National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
Sun, Stone, and Shadows

Sun, Stone, and Shadows

by Jorge F. Hernández

The temples and gods of pre-Columbian Mexico are a pile of ruins, but the spirit that breathed life into that world has not disappeared… Being a Mexican writer means listening to the voice of that present, that presence.


Temple of El Castillo in Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico (Copyright Mark Segal/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the Discussion Questions in the Reader’s Guide. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided here.

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text.

  1. Marriage threatens the identity of the female narrator of “Cooking Lesson” by Rosario Castellanos. Expand the plot summary and the character analysis from your reader’s journal to explore the ways the piece of steak serves as a symbol for the narrator’s life. How do the changes that take place as the meat cooks help us understand the narrator’s emotional state? Why might Castellanos have chosen meat as a symbol?
  2. Analyze one of the stories in the collection and draft one sentence that summarizes its primary theme. Using quotations from the text, write an essay that supports your claim. Be sure to consider the title of the story, point of view, main characters, setting, and objects of symbolic value while writing your essay.
  3. Magical realism blends elements of the real world with imaginative surrealistic descriptions and events. Many Latin American writers are considered masters of the form. Expand the entries in your reader’s journal to consider the ways Octavio Paz brings elements of magical realism to the page in “My Life with the Wave.” How does the incorporation of fantastical characters and events add to the effect of the story? How does our world differ when studied through the lens of possibility provided by magical realism?
  4. Writing about setting invites you to study not only the story’s time and place, but also the ways that a particular setting affects each of the characters. Choose a story in the anthology and write an essay considering the following questions: When and where does the story take place? Does the location suggest anything about the characters’ lives? Is weather an important aspect of the story? If so, how?
  5. ake two stories in which you find similarities and evaluate the strengths of each, providing evidence from the texts to support your judgments. This could include character studies of the stories’ protagonists, comparison of the settings, contrasting different authors’ styles of writing, or a focus on the ways a similar topic or theme is addressed.
  6. Choose a story you did not enjoy reading and write a critical review. Be sure to offer thoughtful reasoning for your criticisms and support your arguments with passages from the text.
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