"I see a mosaic pattern (Aztec-like) emerging, a weaving pattern, thin here, thick there . . . This almost finished product seems an assemblage, a montage...now appearing, now disappearing in a crazy dance. The whole thing has a mind of its own, escaping me and insisting on putting together the pieces of its own puzzle with minimal direction from my will." – Gloria Anzaldua.
English 380A, Winter 2011
Professor Deborah Miranda

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tomas Rivera: . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra

This is an excellent, if long, celebration of Rivera's life and accomplishments.  Most interesting for our purposes are the clips from several newscasts and interviews in which Rivera discusses the influence of his own childhood on the book content and structure, his response to criticisms, and his efforts to move from "passivity" to "activism" via storytelling and education.  You can skip ahead, as I will in class, to view those particular parts, but it is also extremely interesting to see the various sections of the tape in which people spotlight how Rivera's influence brought about other spin-offs - for example, a children's book, a one-act play, a corrido (song), and so on.  The ripple-effect of Chican@ literature is clearly made visible, and worth exploring, especially if your final paper looks at the long-term influences of non-canonical literature on marginalized and mainstream audiences/readers.

Reading Rivera:  Symbols, Icons, Themes, Patterns

TITLE:  What does the title mean?  What does “and the earth did not devour/swallow him” indicate in the boy’s community, in the time period, in the larger historical and cultural period?  What story (from Rivera) does this title refer to?  Why is it important, how does it reflect his central concerns?  How is this title about the power to speak to or against authority?  Who is allowed to speak in the boy’s culture?  How is what he’s doing subversive or radical?

STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK:  Take a look at the actual construction of the book.  By this, I mean the length of pieces, their positioning in relation to one another, their uses in telling the story, as well as use of English, Spanish, the insertion of the Spanish version in the front of the book, and so on. What other kinds of writings or genres might we compare these pieces to?  What might Rivera’s intent be, in constructing this book in this way?  How does he move themes from one section to another, and why?

RELIGION:  Does Rivera deal with religious as a positive force?  How does he refer to, or how do his characters refer to, religion?  Does he use images, icons, irony, humor, respect?  How traditional do religious views seem to be in the book? What work might Rivera’s representations of religion do?  Do his representations alert readers to concerns Rivera might have about his culture?  Make a brief list of the places in the text where we encounter religion.  What do these scenes have in common?  What do the scenes, dialogue or events use as symbols, as storytelling techniques, as metaphors?  How might this connect with the historical time period River writes about?

IDENTITY:  How would you describe the boy at the center of this collection?  How old is he?  Where is he in the process of constructing his own identity? How is his childhood/adolescence impacted by his status in American culture, society, education, etc.? How do others view the boy? Looking as we do into this world from the outside, who is this boy to his community?  What might he represent for the Chicano Movement?

LOCATIONS:  Think about where the boy is physically and/or geographically positions throughout the stories:  under the neighbor’s porch, in a tree, in a couple of cemeteries, in the home of a strange couple, in school, in the field.  What might these locations represent?  For the Chicano community?  For readers?  for Rivera?

CHARACTERS:  The characters in these stories may certainly symbolize particular aspects of humanity, or of the protagonist, or of a struggle toward personal and/or communal construction of identity.  What might certain characters represent?  Why might Rivera have positioned characters in particular places, or vignettes in the story?  What are we, as readers, meant to learn from particular characters?

OTHER THEMES/SYMBOLS:  Water appears in several important ways, as do various kinds of rituals or implied rituals/breaking of rituals.  Silence seems a point of interrogation: what does the boy tell?  what does he NOT tell?  why does he keep his silence about some things?  How is the book itself a break of silence?  Fear is closely related to silence.  In what ways does Rivera manifest the fears of the community for readers?

Your thoughts and questions:  please post your brief Discussion Journals for Rivera here under "comments," as well as bringing them to class for discussion. 

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