Rhetorical Analysis: A Summer Life

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.

Hot Pies and Guilt To-Go

It is moments of wrongdoing and subsequent atonement that constitute every child’s coming of age. Within his autobiographical narrative, A Summer’s Life, Gary Soto recreates his fall from innocence as his guilty six-year-old self steals a desirable pie. On a languid summer day, the adolescent investigates the concepts of virtue and wickedness in his youthful eyes as he lustfully stares at the savory pies in a German market and decides to steal one of them. As he walks home devouring the pie, he concludes his fall from innocence. Later, he guiltily reflects on his crime and rids himself of sin through baptism. Soto explores coming of age through temptation, sin, and redemption using literary tools such as imagery, contrast, and skillful repetition to emphasize the important role that faith has on his morality.

Soto uses vivid descriptions to transport the reader into both the mind and setting of his childhood, illustrating the role of religion, including the stages of Christian sin: temptation, sin, and redemption. The young Soto allows himself to be temporarily corrupted by succumbing to greed. As he gazes upon the bountiful display of pies around the German Market Soto is tempted to steal, as he gazes the pies, “[his] sweet tooth gleaming” choosing which flaws of pie should be his target. At the same time, while in pleasurable anticipation of eating the pie he feels “the juice of guilt wetting [his] underarms.” Soto’s temptation depicts his struggle with morality: the greedy “sweet tooth,” eyes the pie while his pleasure is tempered with the “juice of guilt.” After the protagonist slips the pie under his frisbee, he departs the store hastily to consume the fruits of his unlawful behavior in a nearby lawn. There, he notices the position of the squirrel, “nailed…high on [a] trunk, where it forked into two large bark scabbed limbs.” Observing the environment around him, Soto finds the biblical allusion of the cross on which Jesus was crucified revealing the religious conscience that weigh on his guilty six-year-old self. Soto uses the image of Jesus Christ on the cross to signify his sin. His imagery paints the scene providing a condemning biblical reference: a symbol of the Catholic faith that stalks him after his minor sin. Soto is symbolically crucified representing the death of his youth and the birth of his adulthood, as he must grapple with his religious values after his theft.

Soto uses juxtaposition to highlight sin and redemption; and the critical role that faith has in morality. Soto arrives at his house ready to consume the apple pie when he stumbles into Cross Eye Johnny, his neighbor. The protagonist rudely denies the polite request by Johnny for a slice of the mouth watering pie. The innocent Johnny watches him eat the pie and whispers to Soto, “Your hands are dirty” as Soto’s soiled fingers from the stolen pie reveal the metaphorical marking of corrupted values. Soto compares the young sinful version of himself with innocent Johnny. Soto contrasts darkness and light to reinforce faith’s role in morality is religion. After he finishes the pie, guilt slowly consumes Soto and drags the youth beneath his house signifying death, as he hears voices of dead relatives in the pipes. There, Soto contemplates the consequences of his thieving actions, perhaps it was God that banished him east of Eden, “[He] lay until [he] was cold and then crawled back to the light, rising from one knee, then another, to dust off [his] pants and squint in the harsh light.” The author uses contrast again when he climbs out from under the house, out of the darkness and back to light and life. Then, he shows his realization of his crime, saying, “Sin is what you took and didn’t give back.” Having consumed the apple (pie), Soto has matured, newly comprehending his religious values after reflecting on his actions of stealing the apple pie.

Repetition is used throughout the narrative to enforce key points of his maturation through sin and redemption and the influence of faith on the author’s morality. After finishing the apple pie Soto states, “A car honked, and the driver knew. Mrs. Hancock stood on her lawn, hands on hip, and she knew. [His] mom, peeling a mountain of potatoes at the Redi Spud factory, knew.” Suddenly, it seemed that everyone knows that he is guilty. The repetition underscores his growing feelings of religious driven guilt. Further, the author uses parallel structure and repetition to emphasize the sin of the boy’s heavy burden, paralleling it to original sin. Soto falls from innocence just as Adam and Eve fall from the garden of Eden both by eating an apple or an apple pie. Here, Soto uses repetition of apple elements to symbolically show the fall from Eden, the loss of innocence. Another use of repetition: is water and thirst are explored throughout Soto’s recount of the situation. Soto crawls under his house and lies, “in the cool shadows listening to the howling sound of plumbing…pressed to a cold pipe, and heard a howl like the sea.” The sounds of water traveling through the plumbing pipes represent God and a baptism of redemption. It is under his house that Soto experiences a purification that wipes his sin from both his conscious and the wrath of God. Young Soto is submerged with the house pipes that contain water, representing a literary baptism and signifying the emergence of a new character: a matured Soto. Shadows of angels are also repeated throughout the story illustrating his faith’s principles overhanging Soto, reminding him to do good. It is these angels that haunt Soto’s moral conscious as messenger of his religious faith and influence Soto to reconsider his actions.

Throughout the various devices of imagery, contrast, and repetition, Soto artfully tells the story of his childhood temptation, sin, and guilt as well as his lesson learned. Soto, from the perspective of an adult reflects on his childhood and with the effective use of literary devices reveals the immense effect that Christianity has on his morality through seamlessly integrating his faith and ethics together.