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Rudolfo Anaya grew up in the New Mexico and much of his work reflects this upbringing. A popular theme in his fiction is the background of the state and the introduction of factors that can lead to human destruction: greed, lust, self-righteousness, deception, and connivance (Garcia 2000, p. 11). His short story "The Apple Orchard" is not exception to this. This is the story about a young boy named Isador who is in seventh grade as he struggles to come of age in his community. The first-person narrator has a father who values education. The themes of education and its importance is integral in Chicano literature. According to Hector Colderon (1999), it is extremely difficult to finish education in the Hispanic community, particularly if English is not your first language. He says, "Out of some thirty-plus students, three of us graduated from high school on time, a few others had to repeat grades, and the rest were lost along the way" (p. 4). To counter this likelihood, Isador's father constantly reminds him of the importance of his education. "Go and learn everything there is to learn. That's the only way to get ahead in this world" (2006, p. 74). There is an irony in this in that the story is really about the young boy's change from pre-sexual innocent who fantasizes about his favorite teacher. He is interested in an education that his father would be far less enthusiastic about.
He listens to two of the boys in his class, the types who his father would rather he did not interact with because he does not believe they will succeed in life. The boy sneaks into his parent's room and takes a mirror from his mother's bureau. Here the boy is making another transgression in the process of maturation. His father has ordered the boy never to enter the parents' bedroom when the two are in there together. "I knew that part of their life was shut off to me, and it was to remain a mystery" (p. 75). The boy has a vague idea that some activity is occurring between his mother and father but he is ignorant as to its nature. The father wishes to keep his son in the dark about sexual intimacy by preventing him from accidentally witnessing his parents in the act. It would seem that the father is attempting to keep his son innocent for as long as possible. He demands that his child go to school and not play hooky. What he wants is for the boy to be a success and the best way to achieve that is to keep him naive of the all the possible distractions that could lead a child to failure.
After taking the mirror, Pico and Chueco further press Isador into arranging a situation where they can steal a bottle of glue from Miss Brighton. Once this is accomplished, the trio enters the bathroom where Isador is ordered to break his mother's mirror. His thoughts go to the potential repercussions of the choices he is about to make. When he glimpses his reflection in the glass, Isador says, "I thought of the disgrace I would bring my father if he knew what I was about to do" (p. 76). Each boy takes a piece of the glass and glues it to his shoe. It is very fitting that this preparation takes place in a bathroom. Constantly Isador comments on the stench of the place they are in, likening his surroundings to the actions. The intention of this activity is to see the underpants of their fellow classmates.
More importantly than actually seeing girls' panties is the idea that the three boys are going to somehow acquire knowledge that is beyond them. They are in a kind of awe of the ninth grade boys who they believe "know everything" (p. 78). When boys hit twelve and thirteen-years-old, they naturally become interested in the opposite sex. Isador notes that just the year before, girls held no real interest to him, they were just the same as the boys. It was the beginning of puberty that had been the impetus for change. First Isador had noticed the change in the people around them and he desires to catch up to a group who he believes knows something that he is in the dark about. Listening to the ninth graders talking about girls has left Isador curious and uncertain. "They always talked about the girls who were 'easy' or girls they had 'made,' and they laughed at us, chasing us away when we asked questions" (p. 78). It is evident from this revelation that it is not just the girls that are curiosities to Isador, but this whole world of male-female relationships and interactions that he has been too young to participate in.
Once they have attached the glass to their shoes, the boys discuss what is to come. According to Pico, girls do not wear panties in the Spring. He also says that "sometimes there's a little cherry there" (p. 79). Chueco asks if this is the same kind of cherry that grows on the fruit tree. Pico assures him that they are one in the same. Obviously the boys are very confused. Pico has heard some of the older boys talk about a girl's cherry and assumes it is an actual fruit growing out of a young girl's nether quarters and does not understand that it a euphemism for a girl's virginity. This shows how innocent the boys really are, even the so-called boy boys who believe themselves to be so knowledgeable in the ways of the world.
The boys attempts at voyeurism are not successful. Although Pico assures the two other children that he indeed saw "everything," all Isador was able to see was a "brief glimpse of her white panties and then the darkness" (p. 79). This did not satisfy Isador with regard to his curiosity or with regard to any sexual gratification he might have gotten from the experience. He returns to rancid bathroom with Chueco, both even more uncertain that when they began this experiment. However, unwilling to relinquish his position as the alpha in the group, Pico insists that the boys try one more experiment and that is to look up the skirt of the teacher Miss Brighton. Isador initially refuses because of his sense of decency. Chueco is easily brought back under Pico's influence and assists him in coercing the third member of their group. Without moral high ground or titillation to force Isador into capitulation, Pico goes for intimidation. If Isador will not go along with their plan, then other two boys will abandon him. "I had grown up with them, knew them even before we started school; we were a gang. Friends" (p. 80).
For Isador, there is no differentiation between friends and gang. He is being strong-armed as he would be if this were an actual gang bent on violence rather than mischief. According to Isador's father, in a very few years the likes of Pico and Chueco will resort to acts of violence and crime. This is more than an opportunity to look up the teacher's skirt. It is the beginning step on a series of choices with some serious repercussions. The boys pull straws and, of course, Isador is the one who is tasked with looking at Miss Brighton. What follows is a period of emotional and mental turmoil for the young boy. The part of him that still exists in childhood urges him to fake looking up her skirt and make up a story for the other boys. The other side of him urges him to look and "solve the mystery" (p. 81). Isador is caught and Miss Brighton is initially very upset by what he has…[continue]
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