The following list of themes can be starting points for exploration of
some of the major issues affecting adolescents.
Behind the Eyes presents a realistic portrayal of a
young man struggling to stay out of the gang milieu that surrounds him.
Hector, the members of his family as well as the gang members are not portrayed
as stereotypes. The novel can be successfully used to explore a social
setting that may be unfamiliar to the student or to counteract negative
assumptions about Latinos.
Hector, for example, is an intelligent, introspective
young man who loves to read. His younger sister Aurora is assertive and
critical of the “macho-culture” that surrounds her. Hector’s
impulsive brother Filiberto and even Chava, the head of the Discípulos,
are portrayed as complex individuals. As a teaching tool it is important
for the student to discover the universality of the characters and to see
in these characters traits that are present in all young persons.
Students can explore the ways that Hector views himself
as “different” and the effects this has on him and others.
Why does Hector try so hard to remain anonymous? Why is he afraid that
his peers will find out that he is intelligent? What are some of the things
he does to maintain that anonymity? Is there an element of “arrogance” in
Here it is helpful to contrast Hector’s views
of himself with the views that others have of him. For example, Hector
is surprised to find out that his brother has been contributing to his
college fund. How was it that Hector did not know of his brother’s
esteem for him? The student can explore Hector’s fear of expressing
his gifts as it existed before and after he enters Furman. In a letter,
Aurora tells Hector that at Furman he will finally be able to be himself.
The student can explore how Hector learns to accept his limitations and
his gifts at Furman.
The scene at the Lions Club banquet where Hector is
asked to read his award winning essay “The Pursuit of Happiness” portrays
Hector as embarrassed to have his family attend the event. At the same
time, Hector’s essay is about the sacrifices his father made for
the sake of his family. Students can explore the mixture of pride and shame
that exists in Hector towards his family, and in many ways, towards his
Hector’s relationship with his brother Filiberto
is also marked by resentment, envy and later, love. How is the complexity
of this relationship portrayed in the novel? In many ways, Hector is his
mother’s son. How does Hector’s mother contribute to Hector’s
sense of uniqueness and sense that he is different than his irresponsible
brother? How does Hector respond to his mother’s love? After his
father dies, Hector begins to attend Mass daily with his mother? Were Hector’s
motives religious or did he want to please his mother?
Aurora’s assertiveness and no-nonsense attitude toward the family’s
problems contrasts with Hector’s passivity. “Nobody in this
family ever does anything. Everyone just sits there praying or drinking,
like there’s nothing that can be done,” Aurora says at one
point. Is this statement true? Explore how the relationship that Hector
has with his sister inspires Hector to “do the right thing” at
“You can’t go at it alone,” Díaz
tells Hector. The novel is in many ways about the transforming power of
friendship. There is the friendship between X-Lax and Hector which culminates
in X-Lax’s sacrifice. There is the friendship with Sansón
and the reversal of roles with Sansón becoming the unexpected teacher
and Hector the one who has ends up learning from Sansón’s
simple but solid view of life.
And there is the friendship with Díaz, a father
figure that reveals to Hector the possibility of happiness even in the
most adverse of circumstances. All of these friendships bring to Hector
a different ingredient required for his growth. The class can explore how
each of these friendships changes Hector’s perspective about himself
and about his world.
Hector’s life is full of fear. In El Paso, he
grows up fearing the Discípulos. There is the fear that his family
will embarrass him. He fears his brother. When El Topo comes to Furman,
it is as if all his fears become personified in one person. The class can
explore the ways that Hector succumbs to and eventually learns to overcome
or live with fear in a way that does not prevent him from functioning.
Students should be encouraged to speak about their fears and the ways that
they deal with them. How would they deal with El Topo if they were in Hector’s