The Talk

Gary Soto

Gary soto

The talk


My best friend and I knew that we were going to grow up to be ugly. On a backyard lawn—the summer light failing west of the mulberry tree where the house of the most beautiful girl on our street stood—we talked about what we could do: shake the second-base dirt from our hair, wash our hands of frog smells and canal water, and learn to smile without showing our crooked teeth. We had to stop spitting when girls were looking and learn not to pile food onto a fork and into a fat cheek already churning hot grub. We were twelve, with lean bodies that were beginning to grow in weird ways. First, our heads got large, but our necks wavered, frail as crisp tulips. The eyes stayed small as well, receding into pencil dots on each side of an unshapely nose that cast remarkable shadows when we turned sideways. It seemed that Scott’s legs sprouted muscle and renegade veins, but his arms, blue with ink markings, stayed short and hung just below his waist. My gangly arms nearly touched my kneecaps. In this way, I was built for picking up grounders and doing cartwheels, my arms swaying just inches from the summery grass.

We sat on the lawn, with the porch light off, waiting for the beautiful girl to turn on her bedroom light and read on her stomach with one leg stirring the air. This stirred us, and our dream was a clean dream of holding hands and airing out our loneliness by walking up and down the block. When Scott asked whom I was going to marry, I said a brown girl from the valley. He said that he was going to marry a strawberry blonde who would enjoy Millerton Lake, dirty as it was. I said mine would like cats and the sea and would think nothing of getting up at night from a warm, restless bed and sitting in the yard under the icy stars. Scott said his wife would work for the first year or so, because he would go to trade school in refrigeration. Since our town was made with what was left over after God made hell, there was money in air conditioning, he reasoned.

I said that while my wife would clean the house and stir pots of nice grub, I would drive a truck to my job as a carpenter, which would allow me to use my long arms. I would need only a stepladder to hand a fellow worker on the roof a pinch of nails. I could hammer, saw, lift beams into place, and see the work I got done at the end of the day. Of course, she might like to work, and that would be okay, because then we could buy two cars and wave at each other if we should see the other drive by. In the evenings, we would drink Kool-Aid and throw a slipper at our feisty dog at least a hundred times before we went inside for a Pop-Tart and hot chocolate. Scott said he would work hard too, but now and then he would find money on the street and the two of them could buy extra things like a second TV for the bedroom and a Doughboy swimming pool for his three kids. He planned on having three kids and a ranch house on the river, where he could dip a hand in the water, drink, and say, “Ahh, tastes good.” But that would be years later. Now we had to do something about our looks. We plucked at the grass and flung it into each other’s faces.

“Rotten luck,” Scott said. “My arms are too short. Look at ’em.” “Maybe we can lift weights. This would make up for our looks,” I said. “I don’t think so,” Scott said, depressed. “People like people with nice faces.” He was probably right. I turned onto my stomach, a stalk of grass in my mouth. “Even if I’m ugly, my wife’s going to be good-looking,” I said. “She’ll have a lot of dresses and I’ll have more shirts than I have now. Do you know how much carpenters make?” Then I saw the bedroom light come on and the beautiful girl walk into the room drying her hair with a towel. I nudged Scott’s short arm and he saw what I saw. We flicked the stalks of grass, stood up, and walked over to the fence to look at her scrub her hair dry. She plopped onto the bed and began to comb it, slowly at first because it was tangled. With a rubber band, she tied it back, and picked up a book that was thick as a good- sized sandwich.

Scott and I watched her read a book, now both legs in the air and twined together, her painted toenails like red petals. She turned the pages slowly, very carefully, and now and then lowered her face into the pillow. She looked sad but beautiful, and we didn’t know what to do except nudge each other in the heart and creep away to the front yard. “I can’t stand it anymore. We have to talk about this,” Scott said. “If I try, I think I can make myself better looking,” I said. “I read an article about a girl whitening her teeth with water and flour.” So we walked up the street, depressed. For every step I took, Scott took two, his short arms pumping to keep up. For every time Scott said, “I think we’re ugly,” I said two times, “Yeah, yeah, we’re in big trouble.”


Critical Thinking
[1] Respond: What were your feelings about the boys as you read this essay? Explain
[2] What jobs do the boys hope to have when they get older?
[3] Infer: What do the boys’ choices of future jobs suggest about their characters? Explain
[4]Infer: Do you think this is the first time the boys have watched the beautiful girl? Why or why not?
[5] Draw Conclusions: What do you think the girl in the window represents for the two boys?
[6] Speculate: What advice do you think an adult might give the two boys to help them feel better for themselves?

bunpeiris bq Is knoweldge the same as understanding?

Soto presents the boy’s expectations of the future in a humorous way. What impact does the use of humor have on your understanding of the chaaracters & their plight?

First Thoughts Shaping Interpretations Extending the Text Making Meanings The Talk textbook page 380 Reading Check Imagine that in ten years Scott and Gary happen to meet in a restaurant. They reminisce about their talk. With a partner, take the parts of Scott and Gary. Retell what they recall about their talk.

1. Do any of Soto’s characters remind you of yourself—or someone you know? Explain. 2. Soto uses exaggeration to describe himself and his friend Scott. Find two exaggerated statements in the text. What do they tell you about how the boys feel about themselves? 3. Look over the Quickwrite notes you made about the importance of looks in our society. How important are good looks? What about other factors—such as good character, honesty, hard work, money? Rate some factors on a scale. Be sure to discuss your ratings in class. 

Name: _________________English 9, Period _____   Date: _____________________

“The Talk” – by Gary Soto

Autobiography – ______________________________________________________________________


Read above, answering these questions as you read.

  1. What type of tree is by the most beautiful girl’s house?


  1. In paragraph 1, what do they decide to no longer do (if girls are looking)?


  1. How old are they during the incident/story they are narrating?


  1. What is his friend’s name?


  1. What item makes the boys feel good in paragraph 3?


  1. Who is the narrator going to marry?


  1. What will his girlfriend like?


  1. What will his girlfriend/wife do? (Paragraph 5)


  1. Who is his friend going to marry? (Paragraph 4)


  1. What will his friend’s girlfriend enjoy?


  1. What will the friend’s girlfriend/wife do?


  1. What will the narrator do (for a living)?


  1. What will the narrator do in the evenings?


  1. What will the friend do (for a living)?


  1. How many kids will his friend have?


  1. What type of house will his friend have?


  1. What does the narrator and his friend complain about? (top of page 378)


  1. What is the beautiful girl doing?
  2. What does she do next (after she finishes the previous thing)


  1. What do the boys realize in the end?


  1. What could be the author’s message/theme of this narrative? ______


Meet the Writer:

  1. When was the writer born?


  1. What is his name?


  1. Where did his grow up?


  1. What is his heritage?


  1. What changed his life?


  1. What other work by this author have we read in this class? (Put title in quotes!)


“The Talk” by Gary Soto

“Talk” retold by George Herzog and Harold Courlander

Literary Analysis: Comparing Humorous Writing

humorous essay is a form of nonfiction writing intended to make the reader laugh. Some

humorous writing, often described as harsh or biting, ridicules its subjects. Other humorous writing, often described as gentle, treats its subjects with affection even as it makes fun of them.

Humorous writers often include one or more of the following figures of speech:

  • hyperboleintentional (and often outrageous) overstatement, or exaggeration
  • understatementthe presentation of something in a restrained or subtle manner; the

Opposite of hyperbole

In addition to these techniques, the comic writer’s diction, or word choice, may include funny names, slang, or other examples of verbal humor.

Although humorous writing is meant to entertain, it can have other purposes as well. For example, humor can be used to convey a serious message.

DIRECTIONS: Write your answers to the following questions on the lines provided.

  1. Read this passage from “The Talk” by Gary Soto:

The eyes stayed small as well, receding into pencil dots on each side of an unshapely nose that cast remarkable shadows when we turned sideways.

What humorous technique does the passage exemplify? Briefly explain your answer.



  1. What serious issue concerning childhood and adolescence does “The Talk” raise? How does

the writer’s tone in the essay help you to gain perspective on that issue?



  1. What examples of the authors’ diction stand out to you in the folk tale “Talk”? How does the diction contribute to the humor of the story?



  1. What important message is conveyed in “Talk”?



  1. Which story, “The Talk” or “Talk,” makes the most use of hyperbole? Of understatement?

Explain your answer and give examples.



Support for Writing to Compare Literary Works

“The Talk” by Gary Soto  & “Talk” retold by George Herzog and Harold Courlander

Use a chart like the one shown to make prewriting notes for your essay analyzing why the authors chose to discuss their subjects in a humorous fashion.

  “The Talk” “Talk”
Characters’ current




Clues that

challenges can

be overcome

Why authors

chose to use




Vocabulary Builder

Word List

bulging         feisty         refrain         renegade         wheezed

  1. DIRECTIONS: Revise each sentence so that the underlined vocabulary word is used logically.

Be sure not to change the vocabulary word.

  1. We worried about the laziness of the feistydog.


  1. The group of renegadefans loyally cheered the home team whenever it scored.


  1. The bulgingballoon grew smaller and smaller before our eyes.


  1. She could not refrainfrom leaving the luscious dessert untouched.


  1. The runner wheezedloudly and smiled as he thought how strong he felt after this race.


  1. DIRECTIONS: On the line, write the letter of the choice that is the best answer for each analogy question.

A. prudent : cautious

B. honest : deceptive

C. reckless : cautious

D. rude : loyal

___ 2. FEISTY : LAZY ::

A. hostile : unfriendly

B. nimble : athletic

C. aggressive : peaceful

D. talkative : chatty


A. thin : narrow

B. relaxed : zealous

C. deprived : privileged

D. willful : stubborn


___ 4. WHEEZED : GASPED ::

A. shuddered : shivered

B. perspired : panted

C. lunged : withdrew

D. restricted : extended


A. identify : recognize

B. unite : isolate

C. resist : achieve

D. sacrifice : resistant


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