By Sandra Cisneros

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ELEVEN
by Sandra Cisneros

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.

Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.

Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.

You don’t feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you. And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve. That’s the way it is.

Only today I wish I didn’t have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk. I would’ve known how to tell her it wasn’t mine instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.

“Whose is this?” Mrs. Price says, and she holds the red sweater up in the air for all the class to see. “Whose? It’s been sitting in the coatroom for a month.”

“Not mine,” says everybody. “Not me.”

“It has to belong to somebody”, Mrs. Price keeps saying, but nobody can remember. It’s an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and sleeves all stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope. It’s maybe a thousand years old and even if it belonged to me I wouldn’t say so.

Maybe because I’m skinny, maybe because she doesn’t like me, that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says,“I think it belongs to Rachel.” An ugly sweater like that all raggedy and old, but Mrs. Price believes her. Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on my desk, but when I open my mouth nothing comes out.

“That’s not, I don’t, you’re not…Not mine.” I finally say in a little voice that was maybe me when I was four.

“Of course it’s yours”, Mrs. Price says. “ I remember you wearing it once.” Because she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not.

Not mine, not mine, not mine, but Mrs. Price is already turning to page thirty-two, and math problem number four. I don’t know why but all of a sudden I’m feeling sick inside, like the part of me that’s three wants to come out of my eyes, only I squeeze them shut tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to remember today I am eleven, eleven. Mama is making a cake for me for tonight, and when Papa comes home everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to

you.


But when the sick feeling goes away and I open my eyes, the red sweater’s still sitting there like a big red mountain. I move the red sweater to the corner of my desk with my ruler. I move my pencil and books and eraser as far from it as possible. I even move my chair a little to the right. Not mine, not mine, not mine. In my head I’m thinking how long till lunchtime, how long till I can take the red sweater and throw it over the schoolyard fence, or leave it hanging on a parking meter, or bunch it up into a little ball and toss it in the alley. Except when math period ends Mrs. Price says loud and in front of everybody, “Now, Rachel, that’s enough, ”because she sees I’ve shoved the red sweater to the tippy-tip corner of my desk and it’s hanging all over the edge like a waterfall, but I don’t care.

“Rachel”, Mrs. Price says. She says it like she’s getting mad. “You put that sweater on right now and no more nonsense.”

“But it’s not –“

“Now!” Mrs. Price says.

This is when I wish I wasn’t eleven because all the years inside of me—ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one—are pushing at the back of my eyes when I put one arm through one sleeve of the sweater that smells like cottage cheese, and then the other arm through the other and stand there with my arms apart like if the sweater hurts me and it does, all itchy and full of germs that aren’t even mine.

That’s when everything I’ve been holding in since this morning, since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets go, and all of a sudden I’m crying in front of everybody. I wish I was invisible but I’m not. I’m eleven and it’s my birthday today and I’m crying like I’m three in front of everybody. I put my head down on the desk and bury my face in my stupid clown-sweater arms. My face all hot and spit coming out of my mouth because I can’t stop the little animal noises from coming out of me until there aren’t any more tears left in my eyes, and it’s just my body shaking like when you have the hiccups, and my whole head hurts like when you drink milk too fast.

But the worst part is right before the bell rings for lunch. That stupid Phyllis Lopez, who is even dumber than Sylvia Saldivar, says she remembers the red sweater is hers. I take it off right away and give it to her, only Mrs. Price pretends like everything’s okay.

Today I’m eleven. There’s a cake Mama’s making for tonight and when Papa comes home from work we’ll eat it. There’ll be candles and presents and everybody will sing Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday to you, Rachel, only it’s too late.

I’m eleven today. I’m eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one, but I wish I was one hundred and two. I wish I was anything but eleven. Because I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon, like a tiny O in the sky, so tiny you have to close your eyes to see it.


Literary Techniques

This story is written in a personal omniscient point of view. Even though the story is very short, the author used many literary devices to show the feelings of the main character, Rachel. These include:



  • The use of similes ,"a figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared" (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 683), to show imagery:

                    The first simile in the short story is when the main character, Rachel, is comparing the way you grow up to:

                        "...an onion or like the rings insides a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one." ("Eleven, 6)

    Cisneros uses this comparison to show how during the years of your life, you have many experiences that eventually add up, or layer upon themselves to build your current character. Cisneros later compares years to pennies in a Band-Aid box, again referring to how the years "build up".

                    The second simile seen is the teacher, Mrs. Price, gives the red sweater to Rachel. She says,

                        "...and I open my eyes, the red sweater's still sitting there like a big               red mountain." ("Eleven", 6)

    Cisneros compares the sweater to a mountain to show how Rachel's hatred toward the sweater has grown until it has become a threatening "mountain" at the edge of her desk. It gives the audience the image of an ominous pile of sweater on the desk. The sweater has such an affect on Rachel that she moves it to the edge of her desk with a ruler and eventually brings her to tears.

            The third simile is when Rachel pushes the sweater to the corner of her desk until

                                        "it's hanging all over the edge like a waterfall" ("Eleven", 7)

    Again, Cisneros compares two very unlike objects to create a vivid picture of the red sweater for her audience.

                   The fourth and final simile is at the very end of the story. Rachel says:


"I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon" ("Eleven", 8)

    This exemplifies the point that Rachel's eleventh birthday was horrible and she only wishes it would be over and forgotten about just like a lost balloon.



  • The use of repetition in the story creates a rhythm for the reader and creates more emphasis.

    As Rachel repeats how old she really is (by counting the years) this re-emphasizes her point of the "layering" of years and also creates the "rhythm" of the story.

    Rachel also repeats phrases such as "Not mine, Not mine." and "Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday". These repetitions actually show that Rachel is only eleven years old. These emphasize that Rachel is still a child; still eleven.

 

Overall, Sandra Cisneros uses many examples of simile and repetition in a very short story that helps to create a vivid picture of Rachel.

Themes and Discussion Questions

Themes:

Innocence- the theme of innocence is seen in the way Rachel talks throughout the story. The repetition of phrases and the terms "tippy-top" or "tiny-tiny" helps the audience keep in mind that the main character is just a child. Also, this story seems like the first experience Rachel has had of dealing with an authority figure who is wrong. She understands that Mrs. Price has made a mistake, but she also knows that she cannot talk back to Mrs. Price and she loses her composure.


Family- even though Rachel has had a horrible experience at school on her birthday she thinks of her mom and dad. She daydreams about how a cake made by her mother will be waiting for her and how they will all eat it together when her father gets home from work. This shows Rachel immense love for her family and the comfort they provide for her.

 Discussions Questions:


  • Why doesn't Rachel want to be eleven in the story?

  • What are some of the life experiences you have had that are significant in the "rings" of your life?

  • How did Sandra Cisneros write the story so that it seems as though it was written by Rachel herself?

  Have you ever had an experience that could relate to Rachel's?

 

 



 

Themes and Discussion Questions

Themes:

Innocence- the theme of innocence is seen in the way Rachel talks throughout the story. The repetition of phrases and the terms "tippy-top" or "tiny-tiny" helps the audience keep in mind that the main character is just a child. Also, this story seems like the first experience Rachel has had of dealing with an authority figure who is wrong. She understands that Mrs. Price has made a mistake, but she also knows that she cannot talk back to Mrs. Price and she loses her composure.



Family- even though Rachel has had a horrible experience at school on her birthday she thinks of her mom and dad. She daydreams about how a cake made by her mother will be waiting for her and how they will all eat it together when her father gets home from work. This shows Rachel immense love for her family and the comfort they provide for her.

 

Discussions Questions:



  • Why doesn't Rachel want to be eleven in the story?

 

  • What are some of the life experiences you have had that are significant in the "rings" of your life?

 

  • How did Sandra Cisneros write the story so that it seems as though it was written by Rachel herself?

 

  • Have you ever had an experience that could relate to Rachel's?

 

 

 (on transparency)



ELEVEN by Sandra Cisneros

  1. Can you recall what you were like when you were eleven years old?







11 11

11

Jot down on a page what you recall you looked like and felt like when you were 11 years old. Did you have many friends or were you a loner? What was your relationship with your siblings and your parents?










The following sentences are taken from the story “Eleven”. Read them and then arrange them in the order you think they appear in the story.



“Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on my desk….”
“ ‘That’s not, I don’t, you’re not…. Not mine,’ I finally say in a

little voice that was maybe me when I was four.”


“Maybe because I’m skinny, maybe because she doesn’t like me,

that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says, ‘I think it belongs to Rachel.’ ”


“ ’Whose is this?’ Mrs. Price says, and she holds the red sweater

up in the air for all the class to see.”



“It’s an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and

sleeves all stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope.”

“That’s when everything I’ve been holding in since this morning,

since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets

go, and all of a sudden I’m crying in front of everybody.”
“ ‘Of course it’s yours ,’ Mrs. Price says. ‘I remember you wearing

it once.’ “


“ ‘Rachel,’ Mrs. Price says…. ‘You put that sweater on right now

and no more nonsense.’ “

This is the correct order of the sentences taken

from the story. Check your answers against the

transparency. (on transparency)


    1. “ ’Whose is this?’ Mrs. Price says, and she holds the

red sweater up in the air for all the class to see.”


    1. “It’s an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a

collar and sleeves all stretched out like you could

use it for a jump rope.”




    1. “Maybe because I’m skinny, maybe because she

doesn’t like me, that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says, ‘I

think it belongs to Rachel.’ ”




    1. “Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on

my desk….”


    1. “ ‘That’s not, I don’t, you’re not…. Not mine,’ I finally say in a little voice that was maybe me when I was four.”




    1. “ ‘Of course it’s yours ,’ Mrs. Price says. ‘I

remember you wearing it once.’ “


    1. “ ‘Rachel,’ Mrs. Price says…. ‘You put that sweater

on right now and no more nonsense.’ “


    1. “That’s when everything I’ve been holding in since this morning, since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets go, and all of a sudden I’m crying in front of everybody.”



I tell class about Sandra Cisneros’ life history.

I read the story to the class and then discuss text explicit

facts and events.

Students analyze the story in pairs according to the circles and the table

provided.

Mapping Out the Story “Eleven”

Describe what is happening outside of Rachel

Describe what is happening inside Rachel

Story Analysis





  1. To analyze a short story, the reader needs to think of the following:



When?

(Time of the story)





Where?
(Place of the story)


Who?

(Characters: main & secondary)




What?

(Plot: problem/conflict, rising action, crisis/climax, falling action, resolution)




Why?

(Theme: what the idea behind the story is, why the author wrote this story)






How?
(Point of view: who tells the story and how)







  1. Summarize the story in your own words. Write out the events in the order they happen chronologically.




  1. Describe the protagonist in the story. Write between 1 – 2 paragraphs.




  1. Draw the metaphor Rachel uses in the story to describe what it is like to grow up.

Then explain what she means in your own words.


Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree

trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the

next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.


  1. Read the biography of Sandra Cisneros. Then write down 3 important details from her biography. Is there any connection between her biography and the story?




    1. Write an essay of 100 words about a memorable event in your life.




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