Sample Literary Essay #1
A Literary Essay About “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
Children are often intimidated and fall silent when in the company of adults and they use coping
strategies to deal with their inner frustration. In “Eleven,” the main character, Rachel, states, “…if I was one
hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk.” Throughout
“Eleven” Rachel frequently feels intimidated by Mrs. Price. Many times she becomes silent and tries to cope
with her frustration.
In the beginning of “Eleven,” Rachel feels intimidated and is silenced by Mrs. Price. An example of
this is when Mrs. Price says, “Of course it’s yours. I remember you wearing it once (the sweater).’ Because
she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not.” Rachel is frustrated when Mrs. Price demands that she put
the sweater on and does not allow her to explain that it is not her sweater.
Rachel, while still silent, attempts to cope by thinking about happy thoughts. She thinks about her
birthday dinner that evening. She also thinks about the birthday cake Mama is making and everyone singing
happy birthday. As I read I viewed her frustration and found another place in the text when this happened. “I
squeeze them (eyes) shut tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to remember I am eleven, eleven.”
This shows me that even though she is close to tears in frustration, she still tries to think about the happy family
time that will happen later that day.
A few moments later, Rachel is intimidated even more when Mrs. Price says, “You put that sweater on
right now and no more nonsense.” Rachel is still frustrated and tries to cope when she tells Mrs. Price that it is
not her sweater. Another example of this is when Mrs. Price replied loudly, “Now!” Rachel is silenced again
by an adult and now she’s feeling that she doesn’t even want to be eleven, while fighting back tears.
As you can see from Rachel’s experience, children are often intimidated and silenced when in the
company of adults. In families and in school, children are silenced many times by older family members or
schoolmates. As a reader I really empathized with Rachel and her struggle to communicate with Mrs. Price.
Not all of us are as lucky as Rachel to have such great coping skills. I admired how she was able to control her
frustration and her tears, so that she would not be further humiliated by her teacher and even more embarrassed
in front of her peers. Schools and communities everywhere should reach out and teach adults that they need to
be aware of the power they have, which can cause children to feel intimidated and fall silent.
Adapted by Katherine Casey for Marysville School District, 2010, from the work of the Hackensack Literacy Initiative, 2007.