Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Tomás Rivera often portrays religion and tradition as powerful and central elements of both Latino culture and American culture in general. He also tends to emphasize their repressive nature, and this short story is no exception. His fiction is founded on an intense love for humanity, and “First Communion” (which has also been published as “First Holy Communion”) portrays an anguished human soul that is victimized by the absurdities that develop when tradition and religious dogma collide with the hard, human facts of everyday life. When a person gets caught up into the center of this collision, real human suffering results. “First Communion” is perhaps Rivera’s most poignant depiction of such a human struggle.

The title of this narrative is richly suggestive. Not only is it the story of a boy’s First Communion at church, it is also a story about his first experience, or communion, with sexuality. The scene in the tailor shop—itself a type of communion—uncovers a vital element of human life that furthers the narrator’s progress toward adulthood, in spite of the feelings of guilt imposed on him by his religious training. Furthermore, this is a story about a boy’s first self-communion; seeing the couple and keeping his knowledge secret intensifies his awareness of other people and helps to develop his sense of identity. He thus becomes more self-aware by the end of the story. This is a narrative of communion in another sense in that...

(The entire section is 500 words.)