In his essay, “The Achievement of Desire,” Richard Rodriguez informs readers that he was a scholarship boy throughout his educational career. He uses his own personal experiences, as well as Richard Hoggart’s definition of the “scholarship boy,” to describe himself as someone who constantly struggles with balancing his life between family and education, and ends up on the side of education.
In recognizing himself as a “scholarship boy,” he shows that he has gained what sociologist C. Wright Mills terms the “sociological imagination,” which “enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals” (Mills 8). Rodriguez’s writing style switches back and forth, between his biography, which is mainly focused on himself, and the definition of the “scholarship boy,” based on Hoggart’s definition.
We as readers are easily able to see that Rodriguez is not the only person who has struggled with loss, confusion, loneliness, and nostalgia, but is actually just one boy in a sea of many “scholarship boys. ” During his last year as a graduate student, Rodriguez traveled to London, and was with many other scholars. When he finally feels as if he has found a community that he belongs to, he realizes that he has joined a “lonely community” (530), filled with “the faces of young men and women worn by long study” (530).
This is when Rodriguez has an epiphany, or when he gains a “sociological imagination. Mills tells us that an individual has developed a “sociological imagination” when he is able to “understand his own experience and gauge his own fate by locating himself within his period, that he can know his own chances in life by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances” (Mills 9).
Rodriguez shows readers proof that he has developed the “sociological imagination” because he sees himself in Hoggart’s definition, he appreciates and understands his parents’ backgrounds, he can see how education affected him, and he can return home o his family. When Rodriguez is in London, he reads Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy, and is able to see himself in the essay. We see that he gains a “sociological imagination” and that he realizes that he fits the definition of the “scholarship boy” when he says that he “realized that there were other students” (517) like him. Hoggart says that this type of student must be “more and more alone” (517) in order to succeed, and that this student must “cut himself off mentally, so as to do his homework, as well as he can” (517).
Rodriguez shows us that he not only grasps what the “scholarship boy” is, but he also understands what the “scholarship boy” goes through because of personal experience. Although he agrees with Hoggart’s definition, Rodriguez also adds to the meaning of the “scholarship boy” by giving his readers the insight of exactly what they go through, how they think, and why they do what they do. For example, he shows readers that he is forced to be “more and more alone” (517) by writing about how his relationship with his parents is weakened, and how the books he reads makes him feel lonelier.
This insight not only asserts Hoggart’s definition of the “scholarship boy,” but also lengthens and specifies it. Rodriguez also shows us that he has gained the “sociological imagination” by writing about his appreciation and understanding of his parents’ backgrounds. He tells us that his mother barely knew any English. Lived everyday as a typist, earned very little money, and supported her three children. His father received very little formal education in Mexico, until he left school to work for his uncle, and ended up in America with no high school education and a low-paying job.
Although his parents were not educated enough to help him with his homework or support him with his education as much as they wanted to, Rodriguez finally realizes that his parents wanted to give their children the “chances the never had” (521). As a child, and as a “scholarship boy,” Rodriguez “evaded nostalgia” (519) and tried to forget about his conflict between education and culture. In fact, he did his best to block out his past all the way until he was in London.
However, when Rodriguez finally looked back at his childhood, he was able to objectively see what he lost because of his focus on “getting educated” (528). He developed a “sociological imagination,” and was finally able to see that there is a common theme in society, and that this common theme or social force directly affects him and his life. In his essay, Rodriguez tells us how education affected him. He was so focused on getting a good education that he failed to realize the lessons that were put in front of him.
For example, Rodriguez was too interested in his books and learning more facts, and not interested enough in the big picture. He read many non-fiction books, textbooks, and fictional novels, and asked himself why he read them. He said that “they constituted the only means [he] had of describing to [himself] the educational value of books” (526). As we see here, Rodriguez was not simply reading his books mindlessly, or just reading each word without thinking. Rather, he was putting effort into getting a deeper understanding of each book, but found the themes useless or inapplicable to his life.
As he read Robinson Crusoe, for example, he knew that the main theme or lesson of the story was “the value of learning by oneself” (526), but did not actually learn anything by taking the theme and relating it to his own life and situation. We see that Rodriguez was trying very hard to find the meanings of each book he read, and yet he was too focused on “getting educated” to apply those meanings into his own life. Readers may see Rodriguez as a senseless and stubborn man, who was too blind to realize that education was not worth giving up a loving family and culture.
Hoggart says that the “scholarship boy” learns how to “receive a purely literate education, one using only a small part of the personality and challenging only a limited area of his being” (529). Rodriguez argues that Hoggart’s description is “more accurate than fair” because he knows how much his education has affected him. We are able to see this as evidence that Rodriguez has developed the “sociological imagination” by looking back to Mill’s definition of it.
He said that people “hope to grasp what is going on in this world, and to understand what is happening to themselves as minute points of the intersection of biography and history within society” (Mills 10). Rodriguez can grasp the larger issue of “scholarship boys” and understand exactly how it affects his situation. He believed that Hoggart was right about what he said about “scholarship boys,” but he also believed that Hoggart was being unfair because he had never gone through what he had to do.
Although Rodriguez thought of himself as both a good student and a smart person while he was going through school, he never knew that he was not the only “scholarship boy” in the world until he read Richard Hoggart’s works. He tells the readers that he felt lonely throughout his childhood, and yet there were there were so many other children going through similar situations and feelings. Rodriguez may have been a very smart boy, but he did not understand what he was giving up by putting all of his time into his studies.
However, if he had kept a more open mind throughout his education, and if he had looked at the big picture, then he could have lived a life with a lot less regret. Even though Rodriguez may have been just another “scholarship boy” in the world, he took his education extremely seriously. When Rodriguez finally expanded his field from book knowledge to heart knowledge, he was able to connect everything he had previously learned and apply it to his life. This shows the readers that Richard Rodriguez had definitely developed the “sociological imagination,” and that he had applied his previous “education” into his life.