Literary Criticism - “We Call Them Greasers”

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On a general level, structuralism holds that both individuals and the realities they share are signified and constructed by a series of cultural influences which create meaning. The self is said to be a construct of its environment and selves in combination project meaning onto their experienced reality; a reality which in turn becomes reflective of the shared consciousness. This symbiotic relationship between the formulation of a reality and the nature of a collective allow meaning to be interpreted based on the system of constructed codes which informs it.

The language of Gloria Anzaldua’s “We Call Them Greasers” can be used to disseminate the culturally constructed codes and conventions which influence the realities of both the author, and the poems’ fictional speaker. The poem illustrates the intolerant and brutal nature of border rangers as they sought to rid Mexican border towns of their inhabitants. As well as its language, the subject matter of the poem, too, is telling of the author’s cultural influences, which influence the stance she takes on the subject matter. Anzaldua constructs the poem’s speaker, however, to be a person who holds views which are in staunch opposition to her own. This use of clear contradiction helps readers identify underlying messages meant to be conveyed and understood beyond the text of the poem itself.

The opening lines of the poem, “I found them here when I came / They were growing corn in their small ranchos / raising cattle and horses / smelling of wood smoke and sweat / They knew their betters: / took of their hats / placed them over their hearts, / lowered their eyes in my presence”, shows the subconscious, or fully conscious, sense of superiority the ranger has of himself in relati...

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...some form of sub textual meaning that is inherently linked to the reality of the world Anzaldua comes from. Even the fictional speaker in the poem can be analyzed and judged based on the cultural system of meaning he is portrayed as being directly influenced by.

As a reader it is difficult to separate ones analysis of such a commanding piece of work from ones own constructed systems of meaning. Because of this, actual meaning is tricky to assert with certainty as it is subject to change as easily as reality is subject to influence. This may be beside the point, however; for it seems as though what matters in structuralism is the recognition that everyone, and everything everyone creates or does, is in some part connected to a system of meaning which informs and influences varying interpretations of what is real and true of the world and its diverse inhabitants.
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