The following excerpt is from “Bread and the Land” by Jeffery Renard Allen, published in 2008. In this passage, a young boy, Hatch, confronts his grandmother, Blunt. Blunt has recently moved to town and has met Hatch for the first time. Read the passage carefully. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze how Allen uses literary elements and techniques to convey what Hatch’s interactions with other characters reveal about him.
In your response you should do the following:
Respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents an interpretation and may establish a line of reasoning.
Select and use evidence to develop and support your line of reasoning.
Explain the relationship between the evidence and your thesis.
Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating your argument.
Plumed exhaust rose from the idling cab.
She hasn’t returned. Mamma spoke from the dark cavelike inside.
She was sposed to pick me up.
Mamma blinked nervously. Did she say that?
I thought she was gon pick me up.
Watch your mouth. Those kids at this school are a bad influence.
She was sposed to pick me up.
Get in this cab.
How come we can’t take the train? He spoke to the moving window, the moving world.
We have no reason to take the train.
I’m being frank.
Please be quiet.
He obliged. Quiet and caught, the living moment before him and behind. He tried to imagine Blunt’s face and received the taste of steel on his tongue. He let his violence fly free like the soaring El cars above, a flock of steel birds rising out of a dark tunnel, into bright air, the city shrinking below.
The cab slowed and felled his desires. Slim currents of traffic congealed into a thick pool up ahead. The taxi advanced an inch or two every few minutes. The El’s skeletal structure rose several stories above them. An occasional train rumbled by and shook the cab and mocked his frail yearning. He looked out the window to vent his anger. A good ways off he could discern a woman standing in a building doorway, a guitar strapped to her body and a coffee can at her gym-shoed feet. Coatless, in a checkered cotton dress, her bare muscular legs as firm as the El’s pylons in the bitter cold. She kept rhythm with one foot, while some lensed smiling face rose or fell with each stroke of the guitar.
He shouldered the cab door open and started through the street, his boots breaking through snow at each step, and traffic so thick he had to squeeze between the cars. Wind tried to push him back, and the fat snowsuit wedged between two parked cars. But he freed himself from the moment and thought of his mother and thought of his father and thought of the preacher and thought of Blunt and fancy clothes and contact lenses and lahzonyah and smiles and promises.
Hatch! Mamma shouted after him, her voice distant, weak, deformed, small, dwarfish, alien. Intent on his target, he moved like a tank in his armored snowsuit, smooth heavy unstoppable anger. Close now. Blunt framed in the doorway, his face trained on her guitar. Her hair was not long and flowing and silver but knotted in a colorless bun. Her eyes were not green or blue or brown or gray but a dull black. She shut them. Aimed her pug nose, arrowlike, at the El platform. Snapped open her mouth.
Baby, baby, take off this heavy load
Oh, baby, baby, lift up my heavy load
Got this beast of burden
And he got to go.
Quick legs, he stepped up onto the curb and almost tilted over in the heavy snowsuit. He kicked the coffee can like a football, coins rising and falling like metal snow, then crouched low and charged like a bull. He felt wood give under his head and loose splinters claw his face. He fought to keep his balance, loose coins under his feet, and in the same instant found himself flailing his hands and arms against Blunt’s rubber-hard hips and legs. Gravity wrestled him down. Dazed, he shook his head clear, gathered himself in a scattering moment, and looked up at Blunt. Her lined face. Her pug nose. Her stork mouth. And the strapped guitar that hung from her body—broken wood, twisted wire, useless metal—like some ship that had crashed into a lurking giant.
His eyes met hers, black, stunned. Wait, she said. You don’t understand. She shook her head. You don’t—
I hate you! he screamed. I hate you! Concrete shoved him to his feet. I hate you! Brutal wind pulled him into motion and led him as if he were leashed. Down the sidewalk, beyond the El’s steel pylons, through warped, unfamiliar streets.
Jeffrey Renard Allen, excerpt from “Bread and the Land” from Holding Pattern: Stories. Copyright © 2008 by Jeffrey Renard Allen. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota,