Hunger of Memory Summary
by Richard Rodriguez

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Hunger of Memory Summary

Hunger of Memory is a memoir that relates Richard Rodríguez’s experiences as a Mexican-American student in America. He rails against affirmative action, bilingual education, and what he sees as the weakening of the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Rodríguez argues against bilingual classes, using himself as an example of how unilingual education systems help students speak the language of their new country.

  • Rodríguez expresses his disdain for affirmative action, citing his own success as proof that people of color can succeed without it.

  • Rodríguez then laments the changes in the Catholic Church, which he believes used to be more rigid and reassuring.

Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodríguez is a memoir that explores Richard Rodríguez’s coming-of-age in an America that challenges him to understand what it is to be a Mexican American and what it is to be a Catholic in America. At the heart of this autobiography is Rodríguez’s recognition that his is a position of alienation, a position that he accepts with resignation and regret. As the title of this collection of autobiographical pieces suggests, he remembers his early childhood with nostalgia, while acknowledging that his coming-of-age has resulted in his displacement from that simple, secure life.

The most critical aspect of his education and his development of an adult self is language. He explores his first recollection of language in the opening essay, which describes his hearing his name spoken in English for the first time when he attends a Catholic elementary school in Sacramento, California. He is startled by the recognition that the impersonality and public quality of this announcement herald his own adoption of public language—English—at the expense of his private language—Spanish. Rodríguez has begun to be educated as a public person with a public language.

This education, as he recalls it, occurred before the advent of bilingual education, an event that Rodríguez soundly criticizes. In his view bilingual education prevents children from learning the public language that will be their passport to success in the public world, and he uses his own experience—being a bilingual child who was educated without bilingual education as it was introduced into the American school system in the 1960’s—as an example.

Rodríguez offers himself as another example in criticizing affirmative action programs. Turning down offers to teach at various postsecondary educational institutions that he believed wanted to hire him simply because he was Latino, Rodríguez began what has been his persistent criticism of affirmative action policies in America.

Still another object of his criticism in Hunger of Memory is the Roman Catholic church and its changed liturgy, language, and rituals. Recalling the religious institution that had shaped his identity, he regrets the changes that he believes have simplified and therefore diminished the mystery and majesty that he associates with the traditional Catholic church. He is nostalgic about what has been lost while accepting the reality of the present.

In providing an account of his education, Rodríguez also provides an account of his profession: writing. From his early choice of a public language to his later choice to write about this decision, he paints a self-portrait of a man whose love of words and ideas compels him to explore his past. Rodríguez accepts the adult who writes in English and who writes about the person whose identity is defined by his struggle to find his own voice.

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Richard Rodriguez, in his autobiography Hunger of Memory , recounts how his education has led to both benefits and losses. Rodriguez had acquired a first-rate Catholic-school education in the white suburbs of Sacramento, California, which allowed him to pursue higher education with all of the adequate scholarly preparation that most Mexican American youth are not afforded. The social and personal costs of this education, however,...

(The entire section is 3,046 words.)