Universality of The Achievement of Desire In The Achievement of Desire, Richard Rodriguez talks about his experiences from when he was a young boy until he becomes an adult who have realized his life goals. As a boy, Rodriguez describes himself as a “good student” and a “troubled son” (Rodriguez 565) at the same time. In his essay, Rodriguez tells his readers how education can alienate students from their parents, culture, class, as well as from their past.
The essay also reflects the situation that many accomplished scholars and professionals experience—how education has inevitably changed their minds, relationships, and lives in general. The essay concludes in irony, wherein Rodriguez realizes that education, which is the very thing that distanced him from his past, was also the very thing that made him aware of how lonely he had become. In this paper, I demonstrate how Rodriguez’s story is universal by citing instances from my own life experiences.
Rodriguez’s separation can be described in the literal and metaphorical sense, and this is evident in the following passage: Late afternoon: in the midst of preparing dinner, my mother would come up behind me while I was trying to read. Her head just over mine, her breath warmly scented with food. “What are you reading? ” Or, “Tell me about your new courses. ” I would barely respond, “Just the usual things, nothing special. ” (A half smile, then silence. Her head moving back in the silence. Silence! Instead of the flood of intimate sounds that had once flowed smoothly between us, there was this silence. (p. 567)
The passage above is very relatable—perhaps many of the readers have found themselves sharing the same experience: a student coming home from school pores over his notes while his mother, interested in knowing what has transpired in his son’s life during the day, approaches the boy and sparks up a conversation. The mother leaves after her child exudes an aura of detachment and disinterest in giving in to what the mother is hoping to achieve. This passage says a lot about how much has changed in Rodriguez’s relationship with his mother.
The passage also clearly shows the immense emotional separation between the mother and her son-or rather, to put it more correctly—the disaffection of the son towards his mother. Mother is so physically close that the boy could actually smell her breath and yet despite such proximity, there exists a vast space between the two. No longer is there a “flood of intimate sounds”, but rather, silence fills the gap between them. I have experienced such physical, emotional, and cultural separation from my parents as I advanced in my education.
In the physical sense, I no longer spend most of my time at home. The increasing academic requirements had led me to spend more than ever less and less time with my parents. The same is true for many college students I know, especially those who live far from the campus. Some of my classmates go home only on weekends or on a monthly basis. The greater impact that education has on an individual’s physical aspect can perhaps be attributed to international students, who only get to visit their family who live on the opposite side of the world probably once or twice a year.
Thus, may it be for a local or international student, education has indeed separated children from their parents in the physical sense, the same way that it did for Richard Rodriguez. Education has also separated children from their parents emotionally. As I have grown older, I hardly talk to my parents about my interests, ambitions, fears, and apprehensions unlike when I was younger. I used to proudly tell my parents of the praises I received from my teachers and of new friends whom I have made.
I would tell them about how ad I was because on my way home I found a stray kitten and I thought about how sad its life was, without a home and without a family. But now, I no longer feel the need to share anything to them anymore. My conversations with them have been reduced to mere small talks, talks about the bills, about what’s for dinner, where I will be during the weekend, but never about the ideas that I keep hidden in the deepest corners of my heart and mind. Perhaps this is so because, like the author, I think my parents will not understand what I have to say because we do not share the same educational background or experience.
However, I do not attribute my being emotionally distant from my parents to education alone. I believe that I am a multifaceted individual whose life is constantly being shaped by a variety of factors family, education, friends, and hormones, among others. Hence, how I show affection to my parents is not solely a result of my education but rather of a combination of many factors. Education has also changed my beliefs that used to tie me to our family’s culture and traditions. Because of the advancement of my education, there are some traditions and beliefs that I no longer adhere to.
The knowledge that I gained from school has helped me to develop my critical thinking skills, which in turn has allowed me to let go of conservative ideas and traditions that had been handed down to me by my parents, who got them from the parents of their parents and so on. My family is highly conservative and superstitious, but my education has developed me into a critical- and free-thinking individual. It has also taught me to investigate about certain concepts and not just passively accept them merely because our society has imposed them on me.
One way that education has alienated me from my culture is that it has taught me that women should be given equal opportunities in society and that they should liberate themselves from an oppressive male-dominated society. Our family is traditionally patriarchal and believes that a woman can only be defined by her being a mother and a wife. I used to share the same belief, but not anymore. For me, there is definitely nothing wrong if a woman chooses to not get married and to not have a child. My parents, particularly my father, strongly disagree with me.
Mixing with other college students who are from different backgrounds have also cut off some of my cultural ties. A cultural mix in school has enabled me to adopt some of the cultures of my classmates and disregard the old ones, thus I have emerged as an individual who is so different from my past self. My perception on things have changed, and even the way I dress-up and my choices in music have also changed. However, not all that is written in The Achievement of Desire has universal application. For instance, Rodriguez writes: But Hoggart’s calm prose only makes me recall the urgency with which I came to idolize my grammar school teachers.
I began by imitating their accents, using their diction, trusting their every direction. The very first facts they dispensed, I grasped with awe. Any book they told me to read, I read… (p. 566) In the latter part of his essay, Rodriguez also cites Hoggart’s description of a scholarship boy, to whom he could relate himself. Referencing Hoggart, Rodriguez says that he considers the scholarship boy a “very bad student… great mimic; a collector of thoughts, not a thinker; the very last person in class who ever feels obliged to have an opinion of his own” (Rodriguez 577).
With these two passages, I think that Rodriguez means to say that he himself had been a passive learner, accepting everything that his teachers told him without critically thinking about them. He copies his ideas from the books that he reads but he rarely comes up with ideas of his own or forms original opinion about certain issues. I think that this is one aspect that makes the essay defy universal application. Many people I know have developed their own opinion because of education. I myself have chosen my stand on various things because of my education.
I am pro-abortion but anti-capital punishment; I believe that the LGBTQ community should be given the same rights that are granted to heterosexual beings; I believe that sexual harassment is more prevalent now than racism but does not believe that one is more or less immoral than the other. I believe that the genetic engineering of organisms should not be banned but rather, regulated. My education has shaped my opinion on these matters and it has also taught me to keep an open mind and respect people with opposing views. In general, Rodriguez or his readers might want to insist that his story is everyone’s story.
However, this could never be the case because each individual has unique experiences. To some degree, the story could be true but not its entirety. As I have mentioned in the previous pages of this paper, people’s lives are continually shaped by various factors—education, family, friends, economic status, and many others—and thus, one can never find a single story such as Rodriguez’s that will fit into every individual’s personal experiences. To conclude, in his essay The Achievement of Desire, Rodriguez argues that education alienates people from their family and past.
By citing some experiences from my personal life, I have demonstrated that he is, to some degree, right in his argument. I have distanced myself in the physical, emotional, and cultural sense from my family. As my education advances, I noticed that I spend fewer time at home, am emotionally distant from my parents now, and have cut my ties with a few of our family’s cultures and traditions. However, his story is not universal as there are accounts that do not fit my personal experience. For instance, unlike Rodriguez, education has taught me to become a criticaland free-thinker.