88 pages 2 hours read

Tomás Rivera

And The Earth Did Not Devour Him

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1971

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Summary and Study Guide


And the Earth Did Not Devour Him by Chicano-American author Tomás Rivera was originally published as a Spanish and English bilingual edition in 1971, translated into English by Herminio Ríos. Evangelina Vigil-Piñón’s translation, considered the definitive one, came out in 1988. The book was awarded the Quinto Sol Prize for literature and was adapted into a film. Born in Texas, Rivera,was himself the son of Mexican migrant farm workers, and worked on farms as a child. He became a novelist, poet, educator, education advocate, and the first Mexican-American chancellor of the University of California, Riverside.

And the Earth Did Not Devour Him has been described as either a novel or short story collection. Set during the Korean War, it is comprises dof 14fourteen chapters and 13 thirteen vignettes that depicting the lives of Mexican migrant workers based in Texas, many told from the point of view (alternately in first and third person) of a migrant worker’s young son. The narrator is never named, and not until the final chapter does it become clear the boy from the first chapter is the same narrator throughout. The stream-of-conscious narrative style, characterized by fragmented recollections presented out of chronological order, contributes to the ambiguity.

Along with the final chapter, the opening one, called “The Lost Year,” provides the context that binds the stories together: A young boy struggles to differentiate his dreams from his lived life, recover his memories, and piece together his experiences. The vignette at the end of the chapter features a boy drinking a glass of water his mother leaves out for spirits, though he does not tell her he is doing so. In “The Children Couldn’t Wait,” the second chapter, a farm boss accidentally kills a child and is let off for the crime. The second vignette finds the mother of a soldier missing in action seeking information about her son from a woman who channels spirits. In “A Prayer,” is the third chapter, in which an unnamed mother prays to God and the Virgin Mary to spare her son, and offerings her own life in place of her son’s. In the third third vignette, two men who have been contracted for work in Utah debate whether it is a real state. “It’s That It Hurts” describes a boy’s feelings of hurt and shame at disappointing his family after his expulsion from school for fighting, though the white boy who began the fight is not punished, and his feelings of hurt and shame at disappointing his family. The fourth vignette is a dialogue between two students about the value of school; one speaker says it is to prepare for opportunities while the other sees it as a potential trap.

In Cchapter five5, “Hand in His Pocket,” a boy is sent to live with a couple, Don Laíto and Doña Bone, who enlist his help covering up a murder. A boy is denied a haircut because of his race in Vvignette 5five and resolves to tell his father. “A Silvery Night” features a boy attempting to summon the devil and feeling both disillusioned and liberated when his attempt fails. In the sixth vignette, a Protestant minister promises to send the migrant workers a man who will teach them skills, but the man runs off with the minister’s wife instead. The seventh, and most famous, chapter is “And the Earth Did Not Devour Him,” in which a boy curses God for his family’s suffering and then, expects the earth to open up and swallow him. When it does not, he feels content and empowered. In the seventh vignette, a grandfather calls his grandson stupid for wanting his life to pass quickly so he can find out what happens to him.

In “The First Communion,” a boy accidentally sees a couple having sex on the morning of his first communion and is both enthralled and disturbed, fearing he has sinned but also curious to know “more about everything” (110). In the eighth vignette, a teacher ponders a boy’s motivation after she asks her students for a button, and the boy tears one off of his only shirt for her. Chapter nine9, “The Little Burnt Victims,” concerns the tragic death of two young children in a house fire while their parents work in the fields. The vignette at the end of the chapter describes an unnamed couple’s wedding day. “The Night the Lights Went Out” tells the story of a couple’s love affair that ends tragically with the young man’s suicide. Vignette 10 ten involves of the deaths of 16 sixteen migrant workers when a drunk driver crashes into the truck they are in riding home.

In “The Night Before Christmas,” a mother, likely the narrator’s, attempts to buy her children toys for Christmas but becomes overwhelmed by the crowds and suffers an anxiety attack. A European priest fails to understand his congregation in the eleventh vignette 11. “The Portrait” features a father commissioning a portrait of his son who has died in Korea, being swindled by the artist, and then tracking him down to complete the portrait from memory. In the twelfth vignette 12, two men discuss an acquaintance whose imprisonment was likely racially motivated and who suffers from an unnamed disease. “When We Arrive” delves into the thoughts of a group of migrant workers who are headed north until the truck transporting them breaks down. The 13th and final vignette features a poet, Bartolo, who writes poems about the migrant workers and urges them to read the poems aloud.

In the book’s final chapter, “Under the House,” a boy reflects on the events of his lost year, bringing the book full circle. As he reflects, he describes the outcome of events discussed throughout the book, suggesting he is the thread that connects the various stories and anecdotes: tThey are his memories of what he has experienced and heard while also being the collective memories of a community.