Sunday, March 13, 2011

History by Learie Jones


A common theme of the young is the thought of becoming an old person with nothing left to do. Teenagers worry about what will happen when their bodies become saggy, the night life is out of their age limit, and when playing their favorite sports is physically impossible. In the poem History, Gary Soto uses a grocery-list style of imagery to show that while becoming elderly may appear to be grim at first sight, the memories and stories that old age carries actually brings people happiness.

The poem starts with a stanza from the perspective of a child watching his grandmother cooking breakfast, as the poem starts off explaining the “Morning sunlight” on the kitchen floor. The picture of the grandmother laboring over the breakfast meal is painted with hints such as “Her eyes small/With sleep”, which shows that she is fatigued but continues her daily work nevertheless. The end of this first stanza and the majority of the second stanza consist of a list of various chores she is performing, “She sliced papas”, “Pounded chiles”, She hosed down/The walk”, “Unearthed her/Secret cigar box… counted them”. The author uses these images to show the non-stop work of a woman who is becoming old and weak. Despite her age, she continues to push on, doing the household work she has become accustomed to over the years.

In the third stanza, sorrow is added to the heavy weight already put on the old woman’s shoulders. The author uses the image “her insides/Were washed of tapeworm” to show that the grandmother is beginning to suffer from disease as she becomes older, as her “arms swelled into knobs”. More sorrow is added when “Her second son/Dropped from a ladder”, a loss that affected the woman deeply. As all of these several hardships and laborious tasks weighed upon the grandma, it was the child who asked how she stays happy. At the end of the third stanza, the child is confused and says, “I do not know why/Her face shines” to make his curiosity known to the reader. Finally, in the end the child essentially reaches an epiphany, “Or what goes beyond this shine, /Only the stories/That pulled her/From Taxco to San Joaquin”. The child now understands that the memories and experiences the woman had the privilege of being involved in throughout life have carried her to this point and continue to keep her happy despite whatever things attempt to bring her down. In the end, it is the history of the woman’s life that have brought her to where she is, and it is this history that continues to keep her going.

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