Small Town with One Road Analysis

Gary Soto

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Small Town with One Road” is a short poem in free verse, its thirty-three lines forming one stanza. The title suggests a quiet poem, and it is, presenting a reflective commentary on life within the valley as compared with a life beyond. The poem is written in the first person. The speaker is a father, and he and his daughter are contemplating their view of the valley, but the speaker is primarily addressing the reader.

The first section of the poem is primarily descriptive, as Soto depicts the lives of Mexican American farm workers and their families in a hot, dry valley in central California. A road of black asphalt runs through the valley, a road that Soto later uses symbolically as a dividing line between the hard life in the valley and life beyond. “Kids could make it” across, he says, literally meaning that they could “leap barefoot” to the little store where they buy candy and snowcones. Before describing what could be considered the children’s bleak future, Soto reminds the reader that these children are like all children, eager to taste the sweetness of candy on their tongues. The lives of the children in the valley include “a dog for each hand,/ Cats, chickens in the yard.” At home, the children hear cooking in the kitchen and know they will be having beans for dinner, as they usually do: “Brown soup that’s muscle for field work.” The universality of the life of manual labor is underscored by the next two lines, “Okie...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Soto is a noted author who grew up in California, the son of working-class Mexican American parents; he experienced the rigors of working as a migrant laborer. Knowing two worlds as he does, his sparse language mirrors the world in which he grew up.

The poem’s sentence structure is powerful because it is direct. “We could be here,” Soto begins. Later, in parallel language, he thinks, “We could go back.” In between he explains and describes, using few poetic devices. The poem contains only one simile, an ironic one. Papa’s field “wavered like a mirage”—not like the oasis which might be envisioned by a straggler in the desert, but a world so intense that a fieldworker’s vision of it shimmers in the heat. The blur of the field becomes the blur of life, a kind of blindness that occurs when sights must be set on little beyond day-by-day existence.

Personification reinforces the connection that Soto feels with those on both sides of the highway. The highway is “big-eyed/ With rabbits that won’t get across,” an image of anyone trying to escape from the valley without “look[ing] both ways,” something the “brown kid” knows how to do at the end of the poem. He knows how to leave the “hard life where the sun looks.” The sun is personified; it does not merely shine but “looks” fiercely, the strength of the “look” making work in the field that much more tiresome and difficult. Soto writes of the cotton gin’s...

(The entire section is 509 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Blasingame, James. “Interview with Gary Soto.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 47 (November, 2003): 266-267.

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Patricide and Resurrection: Gary Soto.” In Chicano Poetry: A Response to Chaos. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.

Candelaria, Cordelia. Chicano Poetry. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Cooley, Peter. “I Can Hear You Now.” Parnassus 8, no. 1 (1979): 297-311.

De la Fuentes, Patricia. “Mutability and Stasis: Images of Time in Gary Soto’s Black Hair.” American Review 16 (1988): 188-197.

Murphy, Patricia. “Inventing Lunacy: An Interview with Gary Soto.” Hayden’s Ferry Review 18 (Spring/Summer, 1996): 29-37.

Olivares, Julián. “The Streets of Gary Soto.” Latin American Literary Review 18 (January-June, 1990): 32-49.

Soto, Gary. “The Childhood Worries: Or, Why I Became a Writer.” Iowa Review 25 (Spring/Summer, 1995): 104-115.

Williamson, Alan. “In a Middle Style.” Poetry 135 (March, 1980): 348-354.