Guilt and remorse are two main feelings that people may understand differently, whether on account of past experiences, learning tactics, or an opinion on religion. In the narrative A Summer Life, the use of religious allusions, contrast, and powerful diction helps Gary Soto reveal the effect that guilt can have; his concern throughout is to explicate his vision of religion and how it affected his guilty persona. The way he achieves his goal is not only through various rhetorical devices but also through the way he writes as though he is actually a six-year-old.
Soto successfully uses religious allusions to help show that he was fully aware of his wrongdoings and that he was a full believer in God. Gary Soto explains that he sees, “A squirrel nailed itself high on the trunk, where it forked into two large bark-scabbed limbs” (Soto 22-24), confirming that he was in fact fully aware of all his surroundings. The squirrel, as a symbol, indicates Jesus nailed to the cross. This religious allusion seems to reveal the guilt he actually feels. Young Soto’s demeanor seems to be very religious, so much so that he “knew an apple got Eve in deep trouble with snakes because Sister Marie had shown us a film about Adam and Eve being cast into the desert and what scared me more than falling from grace was being thirsty for the rest of my life” (Soto 33-37). His feelings towards Adam and Eve’s story demonstrate the guilt he has experienced. Soto continuously expounds on his paranoid conscience by expressing the extrinsic guilt he was experiencing.
Contrast is one of the most important rhetorical devices used in this narrative. It is used successfully for calling attention to right and wrong: Soto highlights this theme by comparing Eve and himself, as well as by comparing light and religion. Gary Soto states that “the best things in life came stolen” (Soto 46), but as he tries to justify why stolen things seem to be the best, he finds that he is contradicting himself. Soto “knew enough about hell to stop [Him] from stealing” (Soto 1), presenting a complete contrast to his own opinion.
Soto’s justification helps explain that the guilt a child experiences can always be justified within that innocent child’s mind, eventually leaving the child to believe that stealing is adequate. Soto eventually shares a story about Eve stealing the apple from the sacred garden, which is ironically similar to his personal story of stealing that “sweet and gold-colored” (Soto 40) apple pie. The purpose for his sharing of the story clearly illustrates that this specific concurrence worries him but allows the readers to know that the guilt is eating him alive. Soto repeatedly employs the word “light” (Soto 18, 3, 84, 85), making sure that this imagery does not go unnoticed; he thus creates a comparison involving religion and maybe even God. Soto sees a “bald grocer whose forehead shone with a window of light” (Soto 17-18), as again was mentioned after he started eating the apple pie. His guilt forces him to see that “light” until he finally “crawled back to the light” (Soto 83-84). In other words, he tries to relieve his guilt by giving himself to religion or God. Later on, Soto “squinted in the harsh light” (Soto 85), a movement which can indicate the fact that he is hesitant to return to that light or to the religion that causes all his guilt.
Soto explains that eating forbidden food was so wonderful and desirable that his “face was sticky with guilt” (Soto 65-66); as the reader continues reading, he or she discovers that young Soto never wiped his face. Clearly, Soto is trying to create an understanding between guilt and stickiness. It is almost as if he is explaining that the guilt will never disappear; it will always be around to haunt him. Through such images, Soto, as an adult author, convincingly portrayed the guilt of a young child. His use of religious allusions shows that he was fully aware of both the suspicious surroundings and of the sin that he had committed.