Gary Soto History
When one first thinks of history images of grandeur pop open: the Million Man March, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or even the death of JFK. These images are pronounced and inarguably historic, but what is so special about them that makes them historic? Is it the literal event, is it to whom it happened to or is it just one of many events in history that are more pronounced than others? The narrator of the poem History by Gary Soto would say that these events are historic not because of their insurmountable importance, but because of the everyday sacrifice, and the love that is poured out by others is historic in nature and should be something that needs to be followed.
In this poem a day in the life of an older woman, a grandmother, in her 50’s is described in all of its facets. This creates a direct polar opposition to the title History; this would suggest that in the mind’s eye of Soto that the natural and the daily are historic, and it is because of the value it brings to people. This diametric opposition to the cultural norm is strong and can be seen in how the narrator even seems to glorify the woman as if he was writing her biography. It even seems to fit the stereotype of a biography; a woman faces a tragedy and responds heroically, but continues to face her demons every day. In his poem Soto uses enjambment throughout and simple diction to convey the lasting and historical importance of the quotidian and the traditional. What brings her this historic quality is her sacrifice and the love she pours out to her grandchildren whether it’s just some “Tiny chocolates” she brings to the kids or the fact she is infested with tapeworms and is mentally distraught, but she still struggles on. So I would say that Soto is commemorating his grandmother and many others who have brought great things to life for others and declaring that they too are historic. His ignorance of major life changes like the movement of her from city to city seems to show this as well. He only mentions this in passing sort of glossing over it and saying that the little things that she does are more historic than the huge things that occur, for example he uses a whole stanza to just describe the grandmothers morning from cleaning the pavement to shopping while the movements from city to city get 2 measly lines. The persona also states that he knows the stories from the grandmothers past, but he fails to mention them with the exception of the death of her son which he also glosses over, but emphasizes the sorrow felt by the grandmother. This declaration that applauds the caretakers and the small act of love of family affirms the claim that to him love and sacrifice are important enough to be called history and this can also be seen through a look at the syntax.
This poem traps the day in a very poetic prose making it seem like her life is indelibly historic. This entrapment in the historic is also seen in the language and how it even reads slowly demonstrating its everlasting nature. The words in the poem are simple, but they are hard consonant sounds such as “knobs,” and “tapeworm” which slow the poem down and unlike some poems about history that use alliteration and rhyme to show the fluidness of history and force people to only see the huge picture, this poem emphasizes the small aspects of history and proposes the idea that the small things are historic and worth stopping for and honoring.
Apart from the claim that little things in life are deemed historic and worth stopping for there is another resounding aspect in the poem the reference to the heritage of the grandmother. These allusions to the Mexican and the fact that she lives out being Mexican every day in her life such as when “She sliced papas,/ Pounded chiles/ With a stone/Brought from Guadalajara” affirm the fact that heritage is something you carry with you and is everlasting. This is also reflected in the enjambment and the language, the flip flop to some Spanish words and the allusions to a Spanish life demonstrate that the personal heritage is something that like history should be appreciated and looked upon as something that is to be learned from.
The saying goes “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” but Soto says that we should learn from History in a different way, not to learn about it so we know not to repeat it, but learn from it so we can continue with the great traditions that have already been set. He deems the small acts of love as historic and something worth learning and states that heritage is something that needs to be kept and treasured.