Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Américo Parédes has written a complex story about problems relating to poverty, dual cultural heritage, and government indifference. The soldiers in Fort Jones are depicted—particularly by Dr. Zapata—as a kind of occupying power totally indifferent to the townspeople. The soldiers pay no attention to the children who gather outside their fence to watch the activities in the fort. Even Chonita, who is brave enough to enter the fort, must put up with scolding before the cooks will give her ham and beans left over from the soldiers’ meal. Although the soldiers have plenty to eat, many of the town’s children suffer from malnutrition, and Chonita’s family lives in abject poverty. For them, the ham and beans that she brings home are luxuries.

In addition to government indifference, Chonita must face the teasing of the other children who deride her limited English. Only the narrator seems to recognize the cruelty behind their fun. Chonita also must endure the extra problems caused by an alcoholic father, who earns more than enough money to support his drinking but not enough for his family to live well. Seemingly fated not to have a chance in life, Chonita dies at a young age. When asked of what she died, the doctor says, “What the hell difference does it make?” voicing his own feeling of helplessness.

The narrator’s father explains that Chonita’s biological father was killed while working close to railroad tracks when a train...

(The entire section is 498 words.)