Once Again I Prove the Theory of Relativity Analysis

Sandra Cisneros

Historical Context

Latino/a and Chicano/a Literature in the United States
Chicano (Mexican American) literature began to establish itself in the United States in the 1960s. This period, sometimes known as the Chicano Renaissance, was in part inspired by the Civil Rights movement. Chicano writers emphasized the need for political action to provide equal opportunities for Chicanos. One of the leading figures in this movement was Tomás Rivera (1935–1984), whose novel y no se lo trago la tierra/And the Earth Did Not Part (1971) told of the hardships endured by Mexican American migrant workers. In 1972, Rudolfo Anaya (1937–) published Bless Me, Ultima, which has become one of the most popular of all Mexican American novels.

In the 1980s, mainstream publishers became more willing to publish works by Chicano and other Latino writers (such as Cuban Americans or Puerto Ricans), in part because of the movement in colleges and universities known as multiculturalism, in which efforts were made to reshape the literary canon to better reflect cultural diversity in America. Minority authors were thus given a better chance of being published and acquiring a large readership. It was during the 1980s that Chicano poet Gary Soto (1952–) made his mark nationally, and a number of Mexican American women writers found their literary voices, including Lorna Dee Cervantes (1954–), Gloria Anzaldua (1942–), Denise Chavez (1948–), and Sandra Cisneros. These women writers successfully articulated the desires and experiences of Mexican American women. They challenged the values of the patriarchal societies in which they were raised, while at the same time affirming their distinctive Mexican American heritage.

It was in the 1990s that Latino literature made its biggest breakthroughs into mainstream literary publishing and readership. In 1990 Oscar Hijuelos (1951–) became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for his novel...

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Literary Style

Visual Design
The poem is written with an awareness of how it appears on the printed page, in particular in relation to the line breaks. For example, the first line contains only one word, “If.” The rest of the phrase, “you came back,” follows on line 2. There is no grammatical reason for splitting up the phrase in this manner. The same device is used to begin the fifth stanza. The effect is to place much greater emphasis on that one word “if” then would otherwise be the case and makes it clear that the desire of the speaker is to be taken more as fantasy than realistic hope. The arrangement of the line is also a cue for the reader, when reading the poem aloud, as to where to place emphasis and pauses.

The design of the printed page is also important in stanzas 4 and 6. In stanza 4, in which the persona imagines cutting a lock of her beloved’s hair so that he will never leave her, the lines become progressively shorter.

The visual design suggests something other than what the lines actually say: they depict the reality that the lover seeks to avert. Her beloved is going to depart, whatever she does, so the line shortens with each statement, as if he is slipping from her grasp in spite of all her efforts.

A similar effect is apparent in stanza 6, which deals directly with the beloved’s inevitable departure:

off you’d go to Patagonia Cairo Istanbul Katmandu Laredo

Each line gets shorter, as if the speaker’s hold on her lover is diminishing with each place she names. He is fading into the distance.

The poem is written with almost no punctuation. There are no periods to mark the ends of sentences, the ends of stanzas, or even the end of the poem. There are clues, however, about where periods might fall, had they been used: when a sentence “ends,” the following line begins with a capital letter....

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Topics for Further Study

The poem is an expression of romantic love. What is the nature of romantic love? What are its characteristics? Is romantic love the supreme kind of love, or are there other kinds of love that are equally valuable?

Research the lives of three Chicano authors or other authors of color (African American, Asian American, Native American, etc.). Based on your research and your own or your friends’ experiences, detail some challenges faced by someone growing up with a dual cultural identity. Provide examples of ways someone can be an American and at the same time preserve one’s original cultural heritage.

The poem suggests that creativity springs from love remembered. What else inspires poets to write poems, or novelists to write novels? Read several interviews with your favorite authors. What state of mind does a person have to be in to be creative? Provide examples from the interviews, along with your own ideas.

Compare “Once Again I Prove the Theory of Relativity” with another love poem of your choice. What are the similarities and differences between the two? Which poem is more effective at conveying its meaning? Why?

Media Adaptations

Cisneros made an audio recording of Loose Woman, issued in 1994 by Random House Audio.

What Do I Read Next?

Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street (1984) is a story about the coming-of-age of Esperanza, a Chicana growing up in an impoverished innercity neighborhood in Chicago.

Bless Me, Ultima (1972), by Rudolfo Anaya, is a classic of Chicano literature. It tells the story of a young Mexican American boy growing up in New Mexico and coming to terms with his dual cultural identity.

From Indians to Chicanos: The Dynamics of Mexican-American Culture (1998; 2d ed.), by James Diego Vigil, is a readable introduction to the Mexican American experience in the United States. Vigil covers each stage of Mexican American history, from pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial times to Mexican independence and nationalism to the modern Anglo American period. He analyzes the social and cultural dynamics that shaped contemporary Chicano life.

Growing Up Chicana/o (1995), edited by Tiffany Ana Lopez, contains twenty autobiographical essays and stories that explore the Mexican American experience from many angles. One of the essays is by Cisneros, who discusses her memories of growing up in Chicago.

Mirrors beneath the Earth: Short Fiction by Chicano Writers (1992), edited by Ray Gonzalez, is a collection of thirty-one short stories by contemporary Chicano writers. It includes established figures such as Cisneros, Rudolfo Anaya, Denise Chavez, and Ana Castillo, as well as new writers such as Daniel Romero, Patricia Blanco, Ana Baca, and others.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Cisneros, Sandra, Loose Woman, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Nash, Susan Smith, Review of Loose...

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