At some point in life, everyone encounters individuals that tend to make immature or childish statements which result in them being referred and compared to a child who is five years old. Why are they treated like that, do we all really act our age? In the short story “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros, a little girl named Rachel turns eleven years old and makes a statement 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” (Cisneros 6). The short story causes the audience to question whether you have always felt and acted your age or if you keep and embody all of your past ages that you’ve already experienced within your lifetime. “Eleven” conveys the idea that an individual’s age and the time, experience, feelings, and memories associated with it shape who we are and how we act at times.
In the short story, the main character is bombarded with many emotions because she feels embarrassed in front of her classmates after her teacher strongly insists that an unflattering red sweater left behind in class belongs to her and eventually forces her to wear it. This scenario can result in many different types of emotions and actions such as frustration, crying, anger, embarrassment, and sadness. However, Rachel expressed that she felt, “…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 the sweater” (Cisneros 8). Through this description of her emotions, Rachel implies that even her emotions that she’s felt from her most vulnerable and youngest years are still something that she experiences even at the age of eleven. Using Rachel’s thoughts and strong emotions, Cisneros is able to demonstrate that as individuals, our emotions and experiences accumulate throughout the years and we can never forget or unlearn feelings. Rachel is able to convey this type of thought when she states, “I’m eleven and it’s my birthday today and I’m crying like I’m three in front of everybody” (Cisneros 9). Through this statement, it becomes clear that Cisneros is associating certain emotions and feelings to our age. In this case, Cisneros is implying that crying and the feeling of sadness and frustration corresponds to the young age of three. Crying is an emotion associated with the behavior of an infant, which is why Rachel states that she feels as if she is three when she cries although she is truly eleven. However, was it really her feelings that made her feel that way or was it because she has had similar past experiences or memories that she has dealt with in a somewhat similar fashion?
Obtaining memories and experiences throughout life is all but a part of human nature, but how does it stick out to us as a memory and when do we recall such memories? “Personal memories are defined as vivid recollections of specific past events that have meaning or significance to one’s self” (Bauer 165). Our memories are put into a weighted system made by us in which we weigh for meaning or significance that can be used in life. When it comes to adults, they tend to hold experiences and memories much longer compared to adolescents who “do not remember the events of their lives over periods as long as adults do” (Bauer 166). In the story, Rachel speaks of a time in which she wished she was one hundred and two, “Today I wish I was one hundred and two, I’d known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk” (Cisneros 7). Rachel wishes that she was much older because being one hundred and two years old implies that you would have an abundance of knowledge and life experience, she is only eleven and doesn’t have all of the feelings and experiences that an elder would have. It becomes clear that if Rachel was older, she would be able to convey her thoughts and emotions to Mrs. Price regarding the sweater. However, because she is only eleven and hasn’t obtained the maturity or boldness it takes to stand up to her teacher, she is unable to do so.
Within a single lifetime, individuals are able to accumulate knowledge through observation of the world including society, the people close to them, and their interactions with one another. In Rachel’s case, because she is a young and impressionable individual who is only eleven, most of her knowledge probably stems from her parents and peers at school because this is who she has been surrounded by the majority of her lifetime. “Personal intelligence includes a spectrum of proficiencies, and there is a degree to which it can be learned and cultivated” (Personal Intelligence). The cultivation of an individual’s personality often surfaces as a result from who they surround themselves with, learning from those who they associate themselves with, and watching other’s interactions. These observations will allow the individual to decide what is good or bad in a personality, what social interactions are acceptable or unacceptable in society’s eyes, and what is the appropriate way to react in certain scenarios. Therefore when it comes to Rachel’s mindset, it comes from her peer’s actions and from just living life. Therefore, Rachel comes to the conclusion that she is not as wise, experienced, or qualified to feel a certain way because her time alive is less than her teacher’s. This can be seen when Rachel comes to a conclusion that, “Because [Ms. Price is] older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not” (Cisneros 7). She got this mindset from previous times in where she or her peers have dealt with a time in which adults are seen as more knowledgeable than children. Rachel could have come to this conclusion because she knows she is younger than her teacher and therefore has less life experience and isn’t as wise. However, she could have also come to this conclusion because, at eleven, she observed and learned that children are meant to be obedient to adult figures and are forced to agree with what they have to say.
Although we technically become a year older on our birthdays, we are not truly a year older regarding our experiences and mindset. For example, as Rachel has expressed after turning eleven on the day of her birthday, “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” (Cisneros 7). As time goes on you never really feel the age you are until some time has passed, but typically you become your age after you have been living that age right up until you turn the next year. And so when you are eleven you do not really feel eleven until you have just hit year twelve, this ties in with how memories shape your age by having all the memories and experiences that had come from year eleven make you twelve.
The feeling of turning a year old is very foreign to many people, in fact, many people often say that they feel more mature for their age or that they feel much younger than their actual physical age. For example, right after a person’s eighteenth birthday, they still accidentally say that they’re seventeen because they haven’t gotten used to it. However, as time goes on, that person will become adjusted to being eighteen and will have eighteen-year-old experiences different than the experiences that they have had in the past prior to being eighteen. This person would be a true eighteen-year-old with all of their eighteen-year-old experiences the moment that they turn nineteen years old. In Rachel’s case, although she has turned eleven, she does not truly feel eleven yet which is highlighted by her inability to express more mature thoughts to her teacher. Therefore, while Rachel has just turned eleven, she will never feel or truly become eleven years old until she turned twelve years old. Memories and experiences shape our age through the lessons, knowledge, and understanding that we gain throughout an entire lifetime.
As a final point when it comes to your age, time, past memories, experiences and how you feel at any given moment give you what is needed to define or shape your stage of life. The idea that an individual’s age and the time, experience, feelings, and memories associated with it shape who we are and how we act at times. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros explores the mindset of a little eleven year old girl named Rachel who believes that she is made up of all the years before her and comes to the conclusion that if she was one hundred and two years old, she would be able to tell her teacher that the ugly red sweater didn’t really belong to her. Rachel comes to this conclusion because our memories and experiences shape who we are along with observation of the society around us and learning from these social interactions and norms.The knowledge that comes through observations includes learning certain feelings, emotions, and reactions that you exhibit from experiences associated with your previous ages. Therefore, age is just a number. In actuality, age is defined by our individual memories, experiences, and learned social interactions from our peers and parents, and the emotions that we cultivate from certain scenarios throughout our lifetime.
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