“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros, uses many literary devices to characterize a complex eleven-year-old. Rachel, the ingenuous 1st person narrator, describes the details of her humiliating eleventh birthday. Although her diction reflects her age, Rachel conveys the difficulty of growing up with adult precision. She is embarrassed and feels helpless whenever she tries to talk, but knows she will soon be home with her parents, and her terrible day will drift away.
Rachel’s age is given away not only by the title, but also by her word choice. She makes use of numerous similes, describing crying like uncontrollable hiccups, drinking milk to fast, and little animal noises. Her confidence rattles like “pennies in a tin Band-Aid Box,” and she is always on the edge of lapsing into another session of tears. However, Rachel’s diction does not simple betray her age. Descriptions like “smells like cottage cheese” are insights into her true personality. She is passionate and curious, almost to a fault. Because she describes things like runaway balloons, she is a believable eleven-year-old.
First person narration reveals though, Rachel’s thoughts are those of a typical eleven-year-old, her descriptive ability is more mature. Rachel has an uncanny ability to convey her feelings. However, because she is an ingenuous narrator, she sometimes misses the deeper significance of her feelings. Although she twice mentions she is looking forward to cake, her birthday song, and normal birthday things, she does not mention she also needs the comfort of her parents. On the other hand, unlike most older, or mature, people, she understands enough about life experience to know she does not have enough. Twice she mentions she would like to have the experience of someone who is one hundred and two. At eleven Rachel realizes that with experience comes confidence, personal strength, and most important to her, knowing what to do in hostile situations. As amazing as those thoughts are, Rachel’s most impressive thought is about age. She understands that people display the characteristics of the ages they have passed. She understands that although she is eleven, she can still be scared like she is five, or cry like she is three. What she does not grasp is that people can display characteristics beyond their years. Rachel displays that advanced maturity in her thoughts.
The only dialogue in the story is between Rachel and her teacher, Mrs. Price. Every conversation is the same; Mrs. Price does not listen to Rachel and dominates their conversations. Rachel associates being right with being older, so she lets Mrs. Price have her way. Mrs. Price is so dominating Rachel can respond with what she calls her four- year-old voice. She stumbles for a reply, eventually saying only, “Not mine, not mine.” Rachel is helpless and feels sick inside as she is forced to wear that sweater. So much emphasis is given to what Rachel is thinking, but the dialogue can show her outward personality.
Rachel is non-confrontational, timid, and shy. Rachel desperately wants her terrible day to be over. She wants to be one hundred and two, because then days like this one would be far behind. After she is brought to tears and reluctantly she puts on the sweater and even though she did not have to wear the sweater long, she is changed. The situation with the sweater has symbolized a challenge for her. She soon realizes facing challenges is at the foundation of experience. Her old self floats away like a balloon.
Sandra Cisneros’s “Eleven” uses point of view, diction, dialogue, and symbolism to characterize an eleven-year-olds coming of age. The unique characteristics of an eleven- year-old have allowed her to make important discoveries about growing up. Rachel survives her humiliation, and becomes smart eleven. She feels smart eleven, and at almost a year sooner than usual. Rachel realizes that people are the sum of their experience. She desperately wants to be one hundred and two, but realizes that her experience adds up to eleven.