Literary Conventions of Genre

The literary model is an autobiography written by Ernesto Gallarza. It illustrated literary elements like characters, setting, chronological order, and author’s purpose leading to the development of theme. Autobiographical writing through the narration of the author of his personal experiences reveals an account of events, line of thinking, emotions, expectations, and realizations. The details in the story actually happened. The author, Ernesto Gallarza, in the Barrio Boy is the younger version of an older person recounting to the readers his childhood experiences. In the process of telling the story or experience, he reveals his own personalities and feelings toward other people and places. For instance, the story revealed his impressions about Miss Hopley, how he felt about Miss Ryan, how he regards his classmates, and how important his Spanish language is in school.

In the following paragraph, the readers can better understand Ernesto’s thoughts and feelings and how he regards Miss Ryan as a teacher:

The main reason I was graduated with honors from the first grade was that I had fallen in love with Miss Ryan. Her radiant, no-nonsense character made us either afraid not to love her or love her so we would not be afraid, I am not sure which. It was not only that we sensed she was with it, but also that she was with us.

Just like in other works of fiction, the autobiography also presents characters through the details narrated by the author, who is also the main character. The details present a description of appearance and behavior in which the reader could draw conclusions. Here is a paragraph that describes a character:

What Miss Hopley said to us we did not know but we saw in her eyes a warm welcome and when she took off her glasses and straightened up she smiled wholeheartedly, like Mrs. Dodson. We were, of course, saying nothing, only catching the friendliness of her voice and the sparkle in her eyes while she said words we did not understand. She signaled us to the table. Almost tiptoeing across the office, I maneuvered myself to keep my mother between me and the gringo lady. In a matter of seconds, I had to decide whether she was a possible friend or a menace.

Characters are portrayed realistically in nonfiction. Notice how the author used the details in order to infer from the actions of Miss Hopley. It was obvious that as the author describes the character, he too is trying to decipher for himself and for the reader the attitude of Miss Hopley.

Autobiography, as the term implies, is told in the first-person point of view. Furthermore, the author presents information not only from his vantage point but as seen in the eyes of the other characters they depict, and that these characters have significant views or feelings of the same events, actions, or settings. The following paragraph about Miss Hopley helps create a mental image or visualization about the appearance of the character to the readers.

….And what she carried up and up with her was a buxom superstructure, firm shoulders, a straight sharp nose, full cheeks slightly molded by a curved line along the nostrils, thin lips that moved like steel springs, and a high forehead topped by hair gathered in a bun. Miss Hopley was not a giant in body but when she mobilized it to a standing position she seemed a match for giants.

If we consider how Gallarza described Miss Hopley, the author helps us picture her in our mind from a description of a child.

The details of the story are narrated in chronological order. Telling the story in this way would lead the reader to the chain of events leading to the theme implied. Gallarza begins his story on how he and his mother went to the school, how he met the school principal, teachers, and classmates, and eventually realizing that he is proud as an American without setting aside his Mexican heritage. The details helped support the understanding of the theme, since they connect the readers to the real-life situations they are into while reading the author’s experiences.

Look at how the author kicked off with the story with the chain of detailed descriptions of Lincoln School in this paragraph.

My mother and I walked south on Fifth Street one morning to the corner of Q Street and turned right. Half of the block was occupied by the Lincoln School. It was a three-story wooden building, with two wings that gave it the shape of a double-T connected by a central hall. It was a new building, painted yellow, with a shingled roof that was not like the red tile of the school in Mazatlan. I noticed other differences, none of them very reassuring. We walked up the wide staircase hand in hand and through the door, which closed by itself A mechanical contraption screwed to the top shut it behind us quietly.

The details are interesting because the writers use objective and subjective descriptions and anecdotes about their experiences. Moreover, many autobiographies are filled with subjective details which are based on personal feeling and opinion which at times cannot be proven. Meanwhile, the short and oftentimes amusing anecdotes help enliven the story and make a point.

The setting happened at Lincoln School in California. As a six-year-old boy, Gallarza with his family migrated to the United States from Mexico to escape the Mexican Revolution in 1910. In the US, Gallarza immersed into new customs and experiences and one of them is his experiences at his new school in California. It is noteworthy that in an autobiography, the setting is portrayed vividly.

The author’s purpose in writing the story will also help the readers arrive at the central ideas. At times, people, places, and events are being glorified and credited for shaping their lives. The author helps the reader understand trials, challenges, success, and defeat in the past. Additionally, there are authors who write autobiographies to explain or justify actions or decisions they made.

These lines punctuate how grateful the author is with his experiences in his school although he came from the barrio:

At Lincoln, making us into Americans did not mean scrubbing away what made us originally foreign.

… It was easy for me to feel that becoming a proud American, as she said we should, did not mean feeling ashamed of being a Mexican.