Richard Rodriguez?S “Hunger Of Memory” Essay, Research Paper
Richard Rodriguez’s essay, Hunger of Memory, narrates the course of his educational career. Rodriguez tells of the unenthusiastic and disheartening factors that he had to endure along with his education such as isolation and lack of innovation. It becomes apparent that Rodriguez believes that only a select few go through the awful experiences that he underwent. But actually the contrary is true. The majority of students do go through the “long, unglamorous, and demeaning process” of education, but for different reasons (Rodriguez, 68). Instead of pursuing education for the sake of learning, they pursue education for the sake of job placement.
Even from an early age, Rodriguez is a successful student. Everyone is extremely proud of Rodriguez for earning awards and graduating to each subsequent level of his education. But all his success was not necessarily positive. In fact, we see that his education experience is a fairly negative one. One negative that Rodriguez endures is his solitude. Education compels him to distance himself from his family and heritage. According to Richard Hoggart, a British education theorist, this is a very natural process for a scholarship boy. Hoggart explains that the “home and classroom are at cultural extremes,” (46). There is especially an opposition in Rodriguez’s home because his parents are poorly educated Mexicans. His home is filled with Spanish vernacular and English filled with many grammatical errors. Also, the home is filled with emotions and impetuosity, whereas the classroom lacks emotion and the teachers accentuate rational thinking and reflectiveness.
The conflict between the classroom and the home environment starts off weak and gets stronger and stronger until Rodriguez needs to choose one way or the other. In the beginning, Rodriguez would simply correct his parent’s grammatical errors. He also proudly tells his parents that his teacher said that he is losing any traces of a Spanish accent. Soon, his parents can no longer help him with his homework. His family starts to jokingly make fun of him for reading so much. Rodriguez recalls that sometimes his mother would approach him while studying and try to talk to him. But he responded coldly to her inquiries. “Instead of the flood of intimate sounds that had once flowed smoothly between [them], there was this silence,” (51). He feels that spending time with his family is a waste, or it could be better spent studying. Rodriguez loses the intimate connection he has with his parents, especially his mother. This is detrimental to his emotional well being because it contributes to his seclusion. However, Rodriguez is not truly in solitude until he actively pursues it.
Rodriguez begins to actively distance himself from his family and heritage. On nights when the house is filled with Spanish speaking relatives, he leaves the house as a way of breaking the connection. He begins to imitate his teachers’ accents and use their diction. As time goes on, he desires more solitude. Again, this is all normal according to Hoggart. “He has to be more and more alone, if he is going to get on…the boy has to cut himself off,” (47). This is exactly what Rodriguez does; he chooses his education and the classroom over his family. Rodriguez starts to spend an increasingly amount of time studying. “He takes his first step toward academic success, away from his family,” (48).
However, later on in life, Rodriguez “yearns for that time when [he] had not been so alone,” (71). He regrets having socially isolated himself throughout his entire life. Rodriguez remembers the connections that he had with his mother and how he shut them down. “I kept so much, so often, to myself. Sad,” (51). He realizes that his connection that he had with his parents was very meaningful to him. He is tired of being alone.
Rodriguez also acquires some negative characteristics from his learning. He is “an imitative and unoriginal pupil,” (44). As a result he lacks self-confidence. None of his thoughts are his; he simply regurgitates the ideas of others. He believes himself to be “a great mimic, a collector of thoughts, not at thinker,” (67). Rodriguez was so determined to absorb huge amounts of information that he never takes the time to reflect on what he was leaning. He never spends the time to develop his own ideas.
Rodriguez believes that the primary reason for his success is that “[he couldn’t forget that schooling was changing [him] and separating [him] from the life [he] enjoyed before becoming a student,” (45). He fully embraces the realization that he is changing. He believes that this experience only happens to a select few. What he fails to realize is that most students do go through his experiences also. Most students go through the process of education and develop into changed individuals. The difference is that only a select few will go through the unnatural process of education for the sake of learning itself (48). He “wanted to be like his teachers, to possess their knowledge, to assume their authority, their confidence, even to assume a teacher’s persona,” (55). Rodriguez wants to be an educated man. He really doesn’t care where he ends up, as long as he possesses knowledge.
A preponderance of students, on the other hand, will choose to become a student for the sake of job placement. The majority knows that with a good education, they can do anything, (55). They realize that an “education can enable a person to escape from a life of mere labor.” Most students realize that they are changing and distancing themselves from their heritage and family. They know that education is a long, unpretentious and degrading process. And even though educationists believe that “schools oppress students by trying to mold them, stifling native characteristics,” the student chooses to become a student anyway. He does this by “concentrating on the benefits education will bestow upon him,” (49). He follows an ends-justify-the-means mentality. They rather suffer a little now in order to be well off in the future.
Some people may bring up the point that things have changed since Rodriguez wrote his essay. Since 1985, school enrollment has increased, school attainment has increased, dropout rates have decreased, and educational funding has also increased (“Dept. of Ed.”). So, his belief that “schools change most students barely at all,” may have been more valid in 1985, but it’s only been fifteen years. Even considering that things have changed, his statement is still invalid. Many students in the 1980’s also went through the process of learning for the sole reason of job placement.
People realize that they are changing when they are being educated; Rodriguez is not a special case, but people are looking at the end product. Then don’t mind changing in order to get somewhere in life. Most know that they need to change. We can’t be educated without changing. The mere word education means change or development. Obviously, students are still learning for the sake of economic utility. Rodriguez may have done his learning for the sake of being an educated man, but it was the end result he craved. Whether someone’s aim is to get a good job or to elevate themselves to a higher level of education, the product of their efforts is what counts.
Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez. New York: Bantam Books, 1985.
The U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. 28 Sept. 2000. The U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. 25 Nov. 2000