Beans) Essay, Research Paper
Many times in literature the most useful device of a writer is the symbol. Symbols are used to add deeper meaning to everyday objects. An author may use symbolism to expand the meaning of his or her writing. In the short story “The Hammon and the Beans” Americo Parides masterfully illustrates the art of symbolism through his poverty stricken character Chonita and the different aspects of her life. Chonita and her Mexican people have come to America to find freedom and opportunity, yet instead they find themselves “enslaved” by a government which hands them a life of nothing. The fence which is literally used to keep the immigrants off of Fort Jones, symbolically represents their exile from everything which Americans have to enjoy. While America is supposedly a place for all to find safety, Chonita and her people find themselves “walled out” from all comfort and security because of their poverty and alien status. Chonita herself specifically represents poverty, hardship, and the cry of a forgotten people. Her own body is a symbolic example of her people’s suffering. “She was already on top of the alley fence when we got there, a scrawny little girl of about nine, her dirty bare feet clinging to the fence almost like hands.” (p. 359) She mirrors the innocence which all victims possess. Chonita is a voice for all of those who society deems unworthy of having their needs met. In the story Chonita continuously cries out for “the hammon and the beans” in a display which portrays her choice to “rise above” her poverty and demand to be given better. Throughout the story the narrator continues to show his feelings of the ridiculousness of Chonita’s cause, “I wondered how long it would be before they got tired of it all.” (p. 360) This belief is shared by Chonita’s father, when upon Chonita’s death he is apathetic about the loss of her life. “Do you know what that brute of a father was doing when I left? He was laughing! Drinking and laughing with his friends.” (p. 360) All of these characters represent collective mankind who ignore and neglect all victims of war, poverty, and exclusion. They pay no heed to the cry of the poor and in a sense try to keep people in poverty where they feel they belong. The whole story is a symbol of the narrator’s awareness of Chonita’s plight and his effort to change. He realizes that change begins with him and that it is the responsibility of everyone in a society to combat this struggle. In the end he seems to be the only one who is grieved over the loss of Chonita. He recognizes that even in death Chonita’s cry for freedom still rings clear. “I thought of Chonita in Heaven, and I saw her in her torn and dirty dress, with a pair of bright wings attached, flying around and around like a butterfly shouting, ‘Give me the Hammon and the Beans.’” (p. 361) This illustrates that the war on poverty and victimization can never be surrendered.