Gary Soto

Buried Onions

  • 37-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 9 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a Master's degree in English
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Buried Onions Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 37-page guide for “Buried Onions” by Gary Soto includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 9 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Determinism and Choice.

Plot Summary

Buried Onions (1996), by Gary Soto, is a heart-wrenching slice-of-life, stream-of-consciousness novel that allows us to peer into the lifestyles available to young men growing up on the poverty-stricken and predominately Mexican-American south side of Fresno, California.

The novel guides us through several weeks in the life of Eddie, a nineteen-year-old Mexican American and the narrator of this first-person story. Eddie strives to be responsible, is mostly honest, and attempts gamely to understand the world around him in a way that allows him to continue on for another day. Street-savvy yet unprepared to fully make his own way, Eddie’s future in Fresno is portrayed as bleak.

When we meet Eddie, he is living alone and has recently dropped out of the local community college, where he had been studying air conditioning. His mom has moved to Merced, an hour away, while Eddie stays on in Fresno, with a few minimally-helpful friends and relatives left around him. His apartment is small, stark, and roach-infested. The fridge and its container of ice water, together with the swamp cooler, are the apartment’s prominent features. There also is a small garage where Eddie keeps his bicycle, his primary mode of transportation. Eddie stays afloat via odd jobs, the premiere of which is his street number painting operation. He goes door-to-door in more affluent neighborhoods trying to find those who want crisply-painted house numbers on their homes’ front curbs.

Recently, Eddie’s best friend, Juan, was killed in a freak accident involving a steel roller, and his cousin, Jesus, was murdered. The murder of Jesus is the backdrop for much of the action in the novel. Eddie’s aunt bribes him with burritos and brings him a gun to seek revenge for the death of Jesus, pushing hard against Eddie’s own instincts to stay out of it. The novel follows this thread, which takes place near Eddie’s neighborhood, while also pursuing and exploring the thread of Eddie’s upward mobility as he seeks slightly-improved work situations and reaches out to a few possible girlfriends. However, Eddie’s home life, his friendships, and his romantic life are stunted, incomplete, and unsatisfactory, and he ends up focusing chiefly on his own survival.

While curb-painting on the more prosperous north side of Fresno, Eddie runs into an elderly gentleman, Mr. Stiles, who hires Eddie for more than just street numbers. Eddie becomes Mr. Stiles’ landscaper, digging big holes for birch trees and other plantings. This is a boon for Eddie until a nasty small child who lives near Mr. Stiles starts accusing Eddie of bad language, saying Eddie said “bitch” instead of “birch” (22-23) (which he had not). Eddie’s job is briefly in jeopardy over this issue until he successfully positions the problem as simple word confusion.

The work relationship later goes downhill again, and more seriously, when Mr. Stiles loans Eddie his red truck to take trash to the dump. There, Eddie makes a find of a “new” refrigerator and feels his luck has changed at last, but when he parks the truck in front of his apartment to unload the refrigerator, the truck is stolen. Eddie knows he can’t go back at all now to Mr. Stiles, as he will be viewed as a thief. Forsaking his bike, which is still located at Mr. Stiles’ house, and knowing Stiles must think he stole the truck, he writes a note to Mr. Stiles, and risks a great deal to deliver the note and truck key, saying he did not steal it and hoping Mr. Stiles can find his truck. Later, Eddie spots the truck and is able to let Mr. Stiles know where it is, mending the relationship momentarily, until Eddie is accused, via Mr. Stiles, of a crime he didn’t commit.

The other main thread in the book, that of his cousin’s death, builds more steam after the Stiles episode. Eddie doesn’t know for sure how the Jesus killing happened, since he wasn’t there, but he thinks a man in yellow shoes did it, based on what his friend Angel has told him. However, a girl he meets and who befriends him swears it was actually Angel himself who killed Jesus. Soon, Eddie is all but convinced that Angel did murder Jesus (this is never fully confirmed in the novel). Eddie at this point begins to grow slightly paranoid and worries about the relationship between Angel and himself.

An old friend, Jose, shows up in Eddie’s life. Jose has been in the Marines, and, like Eddie, takes pride in staying away from gangs and drugs. He is with Eddie when Mr. Stiles’ red truck is spotted, and when Jose approaches the truck he is assaulted by a group of thirteen-year-old thugs. Jose ends up being stabbed while Eddie is calling Mr. Stiles about his truck.

Gradually, Eddie comes to realize he must leave Fresno. This thought is hastened when he finally takes on Angel in a fight. Eddie attacks Angel and puts him in the hospital. Eddie knows Angel will now be out for revenge, so Eddie heads to an old friend who always is willing to offer stability and advice: the coach at his old playground. Coach advises Eddie to join the military, advice Eddie haltingly heeds, deciding to enlist in the Navy. Before Eddie heads out of Fresno, Coach takes both him and Jose fishing for an afternoon, down by a river. Eddie enjoys nature and being in the water, in spite of not swimming well. He hopes the Navy will help him learn to swim better as he likes the water very much.

When last we see him, the van carrying Eddie and other new recruits has experienced engine trouble and is stalled off the road just a few miles outside of Fresno. Eddie walks out into the field adjacent to the van, running into the exact same black man who had sold Jose onions earlier in the novel. Now this man, along with other field workers, are digging onions.

We leave the book with Eddie stranded in an onion field, no help in sight, surrounded by onions.

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Chapters 1-2