In “History” by Gary Soto, imagery and diction is used to further the Grandma’s hardworking persona yet shows vulnerability. “History” seems to be a memorial to Grandma, an explication of the importance of a perseverant figure and that ultimately, no matter how perseverant a person is, they will always carry some type of weakness.
The beginning of the poem follows a grandchild as he observes his Grandma. The poem seems to follow Grandma as she follows an ostensibly rudimentary day—she turns on the stove, goes to the market, and prepares food. However, towards the middle of the poem, the observer seems to have disappeared because the subject is centered on the Grandma as a secretive and devious character as she steals from the market. As the poem continues, the observer returns because a description of the Grandma as she sheds tears is given. The tone switches as the poem continues from determined to dark and more sorrowful. Her “insides are washed of tapeworm,” “her arms swelled into knobs of small growth,” and “her son dropped from a ladder and was dust.” She also is sent into prayer because of her sorrows and becomes upset that age has taken over as she sheds a tear when she touches loose skin of belly and breasts. Through all of this, a constant theme is shown—she must provide for her family and take hold of the situation no matter what her weaknesses appear to be.
The poem seems to show that Grandma is very determined by the small hints Soto uses. For example, the stone that Grandma uses to pound chiles was brought from Guadalajara, a city in central Mexico. The stone was not simply found, but effort was put in to bringing the stone from another location. Further in the poem, the Grandma is described as stealing items from a market, without using the money she had counted earlier from her savings, which seemed very miniscule since it could be contained by a small cigar box. This shows that Grandma wants to provide for her family while saving and thinking ahead for the future by not spending her savings.
However, when the Grandma steals from the market, she smiles. This shows that she is satisfied with her work, although she understands that what she did was probably wrong. She knows that stealing was not the best way to provide for her family, but she blindly sees the positives of finally supplying food for her loved ones.
The Grandma is shown as extremely vulnerable towards the end of the poem when her weaknesses are revealed (tapeworm, age, swollen arms) and the observer admits that he is unsure of why. To me, however, the Grandma is upset because she is emotionally exhausted and drained, knowing that tomorrow, she is to repeat the same process again.