Exploring Hispanic Literature: Cisneros and Soto

In teaching English 111, I like to have the students analyze a variety of short stories exploring various genres and cultures.  For a sampling of Hispanic literature, I have chosen Sandra Cisneros’ “The Storyteller,” and Gary Soto’s “One Last Time,” both of which are found in our textbook, The Blair Reader.  I have students work in pairs in order to explore the following discussion questions:

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1. Evaluate the “hook” of this essay. Effective? Why, or why not?
2. Cisneros’ father is an opinionated man. Use the text to prove this point.
3. Cisneros makes use of the senses in her writing. Use the text to prove the use of the following senses.
Smell-
Touch-
Sound-
4. Give an example of a metaphor in the reading. Significance?
5. Cisneros discusses the importance of a conclusion. Does her conclusion fill her own requirements of an effective conclusion? Why, or why not?
6. Although Cisneros is writing largely about past events in her own life, she often uses third person and present tense. Where does she use first person? Where does she use third person? Explain the significance of these shifts in her writing.
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One Last Time” by Gary Soto
1. Explain the “hook” Soto uses in his essay. Effective? Why, or why not?
2. What can you infer from, “Mother also found herself out there when she was separated from Father for three weeks” (P 2)? Significance? How do you know your inference is true? Use the text to prove your position.
3. Why does Mother drive in silence while Gary “rambled on . . .” (P 3)? Use the text to prove your position.
4. Explain the significance of the knife in this essay. Prove this significance with use of the text.
5. Find three similes in this essay. Significance?
6. How does Soto show respect for his mother? Explain.
7. Give some examples from the text where Soto judges others. Thoughts?

The Marigolds

P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; direction: ltr; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); }P.western { font-family: “Times New Roman”,serif; font-size: 12pt; }P.cjk { font-family: “Droid Sans”; font-size: 12pt; }P.ctl { font-family: “Lohit Hindi”; font-size: 12pt; }With her short frosted blond hair wrapped in a red bandana, a bright orange bikini top holding up her double Ds, and jean shorts on her petite 5’2 frame, my mother, a Mrs. Brady look-alike, spent hours planting, digging, and shoveling outside the duplex on Harvard Street in which she, my dad, older sister, our mutt, and I lived. Watching her, always watching her, I, with my sun-bleached ponytails sailing in the wind, rode my bike up and down the alley behind our row of connected living as she hauled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow to the cornfield bordering the stretch onto which I pedaled. A Momma’s girl, my mom was, most days, never far from sight.

When I turned eight, my mother drove me eighty miles in order to meet her “special friend.” Even at this young age with not many life experiences to call my own and not a single mature bone in my body, I had a knot in my stomach. Perhaps it was due to the fact she put on makeup and styled her hair that morning or her seemingly urgent need for me to like this guy whom we were on our way to meet. In our brown Vega station wagon, we pulled into a gravel alley separating a two-story lemon yellow house, which I now know was acidic foreshadowing, from a smaller white house. Walking to the back door of the larger home instead of the front which I remember as odd, we approached a postage-sized backyard. Walking up the steep stairs onto the covered back stoop, my mom rang the doorbell. Lifting the shade hanging from the small window on the door, a man with greased hair and a wide nose peered out; to me, he looked like the dad on The Sound of Music. After what seemed like a long time to open a door (there were many locks to manipulate), he ushered us into a tiny mustard yellow kitchen with stained carpeting on the floor. The room was dark due to the blinds being pulled shut and the smell was musty mixed with an overwhelming whiff of men’s cologne, Old Spice which I would come to loathe to this day.

Instead of taken to a family room with a television, we sat at a metal table pushed in front of a row of cabinets and sat. I am sure I was given a liquid to drink, but I cannot recall if it was lemonade or generic soda, not the Coca Cola kept stocked in our refrigerator at home for my dad. We sat at the table for what seemed like hours. I stared at this man wearing a button up shirt (which I would later come to know as his Sunday shirt), dark blue pants, and enormous black tie shoes. Bored with the conversation and creeped out by the smelly house, I was probably fidgeting. My mother finally said, “Why don’t you go in the back and play?” Thinking to myself, “Where? With what?” I did as I was told. Ending up looking for worms hidden near a small retaining wall below a privacy fence, I anxiously awaited our departure. Finally, after much waiting, the back door opened, and my mother emerged flushed telling me to tell this man goodbye.

Anger grew into blind rage as soon as I sat down on the vinyl front seat and heard the words no child ever wants to hear, “I love this man, and I am going to move here and be with him.” Holding my pillow up as a barrier for the entirety of the trip so that I would not have to see her, hot water streamed down my cheeks as I screamed, “What about Dad?” The stretch of 55 which took us home continued with more of the same- my tearful shouted questions with her repeated answer, “I love him.” After what seemed like hours, we finally arrived home, what I knew as home- my dad, my sister, and my dog. Our parents sat us down in our family room, explained how much they loved us, and then asked us each the question, “Which parent do you want to live with?” prefaced with the fact they would both love us no matter which parent we chose. Without hesitation, I piped up with, “Mom!” even though she had just turned my world upside down. My sister chose my father.

So, with three months left of third grade, my mother pulled me out of school and moved me into this dark house with the man who smelled of too much aftershave. There was no more riding my bike since this house sat on a fairly busy street close to the road. In fact, my bike remained at my dad’s house. I was not allowed to play with the kids who lived next door because there was something wrong with them according to the man and my mom, but I cannot recall what it was now. I do remember looking at those kids longingly from the front porch because they had a lot of toys outside and were always running and yelling with laughter. I spent a lot of time at the smaller white house across the alley. A woman with a shriveled arm had a small child named Jared with whom I spent many hours playing, talking, and eating tuna casserole while my mom and this man sat around the metal kitchen table smoking cigarettes and pipes respectively.

One day while the man was at work at the post office sorting mail, my mother bought a flat of marigolds and planted them in a small barren bed along the side of the yellow house. This was the first semblance of the mother I grew up knowing, not this other woman now with this stranger of a man. Her hands were dirty from digging in the dirt, and she was satisfied with her work. In my mind, she looked forward with much anticipation to the man’s reaction the following day when he came home from his night shift.

Apparently after measuring the distance between each marigold with a ruler, the man dressed in his Friday shirt determined my mother had not planted the yellow flowers equidistant from each other, so he dug each and every one of them up and replanted them to his gratification and to my mother’s distress. I was sent by my mother over to the white house where I spent the remainder of the day and most of the evening. While living in that yellow house, my mother never dug in the soil again, but that man planted marigolds year after year.