In Richard Rodriguez’s “The Achievement of Desire,” a story within a story is told. The story of Rodriguez is told, with emphasis on his childhood and coming of age experiences. Rodriguez reflects on his life experiences while he was a scholarship boy, and it is through these reflections that he accepts his success came at a certain price, or loss.
Rodriguez begins with recalling his childhood and background, after seeing a part of himself in the fourteen-year old girl, whose excitement and enthusiasm mirror his boy self. Rodriguez grew up in a Hispanic culture; but his ambition to learn and become like his own teachers instantly separate him from his own background and familial roots. Although his parents’ first and primary language is Spanish, Rodriguez opts for the English language upon entering his first English class. There are other barriers, besides the language barrier, that make Rodriguez different to his parents.
As a student, Rodriguez begins his second and separate life/world, which is shown by the differing environments and mentalities between his teachers and his parents. Unlike the traditional child’s role models, who are typically the parents, Rodriguez looks to his teachers as role models, and even idolizes them. He imitates them in every way, and even begins to correct his own parents’ English mistakes. However, it is not just the teaching that attracts Rodriguez, but rather just the teachers as persons. Rodriguez takes this liking to an extreme level, and attempts to assume the teachers’ characters entirely. The teachers and classmates, in this way, seem to become Rodriguez’s family, rather than his real, biological family.
Rodriguez lives two separate lives in two separate worlds, as a result of his attraction to his teachers. This leads to differing thinking patterns that he must wrestle with. For example, his home life opposes the beliefs held in the classroom, thus upsetting the balance in his mind. As a student, he does not want to disturb the balance, but he always wants to be a successful student, while still being close to his parents. Rodriguez becomes eager to succeed, and thus the balance is offset, as he chooses studying over his family life. What used to be a “flood of intimate sounds” between he and his mother is now a simple conversation based on yes or no. In this way, the progression of the relationship between Rodriguez and his parents halts, while his relationship to school and success grows.
The price Rodriguez must pay for his academic success is more like a loss that he feels. As Rodriguez states, “he takes his first step toward academic success, away from his family.” When Rodriguez leaves for college, the gap widens further as a result of the physical distance. His mother continues to support him even so, telling him to get all the education that he possible can, and that education makes anything possible. His mother attends every graduation and school event, and his siblings also support his desire to learn. Thus, Rodriguez is fully supported in everything he does academically, and yet he feels a loss and sense of isolation.
Rodriguez seems to want to take school home with him in several ways. He attempts to do this by bringing home his school materials, so that way he can feel like he is still in the classroom. He also does this to have the sensation of “mental calm.” Rodriguez can be seen, time and again, reading a book, which causes his parents to wonder what he sees in the book. To Rodriguez, as a student, books are the essential source for gaining knowledge. By reading books, Rodriguez hopes he will achieve the academic success he wants: “Books were going to make me educated.” This sentiment is unlike his parents’, however, who read only when it is necessary. His parents find him reading when he should be asleep, when he should be playing outside, in a closet, and thus cannot understand what their son sees in the books. Hence, Rodriguez becomes more and more distant from his parents, as he grows closer and closer to his books. Rodriguez sees the books not only as a way of becoming smarter, but also as a way of enduring his life at home.
Rodriguez admits that he does not want to be connected to his roots, which, over time, lead to the internal loss that he feels. At one point, Rodriguez confesses about his heritage, and expresses distaste for his family’s history and background. In this way, Rodriguez appears to also be experiencing an identity issue with his self. He does not like that he is a blend of both American and Mexican, and thus he seeks to learn more about his own self through the books he reads. It is through Rodriguez’ education and gaining of knowledge that he begins to realize the loss that he feels through learning. While he becomes successful in the world of academics, he is unsuccessful in maintaining and nourishing his relationship to his family, which also leads to issues with his own identity and sense of self.
In summary, Rodriguez’ education leads to a path of self-discovery; however, it comes at a steep price. Rodriguez, though he enjoys much success as a student and in his academics, begins to realize that he has suffered a large loss, as he has put profound distance between himself and his family. Rodriguez grapples to understand who he is, all the while putting more distance between the two worlds. In the end, however, Rodriguez returns to his roots and his family, thus completing the circle.