The Relation of a Reader and Writer: Rodriguez and Hoggart

by , 2002

Richard Rodriguez acts as both a reader and a writer when he draws excerpts from Richard Hoggart's book, The Uses of Literacy, into his own, Hunger of Memory, in the chapter, "The Achievement of Desire." As a reader, Rodriguez found a book that defined his own life; he was Richard Hoggart's scholarship boy. It proved that there were other individuals in existence that were like him. Then, as a writer, Rodriguez explained to us how he was the scholarship boy. Rodriguez's incorporation of Hoggart's ideas gives us an example of something that we already know, a good writer has to be a good reader too.

Richard Rodriguez hid behind Hoggart's definition of a scholarship boy and used all of the problems that it created to explain the problems in his own life. Hoggart wrote that the scholarship boy "feels himself weighted with knowledge of his own and [his class'] situation, which hereafter forbids him the simpler pleasures of his mother and father" (Hoggart 246). Rodriguez included this quote in his essay and writes about his own life. "My parents and I sat in the kitchen for a conversation. But, lacking the same words to develop our sentences and to shape our interests, what was there to say?" (Rodriguez 630). Rodriguez's education pushed him away from his parents, just as the education of Hoggart's scholarship boys moved them away from theirs. Rodriguez might not have had the courage as a writer to admit such a problem in his life if he had not read about other people with the same problems. Because he read that there were other people like him, he was able to write about himself more openly.

Rodriguez read through the definition of a scholarship boy and then passed it on to his own readers through four large quotations, one at the beginning of each of his chapter's subdivisions. The location of the quotes and the way that he used them made them a base for his arguments. After explaining what Hoggart's scholarship boy was, he explained how he was an example of one. The scholarship boy is a student that comes from a lower, working class family and excels past his social status through the use of exceptional educational talents. He is driven away from his parents and family through a difference in intelligence. Obtaining a high-quality education is of the utmost importance to him. His quest for knowledge will lead him to piles of books, which will become his best friends. But, "He discovers a technique of apparent learning, of acquiring of facts rather than of the handling and use of facts" (Hoggart 243). The scholarship boy gathers a great deal of information but is not able to translate it into meaningful interaction with other people. Richard Rodriguez saw that the traits of the scholarship boy were the same as his own. As a reader, he discovered that he was the scholarship boy.

The simple fact that Richard Rodriguez stumbled upon Hoggart's definition of a scholarship boy is somewhat remarkable and helps to show how he is an example of one. The Uses of Literacy is not a widely read book. I had to travel deep within the stacks of the library here at the University of Miami to find it. The check out card still had due dates on it from 1963. Within the book itself, the chapter, "Scholarship Boy," does not fall until near the end (it starts on page 238). And, the rest of the book did not discuss educational issues; it spoke of how mass media was affecting the working class of England. Rodriguez told us in his essay, "for weeks I read, speed-read, books by modern educational theorists, only to find infrequent and slight mention of students like me... Then one day, leafing through Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy, I found, in his description of the scholarship boy, myself" (Rodriguez 623). How many books had Rodriguez read before he reached the passage that he was looking for? Certainly, it had to be quite a few if it took him weeks of reading. The simple fact that Rodriguez found the book and then read all the way through it before finding what he was looking for shows how Rodriguez is an example of a scholarship boy. The realization that he was defined by Hoggart's writing led Rodriguez to more openly describe himself in his own writing.

After realizing that the problems that he was experiencing were the result of being a scholarship boy, Rodriguez explored how he could change himself from being one. "I left the reading room and the circle of faces. I came home... I spent three summer months living with my mother and father, relieved by how easy it was to be home" (638). The scholarship boy had difficulty in communicating with his parents just as Rodriguez did. Reading Hoggart's definition of a scholarship boy allowed Rodriguez to understand himself better, but he had to figure out how to better himself on his own. Rodriguez understood that he needed to return to his roots that he had abandoned in his search for knowledge, only after realizing what he had become. If he had not read Hoggart's book, he might not have ever figured out how to improve himself. Again, Rodriguez's ability to grow came from his reading of Hoggart's text.

The relationship between Richard Rodriguez's chapter, "The Achievement of Desire," and Richard Hoggart's book, The Uses of Literacy, is a strong link between a reader and a writer. Rodriguez used Hoggart's scholarship boy as a comparison to himself and, in doing so, was able to write more openly and honestly about his own life. The way he interacts with Hoggart's text shows something universal: it is impossible to be a writer without being a reader. Reading is a key part of writing.

Works Cited

Hoggart, Richard. The Uses of Literacy. London: Chatto and Windus, 1959.

Rodriguez, Richard. "The Achievement of Desire." Ways of Reading. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999. 621-639.