Understanding a protagonist is essential to understanding a novel. The following Esperanza Rising study questions are based on characterization. They provide insight into the protagonist’s motivation throughout the novel as well as reveal the journey and conflicts faced by the protagonist, Esperanza Ortega.
Characterization Questions and Answers
What is Esperanza like in the beginning of the novel? How does she change throughout the novel?
At the beginning of Paul Munoz's novel, Esperanza is the daughter of a wealthy landowner. When her father is suddenly murdered, Esperanza
and her mother find themselves in a dilemma with two options, either of which will drastically change their lives. Mama chooses to stay with her daughter, which means that they must start over in California as paupers. Esperanza is not accustomed to working, nor does she know how. She is also not accustomed to being compassionate and considerate with poor people. When she chooses to make her mother proud instead of disappointed, she begins to learn the value of kindness. As life in California becomes more difficult, Esperanza becomes responsible for her mother’s welfare by taking on a job of her own and saving her money so that she can reunite her family. She witnesses firsthand the injustices Mexican people are subjected to and she questions the reasons why. Finally, she learns to appreciate what is truly valuable in life. In the end, her new set of values include sharing happiness and kindness, being with your loved ones, and having food and shelter. She is no longer a privileged little girl because of her standing in society. She becomes a young lady capable of facing the challenges and changes in life with determination and hope.
How does Miguel show that he cares for Esperanza?
In the beginning, Miguel shares Esperanza’s grief for her the loss of her father. He helps to ease her sorrow by salvaging roses from her father’s garden and creating a new rose garden behind their home in the camp. When Miguel learns that she is embarrassed about not knowing how to sweep the platform, he takes the time to teach her. Later, when Esperanza needs a job to help pay for her mother’s medical bills, it is Miguel who helps her find a job in the packing shed. Finally, he selflessly sacrifices his own safety by returning to Mexico to bring Abuelita to the United States because he can see how much Esperanza and her mother need Abuelita.
What does living with Hortensia and her extended family teach Esperanza?
Esperanza learns that life in California will not be the same as it was in Mexico. This is demonstrated during bath time. Esperanza stands beside the tub waiting for Hortensia to begin the bathing ritual they’d practiced as she was growing up. Esperanza is reminded that she must now take care of her own needs and no one is there to wait on her. Another lesson Esperanza learns is to be considerate of what she says around Hortensia and her family. When Esperanza criticizes the poor girl on the train, it embarrasses Mama and Hortensia because Esperanza is obviously lacking in compassion. Also, for the first time in her life, Esperanza must share a room with others. She is upset at first because she sees their new home as no better than a horse stall. Esperanza is once again reminded by Mama that their new home is all they have and it was acquired at great sacrifice to Hortensia and her family. After these initial reminders, Esperanza learns from her faults. She sees her mother do her part to help with the cooking, so Esperanza learns how to prepare the meals, how to care for the twins, how to wash the laundry and keep the house clean. Later, she accepts even more responsibility by taking on a job to help with Mama’s doctor bills. It is only by living with Hortensia and her family that Esperanza learns to do her part, to be considerate and compassionate of others, and to be of use to her new extended family.
Esperanza is a protagonist worthy of discussion and debate. Hopefully, these Esperanza Rising study questions focusing on characterization will help to inspire further classroom conversations and stimulate student learning and comprehension of this novel.
Muñoz-Ryan, Pam. Esperanza Rising. New York: Scholastic, Inc. 2000.