...and the earth did not devour him Guided Read
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Welcome to the guided read of Tomas Rivera's classic of Mexican-American literature, ...and the earth did not devour him!
(Pace the touchstone and, indeed, the book cover, I prefer to place the title lower, since it is a piece of a sentence from the book. Arrogant, I know.)
With some trepidation, I am volunteering to shepherd a shared read of this work, which I have been reading with my students in East Los Angeles for 8 years or so. I'll share my thoughts on how to approach the book in the next post, and then off we can go.
One thing that I fear, having taught the book for so long, and done so with intentions beyond the purely appreciative, is that my understanding of it may have become both eccentric and sclerotic; accordingly, one thing I look forward to is having that understanding undergo the rigors of conversation with peers who don't have to worry about staying on my good side.
ETA: Rivera photo
I always tell my students that the creator(s) of any extended work give(s) us guidelines at the beginning of the work on how to understand it as we go. Typically, we forget the beginning very quickly and don't benefit from the creator's advice. So, with Rivera, I'd like us to avoid that forgetting and actively interpret from the start - not least because I think Rivera gives us unusually clear guidance.
In the ideal case, we'd post our thoughts on the first chapter immediately after reading it, and do the same with the second --- since those chapters are very short, that probably isn't practical. But I hope that y'all will take the invitation of the extensive white space following those chapters to stop and consider very closely the print that precedes the absences, and later share those thoughts with us. (I'll probably wait to read your comments before I weigh in on a section of the book.)
In the original Arte Press hardcover the chapter "The Lost Year" was on the verso with a blank recto - so 3 paragraphs were followed by 1 1/2 pages of white space. The following unnamed chapter is even shorter, so the following white space was sufficient to indicate room for reflection. My take on the book relies very heavily on that spaciousness and on contrasts, physical and otherwise, between those two chapters.
From there, discussion after every other chapter seems indicated, based on the fact that the book alternates multi-paged, titled chapters with very short, untitled chapters.
Beyond that, I would want to start with only one suggestion: stay alert to the book's ellipses, particularly punctuationally - after all, the first word of the title is "...".
In practical terms, I suppose we put our comments pretty much under spoiler alert, so people can proceed fearlessly at their own pace?
Oy! Social Bozo that I am, I forgot the most important part:
Thanks for joining in!
On the lookout for ellipses and blank space....
Thanks for doing this!
Still new to many LT procedures, like how to set a Spoiler?
Tambien, are you alerting people on other threads in case they miss this one?
I'm struggling to find a way to explain without it turning into a spoiler alert! I'll try again, later.
To hide something in a spoiler use the "less than" sign pointing left
Type the word "spoiler" (without the quotation marks)
Then type the "greater than" sign pointing right
Now type whatever comments you want to make.
To end what's hidden in the spoiler, do the exact same thing but add a backslash and type "/spoiler" (again no quotation marks) inside the less than and greater than signs.
spoilerwrite whatever comments you want/spoiler
Hope that helps!!
>6 Berly: & >10 jnwelch: You're both welcome! Glad that you'll be on board, Joe.
>7 ffortsa: If you can manage the Spanish at all, Judy, you're doing better than me: I've got about 20 words of Spanish, and most of them I'd have to spell with asterisks.
>8 m.belljackson: Thanks, to Kim, you have an answer. (>11 Berly: Thanks, Kim.)
I have dutifully and shamelessly promoted this thread on Crazy, Mark's and Paul's thread. : )
I'll try it here to make sure it's correct:
Thanks for your help!
Odd that it worked anyway.
The spoiler message wasn't really one in case it didn't work.
Here's the real information:
On page 7, paragraph 2, of the E.V-P translation, copyright 1993,
there's this sentence: Pero sabia que el era a quien llamaban.
(Spellcheck had a field day with that one.)
It does not come up in the translated page 83.
The translator also often breaks up long sentences into new ones.
Hope this helps.
I would have liked to participate, but maybe next time?
Anyway, I like the idea, your classroom looks wonderful, and I will have a peak round the door every once and a while.
The chapter is Utopian Dialectics in Rivera and Acosta.
Interesting. I'm going to skip that for now - seems like we should enter the book without anyone else's reading clouding our thoughts.
I will also save the article for later reading, but found a great coincidence
after clicking on the title:
the header is that same quote that was Lost in Translation!
(see post #17)
I've heard people still planning to join in here on other Threads who may want to learn what is our first assignment...?
And, will you ask questions or do we just jump in with our first responses or ???
Some leaders have guided discussions while others just wait until everyone's finished the book for reactions.
>27 m.belljackson: Marianne, my initial suggestions for organizing are back in >3 majleavy: If possible, post comments on the first chapter and then the second, and then every two chapters thereafter - I think there is much to be gained by approaching the initial chapters with exaggerated attention.
Otherwise, pay attention to the ellipses...
(I'll certainly ask questions once others comment, but I'd rather not tilt people's approaches in advance. I don't even do that with my students, much less my peers.)
(Still, here's a starting query for "The Lost Year," if anyone prefers one:
(And one for "What his mother never knew":
Thanks for the reminder to check above - it's been awhile so I'd forgotten.
My first thoughts with El ano perdido were that he either has a vivid imagination
or he wants desperately to forget, to bury what has happened to him.
The dream sequence is still confusing:
if he awakens, how can he realize that he is still asleep?
If the lost year comes to him only in dreams, does that make it more or less real to him?
if he awakens, how can he realize that he is still asleep?"
The calling was my next question, yet I remember talking (out loud?)
to myself at the end of one very real dream.
So, while strange, still possible IF it all happens while he sleeps...
this writing is intriguing once I eliminate in my mind the story ending
that I refused to accept from my fourth grade students:
"And then he/she woke up and found it was all a dream."
This afforded an easy introduction to cliches.
I'm interested in other posts on these first two chapters. So I'll stop here for a while.
And the second chapter
If his mother knew that he drank the water "a los espiritus"
AND she was super devout, which we do not know at this point,
she might well be furious and believe that he was tempting Satan.
If she did know (which makes sense given how very lightly mothers
have learned to sleep) and this was not a test of her faith,
then her intent can only be guessed: to give him faith? courage? strength? power? or?
At this point, I trust him to tell what he believes is true when he is awake.
"Why doesn't this one let us bring water?" He's one of those corrupted by his power over those without any power. He probably treated his animals and his family (if he ever had one) the same way.
He didn't see the workers as human .... until after the child was dead. Then, although his own conscience condemned him, society didn't convict him. The jury of his peers considered it was an accident.
I live in ranch country. Some of my neighbors, especially during calving, will take a shot to scare off a stray dog and accidentally kill it instead. Oh well. It wouldn't have happened if the dog was where it belonged.
But afterward, the old man understood what he had done, even if his peers didn't.
Again, complete lack of power. If you can't trust the government, who do you turn to? 'lost in action' - does that mean missing in action or killed in action? If you can't contact the authorities, your options are limited.
And one more, more leading, question: I think it matters terribly that the word "water" is repeated twice in two sentences. Is that over-analytical? I'd like some of your thoughts, before I explain why I think it does matter.
RE: shooting: the ol' blame the victim trick.
About the water, my first thought was the purely pragmatic one of a nightly ritual that also kept the son from getting up and asking for water. Now I begin to think that the mother's intent to protect her son is there.
The Children Couldn't Wait: Definitely obscene. Not only the owner's anger about the time lost to drink water but also the young children working in the heat during April, which means they aren't in school (as nowadays they would be required to be--we had migratory workers' children in and out of my school system (10 miles north of the border) throughout my years there, even though we were an urban district) But I wonder if the children's comparison to conditions up north being better has any significance. And I agree--at least the man recognized the horror of what he had done, which others might not have done, as seen in the reaction of his peers.
The Seance: I'm thinking the timing is during the Vietnam war? Is the medium taking advantage of the mother? Is this part of espiritu?
And finally--how on earth did they make a movie of this? My edition has photos--stills from the movie.
Your lead question and the repetition, which had not stood out before,
feels like foreshadowing, with water maybe becoming as critical to the plot as la tierra.
Not sure about connections between our young boy/man, his Mother, and the devil -
we already know that his Lost Year gave him no protection from his waking nightmares,
yet do not yet know if his Mother's or a God's protection would have helped.
Ellipses so far have led to the action of the second chapter,
but are a mystery as a lead-in to the title since we do not know what happened
before the earth tried to devour (swallow? engulf?) him.
Devour feels way more terrifying than other translations.
Korean War is the era, as it turns out.
We've got spiritualists and mediums all over East LA, and I've never figured out how many believe that they're legit and how many are con artists.
My students love the spiritualist in the 4th chapter - more than a few assume that she's legit. Relatedly, up until I showed "Detroit" this year, the film that was always the most popular in my film class was "Ghost," not least because of the role of a spiritualist in it.
So my thinking at that point was that the contrast signified something I had to be on the lookout for: water, containers of water, maybe just concrete images... or maybe it was things drunk, kept secret, or hidden under beds... In the event, the next chapter clarified my search considerably; then chapter 7 threw me for a loop.
And, the Spanish title for Chapter 3 holds the word "aqua" = aguantaron.
That stayed with me.
by controlling the behavior of a child.
There's no mention, as there would be today, of race as a main reason for depriving people of water,
for treating them less than the animals, just that the boss is "no good."
"...like a dirty rag..." alone could have caused a lost year.
Chapter 4 - The echo of "lost year" in "lost in action" raises questions -
is the narrator the one lost in action while the events he has described so far are from the life he left to go to war?
Is he dead or alive? Lost year, Lost child, and now, Lost son?
Given the loss of hope up to this point, readers may well want to believe in sleeping woman's powers.
"Pero sabia que el era a quien llamaban."- appears at the end of the 2nd paragraph,
but is missing in the English translation.
The online translation is:"But I knew that he was the one they called."
IF this is a correct translation, "I" seems unusual.
>45 m.belljackson: "I"?! Hard to fathom that pronoun popping up here.
The murdered child hits hard, and complicates the issue of one story: that child certainly won't grow up to be lost in Korea. Is he a sibling? A primo?
I'm also interested in "and the water began to turn bloody" which authorizes us, I think, to extend the water imagery to blood, and the very bloody "A Prayer" reinforces that - not to mention her tears and her breastmilk, maybe the faux urination and the inferable perspiration of "The Children..." (my students always pump for the latter, though I insist to them that we stick with the explicit references at this point in the process)... all of this suggests that that initial glass of water is at the root of all bodily fluids.
But with what connection to the dead and the spirit world, and what connection to the earth?
I double-checked the "sabia" translation online and it is "I knew." My own translation would have been "he knew."
If you can find an English translation other than the E.V-P one we have,
AND one that does include the sentence that she has left out,
it would be welcome knowledge.
IF it actually is "I knew," that definitely would give a different perspective!
Slowing down -
(The Great Salt Lake, canyons, deserts, Mormons, Mormons and Mexicans! and what crops grow there?!).
Readers would expect reactions of horror from the Mother,
rather than a spiritualist consultation and prayers for her lost son in Korea.
The sole connection to the dead for me was that her descriptive heart pleas
inspired visions of those gruesome paintings of Jesus holding (?) his heart outside of his body.
I'm looking forward to the connections that you and other readers make.
inspired visions of those gruesome paintings of Jesus holding (?) his heart outside of his body."
Sacred Heart of Jesus, yes; tho' I always wonder if we should hear a bit of Aztec tradition there.
I'm thinking, re: death, of the accumulation" spirits in the second chapter, murder in the third, talking to spirits in the fourth...then Utah? An ill-fit, as you say"
Yeah, where is everyone else?
Although I'm not Catholic, I'm not able to make the stretch between the Sacred Heart and Aztec heart sacrifices.
>47 m.belljackson: Although much of Utah is desert, wasn't Brigham Young's vision to make the desert bloom? (Sorry, not Mormon either).
Utah produces fruit which requires pickers. But they definitely would not have the number of pickers as the more well known agriculture states such as California and Washington.
Question: What age or level do you teach this?
>52 streamsong: I teach this with 11th graders, part of the American Lit class.
(I think, by the way that this is an especially important chapter to attend to; several important elements either make their first appearances or are reinforced.)
This is the chapter where I first started thinking about ellipses - Lost Year ends with one, that seems unsurprising; more surprising is the roughly parallel one in The Children Couldn't Wait: "and the water began to turn bloody..."; but they're all over the place in this chapter, and with a variety of purposes, and adamantly enough that I think we are called on to take account. Any takers?
One thing that I love but took a while to notice, near the end of the chapter: "...hide behind the chest or under the bed." Under the bed! Like a glass of water! Cool. Important to remember this. (And, by the way, this isn't my answer to what happened to the water.)
The chapter also has one of my student's favorite lines: "...some of the older boys who already had mustaches and were still in the second grade..."
Our unknown narrator's mind is:
not lost, as in mad, because that would mean he gave the devil all his power.
It feels more that he has completely lost trust,
in himself after the wetback murder;
in his parents since he could not trust them to believe his version of what happened;
in God who refuses to exist for the poor;
in some of his people who choose not to treat each other with kindness and respect;
in rich gringos who only rarely help anyone except themselves;
and, most importantly, his trust in hope for a future unless his people join together
to fight for their basic human rights.
Thank you for recommending this book. I've never read anything like it, and it sure gives the reader a lot to think about.
P.S. I'm not sure why, but for some reason it makes me think of A Color Purple. Maybe getting drawn in, as a reader, into a very difficult life.
Embarrassingly, I've never read A Color Purple!
ETA the end of my message, which I accidently cut off.
In understanding the final image there are several things I want to accommodate:
In short, the whole lineage of being in a tree testifies to various sorts of risk and mental/emotional issues.
I won't even venture into the whole question of the presence of a tree in the context of sin and its echo of the Expulsion from Paradise.
2) Of course, an image or strand of images can be recuperated at the end of a narrative; a possible source of this is the structural aspect of emerging into the open.
I believe that the first time someone goes under a house, they discover a costume of the Devil; hiding under a bed is first offered as a way of escaping the shame of expulsion (and linked to the secrets connected to that first glass of water); and there are, of course, burials and threats of being devoured by the earth... so his emergence into the open air at the end, after his vision of connection, is certainly optimistic - the fact that he waves to an imaginary observer in another tree also makes it seem delusional, one more sign of an identity that is continuously displaced into nothingness.
3) There is also the question of land ownership: it seems very important that the roll call of chapter recollections in the final chapter begins with a fresh story, one that could fit very nicely into one of Victor Villasenor's magic-inflected stories of traditional Mexican life. And it comes from a time "when we had our own land." That chapter also has the grandfather's recollection of coming out on the wrong side of the Revolution - which is to say, he was a landowner. So that seems to imply an assertion that possession of land is the prerequisite of a heritage, reinforcing my suspicion of trees - it seems more a disconnection than a basis for recuperation or salvation.
There's more to be said about parents, but I already feel overbearing after all of the above. So: another time.
Oh, before that: if you’ve read the chapter, “When We Arrive,” did you amuse yourself by imagining how a room full of Spanish-speaking teenagers responds to me reading aloud (bellowing, really) the “pendejo” rant? If not, you really should have.
Symbolically, this is perhaps most forcefully figured in the “sack full of pictures, worm-eaten and soaking wet” – the tangible loss of memories, which, in the case of the sole photo of Chuy as an adult will have to be replaced by a fake.
A recurring issue in the book is the inability of parents to protect their children: the father in “The Children Couldn’t Wait,” who can neither keep his son well or alive, nor even gain vengeance for him; the father in “It’s That It Hurts,” who cannot/will not accompany his nervous son into the school; the parents in “Hand in His Pocket” who entrust their son to murderers; the parents in “A Silvery Night” who open the door, as it were, to the boys encounter with the crippling (the absence of) the Devil; the mother in “…and the Earth Did Not Devour Him” who cannot preserve her son’s faith; the parents who are at work while the littlest ones burn; the parents who let their children down every Christmas… this is what landlessness produces.
In Genesis, when the Lord exiles Cain from the soil, Cain protests, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
Lacking the mark of Cain (what sin would be marked on their foreheads?), these his children are both hidden from the face of the Lord and liable to be killed by whoever.
“Only be being alone can you bring everybody together,” decides the lost boy/man. In other words, landless, there is no community except in the imagination – or, I should say, except in the individual imagination. Community, in a certain way, does only exist in imagination: without belief in a shared past and a shared future, all you have is people living in propinquity. But for imagination to forge community, it needs to be shared among those propinquitous people, and the fellow who wants to bring everyone together has turned his back on his neighbors, climbed a tree, and hailed a figment of his imagination.
A last remark on the tale of the witches and the knots: I never got around to exploring it here, but I believe that Rivera elaborates that opening concrete image of the glass of water into a fairly specific mobilization of images of the four elements, depicting a world that is not holding together. But there was a time in the past of these “restless wanderer(s) on the earth” (to quote Cain), when they had land and water, and could pull fireballs from the sky – their heritage designating for them the knots that bind the world together.
The conjugation of the verb "saber" yielded both "I" and "he" >
you are free to introduce "You pay your money, you take your choice!"
(original heard in vernacular) to your teen fans
who may find new (and barely printable) applications.
I prefer "I" though Tomas Rivera may well have intended "he."
I love the mystique of the Devil deciding to enter into the fray as a Voice.
Not sure at all about ascent into palm tree - he could be giving the Devil one more chance,
without calling and cursing, to make himself known.
He won't fall, he won't hide under the bed, he won't drink the water and tell his mother
that Satan drank it, and he won't go under the house again - which brought confusion -
when the kids say there is a "man" under the house, does that mean our narrator
actually returned to that spot as a man or is it a recalling of when he originally hid?
In "Silvery Night" he calls the Devil by "his name," even though we know that he doesn't know the Devil's name. It makes no contextual sense to suppose that boy uses his own name to call the Devil, but we can't forget the second paragraph of the book,when the lost year begins: someone calls him, he can't see who it is, he forgets what name he was called by, then realizes that he called himself...
I also love the idea of the Devil as a Voice in the text - certainly he is a Presence in it, in a way that God is not - but I wonder if there is other evidence for it? Perhaps the mother in "...and the earth..." who fears the blood of Satan is running in his veins? Although, that would conflate he and the Devil again.
If I have to make literal sense of what happens under the house, I'd say he is an adult who has "forgotten himself" sought out an old hiding place. But i'm not sure I really buy that.
Do you have any info on how much or little life has changed for migrant workers? Are conditions better now? I'm guessing the prejudice hasn't changed much ....
Things got better for migrant workers, especially in California, in the late 60s-early 70s, through the organizing efforts of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. After Chavez' death, though, his wife and kids took over the union and pretty much gave back all of the gains over the next couple of decades. Students of mine who have some experience in the fields find the book wholly recognizable.
Students of mine who have some experience in the fields find the book wholly recognizable. Wow. I'd love to hear what they have to say about it.
They open up a bit more a more conventional book from which I take excerpts, The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez, which is written for a younger audience and way more accessible, but with fundamentally the same depiction of the life. I have a handful of copies, which I loan out, and they devour it and then go to the library for the sequels. They're more comfortable with Jimenez, and share a few things with me, mostly just of the "that happened to my family" sort of thing, sometimes a bit more specific.
what can we do without Chavez or a Grape Boycott?