Sandra Cisneros and the Chicana Voice Literature Review

Pages: 5 (1774 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature

Raymond Carver

Literary critic Felicia Cruz has called Sandra Cisneros "one of the "new" generation of college-educated Chicano writers whose works were endorsed by prestigious foundations (two of which awarded fellowship grants to Cisneros: the NEA and the Macarthur Foundation) and were published by mainstream publishers." (Cruz 911). What is most interesting about Sandra Cisneros' brief story "Geraldo No Last Name" is that the author is choosing to imagine the short life and death of a Hispanic immigrant, Geraldo, who does not share her advantages in life. Geraldo is not college-educated, but is instead, as critic Barbara Harlow identifies him, "the illegal immigrant who refuses to identify himself against the threats of the INS" (Harlow 161). It is worth taking a closer look at the dense poetic text of this short story in order to examine what Cisneros is trying to emphasize about the main character who gives her story a title.

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"Geraldo No Last Name" is about the title character Geraldo, but he is only seen as reflected through a secondary character, Marin. We may understand Marin as being a sort of stand-in for Cisneros herself, because Marin is represented as being born in America -- even her name recalls a county in northern California that was originally settled by the Spanish, so we may understand her as part of an assimilated Hispanic presence in America. The irony of the story is that Marin does not know much more about Geraldo than we the readers know about him -- like us, she does not know his last name either. But Marin is able to derive a greater sense of meaning from the limited facts that are given, and the construction of that meaning in Marin's mind is seemingly the purpose of the story. The story's style is conversational and clipped, and told in the form of an offhand anecdote: we can imagine it being narrated by a woman from Marin's family, an aunt or a cousin (or perhaps Sandra Cisneros herself), telling this brief and elliptical story to explain Marin's emotional state, or simply to describe what happened to Marin after the Saturday dance and why she got home so late. It has the quality of a story being told secondhand.

Literature Review on Sandra Cisneros and the Chicana Voice Assignment

The story begins with a retrospective account of how Marin met Geraldo -- "at a dance" -- and then it emphasizes what attracted her to him in the first place, the fact that he was "pretty too, and young" (Cisneros 478). But the first paragraph also emphasizes that Geraldo was wearing a "Saturday shirt" which, of course, suggests that the rest of the week he must wear work clothes and work long hours in the "restaurant" that Marin "can't remember" the name of. One irony here is that, ordinarily, restaurants that employ migrant workers as dishwashers or busboys will frequently regard their workers as indistinguishable -- and here Marin finds the restaurants that employ these immigrants to be unmemorable to her, or else it is simply not the sort of restaurant where Marin herself is likely to eat. However, in terms of suspense, Cisneros structures her story so that the climax is essentially given away at the start of the second paragraph: Geraldo's death. We are told that Marin met Geraldo dancing, but then after the death she would "be the last one to see him alive" after his death in a "hit and run." This introduces another irony, insofar as the person who commits the actual crime in the story -- the driver of the car in the hit and run accident -- is also someone who refuses to give his name out of a fear of law enforcement. The fact that Geraldo will ultimately not give his last name at the hospital -- presumably out of fear of being deported -- is obviously central to the story, since it give Cisneros her title. But one thing we are asked to consider is the sort of crimes that people might be accused of or prosecuted for. The driver of the car that hits Geraldo is, of course, basically guilty of murder -- although nothing is known about him, because he is able to evade responsibility. Geraldo, by contrast, is likely to be harassed for his immigration status, and as a result withholds his identity even from those who would help him, or (in the case of Marin) mourn him.

The fact that the police might very well have harassed Geraldo is emphasized in the third paragraph of the story, where Marin is described as having "said again and again…once to the hospital people and twice to the police" that she knows nothing about Geraldo apart from his surname (Cisneros 478). Of course the details of the story comprise what Marin is able to know about Geraldo even within this limited and impersonal context. Indeed this is the meaning of the story, as expressed in the fourth paragraph, where Cisneros tells us that "only Marin can't explain why it mattered, the hours and hours, for somebody she didn't even know." It is somewhat clear to the reader why it mattered on some level -- if a person is dying in a hospital and Marin, who has only known him for a few hours, is the only person who is there for the death, it is difficult to leave the situation. Geraldo's refusal to give his name means that his family will not be contacted, and he will die alone. Marin's presence ensures that Geraldo does not die alone, and this is presumably why it matters -- what is being established here is a sense of racial solidarity between Marin and Geraldo, for the simple fact that she is better able to understand the struggles and difficulties of his life than the hospital workers or the police. In some sense, the implication here is that in America Geraldo's life is basically worthless -- not only is he the subject of a hit and run accident (in which a driver assumes, correctly, that he or she can get away penalty-free from committing a murder) but more importantly we learn by the fourth paragraph that the surgeon refuses to come to the hospital at 3AM in order to perform surgery that might potentially have saved Geraldo's life. This point is repeated twice in the fourth paragraph for emphasis: "maybe if the surgeon would've come…if the surgeon had only come." We do not know the reason for the surgeon's refusal, of course -- the story offers no proof that it was racism rather than some sort of injury that surgery would not be able to repair -- but Marin seems to dwell on the surgeon's absence as being the chief reason why she was not ever able to get information about Geraldo's family, "who to notify and where" (Cisneros 478).

It is noteworthy, though, that the story's fifth paragraph seems to emphasize Marin's different status within America, as someone who is a citizen -- we are told that Geraldo "wasn't anything to her" and he "wasn't her boyfriend" and that he was "just another brazer "and "just another wetback," all of which seem intended to emphasize the social distance between Marin and Geraldo. The "difference," of course, is that to a white observer, the distance between Marin and Geraldo is not as great as the distance between either of them and white America. Under certain circumstances -- for example, speaking Spanish -- Marin herself might very well be accused of being a "wetback" by a white American racist, even though the story itself reveals that she is not. Thus the reason why Geraldo's death matters to Marin is not merely because of the desperately lonely poignance of the boy's death, or the vague suspicion that Marin found him attractive -- although these hints of melancholia and eroticism are both present in the story -- but because of the racial solidarity entailed. Marin is able to know more about Geraldo, and the difficulties of his life, than someone in America's white (or black) community is able to know. Even if there is a difference in the legal status of the two characters -- which is the reason why Marin is able to identify Geraldo as being one of those Hispanic people "who always look ashamed," presumably because they are not in America on a legal visa -- nonetheless Marin is capable of understanding what Geraldo's life might have been like.

The facts of his life are emphasized at the story's conclusion in the eighth and ninth paragraphs. And by Cisneros's structure, it is clear that these facts are meant to provide the story's climax, rather than the actual climactic events -- the hit and run accident, the tragic early death -- which would ordinarily sound like the climactic conclusion of a story. Instead, the climax is taken up with Marin's imagination of the material circumstances of Geraldo's life -- "kitchenettes" and "sleeping rooms" and "weekly money orders sent home," none of which Marin… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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