Critical Analysis of Day-Long Day by Tino Villanueva
Tino Villanueva’s “Day-Long Day” is a remarkable work, for it captures in 34 short lines the anger, frustration, and cruelty of the life of Mexican migrant workers in Texas. The searing heat, the backbreaking and painful work of picking cotton—all of it is here in vivid detail.
“Diction” refers to the choice of words an author uses that distinguishes his “voice” from everyone else’s. That is, if you pick up a book by Charles Dickens, you don’t have to read very far before you know without looking who the author is—he has a unique style.
Much of that style depends on diction, which are the words a writer chooses to use and the way he constructs sentences. In Villanueva’s case, he uses many Spanish phrases, so that we know he is a Spanish-speaker.
He also uses sophisticated language and striking constructions, so that we know he is educated, even though he is a field hand:
“Daydreams border on sun-fed hallucinations,
eyes and hands automatically discriminate
Whiteness of cotton from field of vision.”
His choice of the word “discriminate” rather than “choose”, as well as the phrase “field of vision”, indicate a high degree of intelligence. Whether this is the intelligence of the poet or the field hand is immaterial at this point, for Villanueva has described the scene so vividly that we believe he is one with the other workers. The impact of the poem is not lessened if we find that he is not.
“Syntax” is the way in which words are arranged to form sentences. Construction is another good indication of intelligence, for it can be used to enhance the meaning of words. In the lines above, Villanueva might have said “…hands and eyes automatically find the cotton in the glare of the sun.” Instead, he says “…hand and eyes automatically discriminate whiteness of cotton from field of vision.” The words “discriminate” and “field of vision” are very sophisticated and again, indicate a high degree of intelligence at work here. But they are also loaded with other meanings: “discriminate” not only means to choose, it also carries an ugly meaning, as in “discriminate against”. Likewise “field of vision” reinforces the image of the workers in the field under the blazing sun.
III Denotation and Connotation
“Denotation” means the direct and explicit meaning of a word; “connotation” is an indirect reference, additional qualities suggested by a term in addition to the primary meaning (i.e., “politician” has different connotations from “statesman”.)
In “Day-Long Day”, Villanueva uses very little denotation, nor do his words carry different connotations. He works mainly in metaphors, simile, imagery and symbols.
Imagery is present when a poet appeals to our five senses. Imagery also includes such things as the sensations of heat and pressure.
In this work, the most powerful image, the dominant one, is the heat. It is...