by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Analysis: What's Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.
Aquel que hoy se cae, se levantará mañana. He who falls today may rise tomorrow.
Es más rico el rico cuando empobrece que el pobre cuando enriquece. The rich person is richer when he becomes poor, than the poor person when he becomes rich.
How's that for deep?
Putting these two traditional Mexican proverbs at the beginning of Esperanza Rising makes sense. After all, Mexican culture, history, and identity play such a large role in this novel.
Okay, so they make sense. But what do they mean?
The first proverb is pretty straightforward. The idea of rising (ahem) after you've fallen echoes the novel's title, Esperanza Rising. It also calls to mind the symbol of "The Phoenix," which rises from its own ashes to live a new life. We get it, right? When Esperanza's family suffers a series of tragedies, they may be down but they're not out. With plenty of perseverance, they can pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try, try again.
The second proverb can be a little more confusing. Why are rich people still rich when they lose all their money? Why are poor people still poor when they gain wealth? Well, we get the feeling that the author of the proverb isn't using the terms "rich" and "poor" in a literal way. Instead, these words ask us to consider a few questions: in what way is Esperanza rich, even after her family loses all of its money? Do we encounter any characters who have a lot of money, but are poor in a spiritual or moral way? (We're looking at you, Tío Luis.)
Bottom line: this second proverb is open to a lot of interpretations. What's your take on it?