A Scholarship Boy’s Longing

Richard Rodriguez is both writer and reader as he responds to Richard Hoggart’s book The Uses of Literacy. Rodriguez sees parallels between his life and that of the “scholarship boys” described by Hoggart. The scholarship boys are children from working-class families who feel they “cannot pay respect to their parents…so, they concentrate on the benefits education will provide for them.” (566). Rodriguez is inspired by the definition to finally admit to himself that he has achieved academic success because of his early emotional separation from his family.

Rodriguez experienced a life-changing moment when he found Hoggart’s novel. In his writing, Rodriguez describes his nostalgic feelings: “For the first, I understood that there were many students who had similar experiences, and thus I could frame the value of my success in academics, as well its cost- the loss.” (564) Rodriguez’s “deepest” love for his parents changed into “embarrassment about their lack-of-education.” (566). In the same way as Hoggart’s scholar boy, he isolated himself and began to show respect for his teachers. He realized his parents were not open to societal development and if they chose to continue in the same path, he’d be condemned to a life of poverty. Rodriguez’s embarrassment at his parents’ expense fueled his desire to pursue a higher education. His teachers were his idols, and he knew that this was the key to success. Rodriguez left behind the intimate, family-oriented life that he had so enjoyed. He began associating pleasure with being inferior. The scholarship boy is aware that education can be a tedious, demeaning, and sometimes even painful process …”. Rodriguez would visit the library to check out as many books as possible. Most of the books he chose were recommended by teachers that he greatly admired, or librarians with a renewed interest in him. Hoggart also writes that scholarship boys rarely find an author by themselves. (845). Rodriguez ignored any book that he had discovered by himself, even if he enjoyed it. He had no time for enjoyment.

Hoggart’s Scholarship Boys endure a harsh feeling of loneliness throughout their elementary school years. The scholarship boy is always the one who answers a question from the teacher, much to the dismay of his fellow students. The scholarship child feels that he is not a part of his family. As a result, he avoids conversation with them. The books Rodriguez brought back to his family are a reflection of the scholarship boy’s imagination. The books he brought home are the epitome of his imaginative, scholarship boy. It is no surprise that this loneliness has also been a part of Rodriguez’s life as a college student. The barrier that stood between Rodriguez and a socially normal life was evident. He hid behind books instead of interacting healthily with others. Rodriguez, as a graduate student in London, was writing a dissertation for his English Renaissance literature class. He was in a community of lonely scholarship kids who “turned away their eyes the moment they accidentally met.” (579). Rodriguez’s realization of this life was profound. His nostalgia started to take hold, and he began to long for the warmth of his childhood.

Rodriguez claims blatantly that he used to be the quintessential’scholarship boy.’ But I think he has shed this label. Hoggart describes a scholarship as a boy who is embarrassed by his association with the family. He’s the “oddman out.” (848) The tone of “The Achievement of Desire”, however, is more nostalgic than embarrassment. Rodriguez has no problem writing about his own past, despite it taking him 20 years to finally admit. Hoggart says that after a scholarship boy makes the transition to a scholar he won’t feel like a part of his private, personal life. Hoggart’s scholarship child and Rodriguez are now separated. Rodriguez begins identifying with his parents in the concluding paragraphs. He says that “his eyes looked like his father’s” and that “he laughed like his mother.” (580). Rodriguez feels like a part of his family despite being the odd one out.

The relationship between Hoggart and Rodriguez’s texts is interesting. The essay structure is akin to that of a reading comprehension worksheet. Rodriguez uses four blocks of text from Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy to comment on and find parallels in his life. Hoggart wrote, “The scholarship student discovers the technique of apparent knowledge, which is to learn facts without having to actually handle or use them. He learns a method of receiving a strictly literate, a form of education that only challenges a small area of his personality. Rodriguez, too, admits to being an unreliable student. He used imitation to help him get through grammar school. Rodriguez “used the diction of his teachers, following their directions.” (566). He followed the instructions of his teachers rather than taking decisions for himself. It is interesting to see how Rodriguez’s paralleling of his life with the scholarship boy’s life reflects on his methodical and educational upbringing. It is clear that Rodriguez has adapted the text for his own purposes, and is not just a carbon copied version of Hoggart’s scholar boy.

Four sections are included in the text. The first section, in which Hoggart intertwines with Rodriguez to describe Rodriguez’s claim regarding the term “scholarshipboy”, blurs Hoggart-Rodriguez’s boundaries and allows Rodriguez to align himself completely with Hoggarts’ definition of a’scholarshipboy’. The passage of The Uses of Literacy used in this section appears to be a bit too smooth. It’s as if Hoggart is a part of Rodriguez, and his words are woven into the fabric. This second section, which is based heavily on the life of the essayist, could easily be ripped from his journal. The third section seems to be based off of Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy, and it is the opposite of the second section. Many of these sentences begin, “The scholarship …”. Hoggart’s words are not read like a task and then added to a list like Rodriguez had done with Plato’s The Republic. They are understood and used as an aid to his voice. He is in control of the final section. Rodriguez uses Hoggart’s words to his advantage and creates a personal, literate and admirable essay. He mimics Hoggart, but not in the same way he mimicked his critics and teachers.

Rodriguez’s ability to distinguish himself from Hoggart’s prescriptive scholarship child was due to his ability to discover and accept his unique voice as a student and reader. Rodriguez describes Hoggart’s boy scholarship as “more fair than accurate.” (577). The description is accurate, but not all men will agree. The boy Hoggart described in The Uses of Literacy had a fate of loneliness and seclusion, but Rodriguez has a happy ending by being able go home. The essay’s last section, “The Achievement of Desire”, proves to be Rodriguez’s. The essay may contain Hoggart quotes, but it is still Rodriguez’s because of the clarity and emotion in his thoughts.

Rodriguez, Richard. Ways of Reading “The Achievement of Desire” Comp. David Bartholomae, Anthony Petrosky. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005. 561-584.


  • stanleybyrne

    Stanley Byrne is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher. He has degrees in education and political science from the University of Notre Dame and has worked in various teaching and research positions since he graduated in 2014. He is the author of a number of educational blog posts and has written for Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Salon.