Hunger of Memory Summary and Study Guide

Richard Rodriguez

Hunger of Memory

  • 39-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 6 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an editor and book reviewer with a degree in English
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Hunger of Memory Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 39-page guide for “Hunger of Memory” by Richard Rodriguez includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 6 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 Education and Language.

Plot Summary

Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez is a non-fiction memoir focusing on the upbringing, particularly dealing with education, of the titular Richard Rodriguez, a noted Chicano intellectual. Beginning with his childhood, the book focuses on Rodriguez’ intellectual development and how he went from understanding only fifty words of English to completing his education abroad in London. The book heavily focuses on themes of immigration and assimilation, as Rodriguez discusses his growing alienation from the Mexican culture of his birth and his increasing identification as an American. Rodriguez, a devoutly religious man and a cultural conservative, takes many strong political stands in the book. He laments the modernization of the Roman Catholic Church, believing it to be more reassuring when its adherence to Catholic dogma was stricter. He also speaks about his opposition to bilingual education, believing his total immersion in English was the key to his success. He criticizes Affirmative Action, citing his own success as proof it is unnecessary.

Hunger of Memory is divided into a prologue and six chapters. Although it follows a loose chronological retelling of Rodriguez’ education, each chapter also contains a personal and political essay detailing how his education shaped him and his opinions. In the prologue, Rodriguez states that his goal is to document his schooling and how it shaped him, and share the story of how language has determined his public identity. Language is one of the key themes of Hunger of Memory, and Rodriguez’s experiences are key to his strong stand against bilingual education.

In the first chapter, “Aria,” Rodriguez discusses his early education at a Catholic elementary school in a middle-class neighborhood of Sacramento, California. This is where the topic of bilingual education and immersion into English first comes up, as nuns from his school come to his home to urge his parents to only speak English at home to help him better learn the language of their new home country. Although his parents agree and his progress in learning English, he does note bittersweetly that his home became far more quiet once everyone spoke only English. In the conclusion of this chapter, Rodriguez lays out his argument against bilingual education.

In the second chapter, “The Achievement of Desire,” Rodriguez reflects on how he was changed by his academic success, as he worked towards degrees at both Stanford and Columbia. His growing achievements separated him from his parents, who worked simple jobs as a typist and a laborer. A voracious reader once he could read English, Rodriguez discusses his love for books and how they’ve influenced him. He also shares the story of his time in the United Kingdom for a dissertation fellowship.

The third chapter, “Credo,” is Rodriguez’ musing on his faith and how it’s influenced his life. He was raised Roman Catholic and witnessed first-hand the differences between the old-fashioned Mexican Catholicism he was first introduced to, and the increasingly modernized American Catholicism he witnessed in the United States. Rodriguez ends chapter three by discussing the increasing secularization of religion, and expressing his disapproval of the changes the Church has made to the Liturgy in recent years. Religion is a common theme in Rodriguez’ work, and became the core subject of many of his follow-up books.

Chapter Four, “Complexion”, focuses on how race has influenced his life. From an early age, he was keenly aware of the discrimination that people with darker skin faced. His mother even tried to keep him out of the sun, hoping he would turn out paler from his parents. During his Stanford education and while working a job in construction with Mexican day laborers, he became convinced that race was not the dividing factor between people, but rather education. Rodriguez is a strong believer that anyone can lift themselves up out of their current situation through study and hard work.

Chapter Five, “Profession,” turns the focus to the start of his career in higher education, which unfolds against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. This was the dawn of affirmative action, which began in colleges and universities around the country. While admitting that he had benefited from these programs in the past, Rodriguez takes a strong stand against them. He backed up his actions by turning down positions where he felt he was being hired to diversify the campus, believing it unfair that his white friends were not given the same opportunities.

The final chapter, “Mr. Secrets,” focuses on the fallout of Rodriguez’s activism once he starts becoming known as a conservative academic who takes these opinions on immigration, assimilation, and affirmative action. Although his writing has gained popularity, his mother strongly disapproves of his activism, although Rodriguez says his writing is to reflect on what has been lost rather than to disregard his heritage. Rodriguez ends by stating his regret of the divisions these issues have caused in his family, although he stands by his beliefs and his decision to publish them.

Hunger of Memory is a controversial book, owing primarily to Rodriguez’ outspoken activism against affirmative action and bilingual education. Despite strong criticism of his opinions, the book is considered a classic work in the immigrant experience and in Chicano literature. Rodriguez has written several follow-ups, including Days of Obligation, which focuses on his tumultuous relationship with his old-fashioned father as well as his realization that he is gay. Rodriguez remains an in-demand activist and speaker, who continues to publish books on culture, language, and religion.

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Prologue