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Richard Rodriguez’s essay “The Achievement of Desire” can be described as an autobiographical text in which the author includes some self analysis in comparison to what he describes as the only description of “myself”(Rodriguez p.547): The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart. What Rodriguez is doing by writing this essay is to add further notion of the “scholarship boy syndrome” for future scholarship boys. His motif for doing this could be to make the reader reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of starting this profound experience as scholarship boy. At the end of his educational career Rodriguez makes it clear that he has suffered too much for the detachment from his family. This separation led him to miss out on a vital part of his life: family and friends. He does not want other people to experience this “loss” and his writing serves that purpose. The incorporation of Hoggart’s views shows us that besides being a good writer, Rodriguez is an excellent and tenacious reader. My personal opinion is that Rodriguez radically changed after having read The Uses of Literacy, his life goal has been to get an education and when he finally gets it he feels like he left something behind.
Rodriguez is present in 3 different ways in his essay; the child Rodriguez, fully immersed in the educational system is the perfect example of the “scholarship boy”. He sets himself definite boundaries between school life and “home” life but doesn’t balance the two as he gives more importance to the apprehending and instructive aspect rather than socializing with his family and friends, “the balance is lost”(Rodriguez p.549). In fact, he rarely mentions his social life and friends because he has no time for them. Reading and studying are his main focuses — “but then, with ever-increasing intensity, I devoted myself to my studies” — in the early stages and this sets him apart from the “normal” children of that age who play and have fun (Rodriguez p.547). What drives Rodriguez initially, is the image of his teachers, to the point where he tries to use “their accents…” “ [The scholarship boy] tends to make a father-figure of his form-master” (Hoggart in Rodriguez p.549) this quote by Hoggart is inserted in the text in a different manner from the rest of the quotes, this accentuates its importance and could signify his confirmation of the quote itself.
From that moment on he changes personality and becomes rebellious against his parents who do not comprehend a single thing of what he is doing at school. His motivation is very high and he has two other personal examples to follow: his brother and his sister who “often brought home the shiny school trophies I came to want”(Rodriguez p. 546). Another event, which shapes Rodriguez’s life, is the profound reading and the meaning it has to him. But reading also has the power to make him reflective and pensive. Although he reads a lot, he fails to be creative and to claim something from ownself. In fact, Rodriguez always waits for someone, namely teachers, to assign him something to read and never relies on himself to find something appealing. This is one important characteristic of the scholarship boy; He waits in an almost submissive manner for something to go his way and never learns how to do it on his own. He has no initiative.
The Old Rodriguez is the one who finds The uses of Literacy and starts making a comparison between what the book says and how he lived his life. This Rodriguez has lived through all the stages of a “scholarship boy” but feels he has missed out on an important part of his life. Reading greatly changed Rodriguez’s life, when he used to read alone he’d feel lonely and isolated. When the readings with the old nun began, a whole new excitement seems to hit him “fellowship between the reader and the writer” and the importance of reading to make him “educated”(Rodriguez p.556). His need to read is another symptom of the Scholarship boy, as he reads to learn and not for the pleasure of reading he proves this point when he says, “ a book so enjoyable to read can’t be very important”(Rodriguez 557).
The mere fact that he would read something so complicated as The Uses of Literacy implies he is a “scholarship boy”. This is an important moment because it signals a change in his life and a realization that what he has “lost” is more precious than what he has earned in all these years. This ultimately leads him to be more open than he would on his own life and discuss it in his own writing.
The last Rodriguez is the writer of the essay. He has lived his life, discovered the existence of people like him, analyzed the pro’s and con’s of being a scholarship boy and finally given his opinion in his writings: the resulting nostalgia and reminiscence for his family and traditions are greater than his happiness for his personal success. What if we examined the same case for his parents? They would not deny missing their child for all these years, but at the same time they would be extremely happy for his hard work and ability to construct his own future. They will have pushed for his education and will see the future of their family in a better social position than their own. The parents’ life experience has been quite harsh although knowing that their child will have a great future life is one thing that will definitely make them happy.
We can see this part of Rodriguez especially after every quotation from Hoggart, he identifies the ways in which he compared to Hoggarts scholarship boy and gives his opinion. Having lived the life that Hoggart only describes he feels superior to Hoggart because he actually managed to reach a high level of education even if starting with no help at all from the parents. The realization that the success in his life has come by his own work and dedication to study is more negative than one can expect. This realization breaks any connection between the school and his parents, although the parents haven’t been active in helping Rodriguez when he was in school, they were among the few working class families who sent their son to school. Rodriguez will eventually recognize the importance of his parents in his early apprehending years and feel remorseful for having treated them in a nasty manner and for having been ashamed of them.
To what point can Rodriguez manage his life and career without considering his family and its traditions at all? In the text it is clear that Rodriguez is afflicted by remorse and regret for having abandoned his family. Rodriguez uses Hoggarts book as a reference and as a comparison to his own life. In his essay his opinions and views are always suggested after Hoggarts quotes. “He rarely feels the reality of knowledge, of other men’s thoughts and imaginations, on his own pulses…” (Hoggart 559). Hoggart explains what Rodriguez feels in a perfect way although the descriptions are “more accurate than fair” to Rodriguez. None of the descriptions by Hoggart seem exactly perfect to fit Rodriguez because of his particular situation; Hoggarts scholarship boy doesn’t describe the exact situation in which the scholarship boy finds himself. Hoggarts descriptions seem to be a bit too pessimistic for Rodriguez’s life. How could’ve Hoggart imagined the exact nature of what Rodriguez would be doing? Rodriguez’s life changed greatly when he discovered books, but the finding of The uses of Literacy changed him even more. It gave him the attribute of reflection and imagination. By comparing himself to the image of himself given by Hoggart he can make a self-analysis and probably feel better for himself.
Reference to Richard Hoggarts description of “scholarship boy” is continuous through the essay following the author’s description of himself growing up. Whenever Rodriguez describes a new stage of his educational career he relates to Hoggarts description, and the two seem to go hand in hand quite brilliantly. The quotations that are included do not stop the natural flow of the essay but instead they add context and make it easy for the reader to understand. The discovery of this important book takes place only at the end of his scholar career, this is an unlucky event because if he’d come to grips with this text years earlier he would’ve probably changed his habitudes before feeling sorry for having neglected his parents and their traditions whilst growing up. Rodriguez uses Hoggart to give the reader a better understanding of the scholarship boy.
The big difference between Rodriguez and Hoggart’s description is that Rodriguez actually lived through the stages of life which Hoggart only describes using his knowledge. “He has to be more and more alone, if he is going to “get on”( Hoggart 548). This is the first phrase that Rodriguez reads from the The Uses of Literacy, it’s almost unbelievable to discover that all the frustration and sadness that afflicts him at the end of the essay could’ve been prevented by reading this book. We can clearly see that in the first few years of schooling, he spared family time in order to learn as much as he could. Rodriguez doesn’t seem to have much of a social life, he only mentions it when he brings a friends home and gets embarrassed because his parents never read to him. Hoggart’s descriptions are proven right when his father finds him in a closet reading a book. The lonely life of a scholarship boy also implies that feelings and emotions are tucked inside a person too precious and complicated to be spread to those with less education (his parents) “ I kept so much, so often, to myself. Sad. Enthusiastic.” (Rodriguez 550) Throughout the entire essay he repeats the adjective sad with a full point straight after it, this puts emphasis on the word and shows how this is a very important emotion. The adjective could be a part of Rodriguez’s assessment of his life when he
already is an adult writing this text.
The next passage quoted from Hoggart (page 555) narrates the importance of books and reading in the scholarship boy’s life. At home he never sees his parents read, nor buy books, this not only signs a big difference between the two, but it also shows how the parents are not eager to improve their education whilst always backing Rodriguez up with important economic resources to go to school and after that to college. Rodriguez includes this quote from Hoggart because it shows how very precise Hoggarts view is. Right after this quote he includes an accurate description of his situation at home with books. He emphasizes the importance of this situation by quoting his mother “ Don’t write in your books so we can sell them at the end of the year” (Rodriguez 555). When Rodriguez finds the list of the “hundred most important books of Western Civilization” he can’t “ignore” it and reads them all in “several months” (Rodriguez 558). The article from which he found the list of books also included a text from an important retired English professor. Rodriguez is fascinated that these books have shaped the professor. What is even more interesting is his way of judging books. “A book so enjoyable to read couldn’t be very important” (Rodriguez 557) If a book doesn’t make him struggle to find the meaning, he sets it aside as if he was competing against the book or against knowledge itself. His constant effort to reach the perfect educational level pushes Rodriguez to be alienated from his family. This state of suffering and separation ultimately leads Rodriguez to write this essay with the purpose of showing other people, in the same situation, that a balance has to be found between education and personal life.
The figure of the scholarship boy is a very intriguing one especially in our modern world, were communication and connections with people have incredibly improved. I personally believe that a scholarship boy in our times would be very different from a scholarship boy in Hoggart’s and even Rodriguez’s time. Over the last decade there has been an increase of mixing between racial and ethnic groups, this has led to perceive as “normal” any type of person working even in important jobs. What is also a great variable of a scholarship boy is the location and society in which he is brought up, which can radically determine how the future of the boy will be. One aspect, which I think is vital for the improvement of the scholarship boy, is the reflective mode, which could lead him to find a right balance between the personal life and education. Rodriguez’s lack of personal reflection makes him partake in educational matters with a sense of stubbornness. This is proven by the fact that he does not create a personal opinion on things but rather imitates and reproduces what he learns.
Rodriguez has significantly changed from the boy he used to be. What has changed the most is his reflective attitude towards the past. He not only is very open on what he writes but has also become a creator and developer of certain ideas. He is not imitating what people have told him but instead creates this essay using Hoggart and his past life as examples. Some aspects of Rodriguez have changed but what remains constant is the need for economic resources in order to have an education. If education was a more accessible concept there would be no scholarship boys and everyone would probably live a better life.
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