free admixture of superstition and a Catholicism that leaves all events in the hands of God, prevents the members of the community from acting to change their lot. With his curses, the protagonist redefines himself as a young man capable of decisive action; it is this liberating knowledge that gives him hope both for his own future and for the future of his community.