Critical Analysis: Language Barriers Reveal More Than You Think in a Bilingual Book

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child

Written by Francisco Jimenez

Published by Houghton Mifflin





Language and Learning: Lacan’s Language Theory in The Circuit 

Lacan’s three stages of infant development: the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real (Bosmajian 110), can be applied to other developmental stages in life. Hamida Bosmajian describes the symbolic stage of Lacanian development as“the stage of language, a stage that will form the subject henceforth only in and as dialogue” (Bosmajian 110).

Francisco Jimenez’s The Circuit is a collection of stories in which language plays a large role in understanding the both author and the characters intentions and motivations. The language used within these stories can reveal much about the reader. The first story of the novel opens with a view of the narrator’s childhood, “‘La frontera’ is a word [he] often heard when [he] was a child” (Jimenez 1). This is a phrase that proposes a  problem for the english speaking reader instantaneously. For the reader that does not speak spanish, the opening words of the book create a separation between the reader and the narrator. Other examples of this separation are seen throughout the first story, for example when Mama says, “Dios lo quiera” (Jimenez 3). The english speaking reader is kept at a distance from the characters of the story though this language barrier.

This literary tactic creates a separation between the characters and the reader that opens a window for the reader into their own unconscious mind. Without the knowledge of what every character is saying, what every place is called, and what every object is named, the english speaking reader is forced to make his or her own inferences and connections. The reader may infer from the context that, “Dios lo quiera” are words from a mother who is comforting her son. The english speaking reader cannot understand the words of the mother and therefore cannot relate to the narrator as if he or she were him. However, the reader may be reminded of the comfort that they felt from their own mother as a child, or on the contrary, may be reminded that their own mother did not offer this type of comfort. The tactic of language barriers may also allow the reader to make clean connections. For the english speaking reader, “La frontera”, means nothing. The narrator reveals that “La frontera” is a place that holds special meaning.  The reader is forced to learn about this place along with the narrator, without the aide of their own prior feelings.

The language tactic used in The Circut forces the non-spanish speaking reader to make their own connections with the characters and objects, an action that leads to a highly emotional reading style. Leaving the reader in vulnerable state encourages the mind to make connections to the infant state of “wholeness” which dominates the unconscious mind (Bosmajian).

Works Cited 

Bosmajian, Hamida. “Reading the Unconscious: Psychoanalytical Critiism.” Understanding Children’s Literature: Key Essays from the Second Edition of The International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Ed. Peter Hunt. London [u.a.: Routledge, 2009. 103-13. Print.

Jiménez, Francisco. The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Print.


The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child is a collection of short stories based on Francisco Jimenez’s personal experiences. The narrator struggles with a life journey the ends in the same way that it began.  Are there any heros or villains in this story? Does it end with “…and they lived happily ever after”? Like most stories that are based in truth, no. This book is a look at what a family can and will do in order to change their lives for the better. The family struggles with the desire for an education and the need for financial stability  while still trying to keep their own unique identity.  Not everything works out for them but one thing is for sure: this journey will change their lives forever.

Posted by: Janine Reads


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