Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark

9th Grade English:  Today in class, we are kicking off our final hurrah with indirect characterization, a fantastic method of introducing different aspects of a character’s physical and emotional makeup.  There are five ways in which an author can use:

  1. Speech
  2. Thoughts
  3. Actions
  4. Appearance
  5. Effect on others

One of my favorite examples of literature that demonstrates the different methods of indirect characterization is from Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street, Papa Who Wakes up Tired in the Dark.

Papa Who Wakes up Tired in the Dark

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Your abuelito is dead, Papa says early one morning in my room.  Está muerto, and then as if he just heard the news himself, crumples like a coat and cries, my brave Papa cries.  I have never seen my Papa cry and don’t know what to do.

I know he will have to go away, that he will take a plane to Mexico, all the uncles and aunts will be there, and they will have a black-and-white photo taken in front of the tomb with flowers shaped like spears in a white vase because this is how they send the dead away in that country.

Because I am the oldest, my father has told me first, and now it is my turn to tell the others.  I will have to explain why we can’t play.  I will have to tell them to be quiet today.

My Papa, his thick hands and thick shoes, who wakes up tired in the dark, who combs his hair with water, drinks his coffee, and is gone before we wake, today is sitting on my bed.

And I think if my own Papa died what would I do.  I hold my Papa in my arms.  I hold and hold and hold him.

*                       *                           *                           *                          *

In Papa Who Wakes, the reader is able to see the multidimensional relationship between Papa and his children, even thought the story is a mere 207 words long.  By describing, from the point of view of a little girl, the audience realizes how profoundly Papa is affected by the death of his own father through the narrators simplistic view of the events.

I know he will have to go away, that he will take a plane to Mexico, all the uncles and aunts will be there, and they will have a black-and-white photo taken in front of the tomb with flowers shaped like spears in a white vase because this is how they send the dead away in that country.

While this occurs, Ciscneros also discloses the relationship between the narrator and her father: a distance has been there, but yet once the narrator is able to empathize, she commits to her emotions.  My favorite lines are  at the closing:

My Papa, his thick hands and thick shoes, who wakes up tired in the dark, who combs his hair with water, drinks his coffee, and is gone before we wake, today is sitting on my bed.

And I think if my own Papa died what would I do.  I hold my Papa in my arms.  I hold and hold and hold him.

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