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Last Reviewed on November 8, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1072

Socioeconomic Status, Materialism, and Poverty

Esperanza Rising follows the story of Esperanza Ortega—a wealthy and spoiled thirteen-year-old girl who leads a comfortable, privileged life. Unfortunately, her life takes an unexpected turn for the worse when her father is killed by bandits. Her uncle then burns down the family's estate after Esperanza's mother refuses his marriage proposal. In just a few days, Esperanza loses almost everything she holds dear. As a result, Esperanza and her mother, Ramona—along with their servants Alfonso, Hortensia, and Miguel—flee to California. Once there, Esperanza learns what it's like to live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet. In this sense, Esperanza Rising is, essentially, a riches-to-rags story.

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Growing up rich, Esperanza never truly learned to appreciate the value of hard work; she never cared about how the peasants lived their lives and she made sure to distance herself from them, as she believed herself above them in many ways. At one point, she even states that there is a metaphorical river between her and her servants—on one side of this river is Esperanza and her luxurious lifestyle, and on the other are the servants and the peasants who struggle to survive in their classist society. She notes that this river mustn't be crossed, but she also develops a crush on Miguel—the just and optimistic son of her servants Alfonso and Hortensia.

Now that Esperanza was a young woman, she understood that Miguel was the housekeeper’s son and she was the ranch owner’s daughter and between them ran a deep river. Esperanza stood on one side and Miguel stood on the other and the river could never be crossed. In a moment of self-importance, Esperanza had told all of this to Miguel. Since then, he had spoken only a few words to her. When their paths crossed, he nodded and said politely, “Mi reina, my queen,” but nothing more. There was no teasing or laughing or talking about every little thing. Esperanza pretended not to care, though she secretly wished she had never told Miguel about the river.

While living and working on the farm in California, Esperanza gradually comes to understand that the best things in life are free and that life's greatest treasures cannot be measured. She realizes that the material possessions she used to cherish are worthless and meaningless, and finally learns that happiness doesn't come from being rich but from being kind, loving, and compassionate.

Social Injustice, Discrimination, and Prejudice

Esperanza Rising is set in the 1930s, two decades after the Mexican Revolution and during the Great Depression. During this time, many people were mistreated and discriminated against based on their race and ethnicity, especially when it came to education and employment opportunities. The wealthy and powerful elite often mistreated agricultural workers and denied them jobs just because they were poor and Mexican. Such is the case with Miguel, who is a skilled and capable repairman. After many failed attempts, he finally finds a job as a railroad mechanic; however, he is soon fired because his bosses decide to give his job to an American who is less qualified than him. Afterward, he explains to Esperanza that the government is run by unjust, greedy, corrupt people whose main goal is to profit from the struggles of the poor.

Esperanza realizes that she, too, was once ignorant and prejudiced and treated those who weren't as wealthy as her unfairly. When she moves to California, she becomes a victim of discrimination as well, as the majority of the American population sees her only as a Mexican immigrant who came to their country to steal their jobs. Thus, she is finally able to understand how Miguel and the rest of her servants felt when she was belittling them. Fortunately, she realizes that she was wrong...

(The entire section contains 1072 words.)

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