“Looking for Work” is a short story included in the book “Living up the Street”, 1985, by Gray Soto. He is an author and poet of Mexican-American origin, born in 1956. Three Stories, “The Beauty Contest”, “Looking for Work” and “Being Mean” is centered upon young children of mix ethnicities and living in the suburbs of America. The book is a “collection of narrations”. Thus the central character of these stories is described as Gray and the events as Gray’s childhood experience (Felice, 167).
In “Looking for work” Gray is depicted as a nine years old cheerful boy. It is a story written in simple language while carrying a fine, sentimental message to the readers.
Similar to historical novels such as “Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain in 1876 and “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens in1861 “Looking for Work” by Gray Soto portrays humble and pure minds of children in adolescence. Such naïve unspoiled thoughts bring humor to the adult readers, for example, “the same day that I asked him to wear shoes he came to the dinner table in only his swim trunks. My mother didn’t notice, nor did my sister” (Soto,1).
Mother most probably didn’t bother to inquire after Rick, Gray’s eleven years old sibling, sitting on dinner table wearing swimming trunks. Thus mother missed a valuable chance of understanding her children’s thoughts better. This also depicts how some adolescent children might react when they are asked to do things that they do not like to do if they had the freedom to react.
Nevertheless, parents and neighbors expect children to behave. Grownups attempt to punish children if they didn’t discipline example, “They bend down to gather our litter, muttering at our evilness” (Soto, 1), “She muttered curses when Leroy White, a really stupid but a great softball player with the gift to hit to all fields, openly chewed his host” (Soto, 2) and “Little John dodge his mother’s blows, a few hitting their mark but much whirring air” (Soto, 3). Gray’s novels are based on daily experiences. Nevertheless, such events in his story provide a very comprehensive account of interactions between adolescents and grownups.
“Little John and I went to St. John’s Catholic School, where we sat among the
“stupids.” Miss Marino, our teacher, alternated the rows of good students with the bad,
hoping that by sitting side-by-side with the bright students the stupids might become
more intelligent, as though intelligence were contagious” (Soto, 2).
Gray mocked adults’ perceptions of children’s behavior in the above part of the story. Nine years old Gray thought intelligence was not contagious as his teacher might have believed. And Leroy White was great and a gifted softball player despite being really stupid. This depicts the difference between value systems of child and teacher. Teachers want children to learn books but children want to become sports stars.
Let us also look at the storyline of “Looking for Work”. This story is built upon Gray’s inclination to glory and prestige. He fancied the comfortable lives of privileged white people and dreamed of being rich like them. Gray’s motive for looking for work is to earn enough money. So he could also live like the children in “Leave It to Beaver” Tv show. Interestingly, Gray also fancied eating stewed Turtle meat.
“Our mom was in a good mood, so I took a risk and asked
her if sometime we could have turtle soup. A few days before I had watched a television
program in which a Polynesian tribe killed a large turtle, gutted it, and then stewed it over
an open fire. The turtle, basted in a sugary sauce, looked delicious as I ate an afternoon
bowl of cereal but my sister, who was watching the program with a glass of Kool-Aid
between her knees, said, Caca”.
This is an important part of this story. Nevertheless, most of the critics fail to notice the thin but strong linkage between these two fascinations of Gray. That is why they advocate Gray depicts the typical mentality of children who are discriminated due to mixed ethnicities (Steve, Morgan, ). Depicting Gray as a poor boy who is dreaming of being in a privileged society is commonly found in the literature. Why did Gray mention about a Turtle stew in this story?
It clearly shows how this nine years old mind really worked. He fancied being in the elite society of privileged white people just as he fancied eating Turtle meat compared to everyday cereal. Gray didn’t really dream departing from this residence which was full of life and fascination with his young mind. In contrary, he enjoyed being a poor Mexican-American child.
“May I have the mashed potatoes?” asks Beaver with a smile.
“Sure, Beav,” replies Wally as he taps the corners of his mouth with a starched
napkin. The father looks on in his suit. The mother decked out in earrings and a pearl
necklace cuts into her steak and blushes. Their conversation is politely clipped” (Soto, 3).
In comparing the above quotation with the following we can understand what Gray really fascinated in his life.
Our own talk at dinner was loud with belly laughs and marked by our pointing forks at one another. The subjects were commonplace.
“Gary, let’s go to the ditch tomorrow,” my brother suggests. He explains that he
has makde a life preserver out of four empty detergent bottles strung together with twine
and that he will make me one if I can find more bottles. “No way are we going to
drown.” “Yeah, then we could have a dirt clod fight,” I reply, so happy to be alive” (Soto 3).
In summary, the central character of “Living up the Street” story has been cleverly used for mockery by Gray Soto. He ridicules wildness of adolescence as well as ignorance of adulthood. Nevertheless, Gray’s character has been widely misinterpreted in literature as a typical craving for comforts of white society. Gray adored his poor world full of life alternatively.
Felice, A. “Soto, Gary Living up the Street” Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database. Bantam Doubleday Dell, 07 March 1998. Web. 27 Sep 2012.
Morgan J . “Looking for Work By Gary Soto” WordPress. WordPress.com, 16 March 2009. Web. 27 Sep 2012.
Soto, G. “Gary Soto’s “Looking for Work” Google documents. Google, n.d. Web. 27 Sep 2012.
Steve. “Looking for Work by Gary Soto” MARINATING IN A BLOG. Blogger.com, 18 January 2009. Web. 27 Sep 2012.