In his essay entitled “Gardenland, Sacramento, California,” Michael Nava recounts his experience of growing up in a remote, mid-twentieth century neighborhood of Sacramento. Nava gradually shifts his focus toward more uniquely personal themes and demonstrates how the place where he grew up influenced the person he has become. In this way, the form of the essay outlines its focus as Nava follows an obvious and steady progression toward the presentation of his microcosmic experience of Gardenland. While he begins with a rather dull and impersonal description of the physical surroundings, Nava presents imagery that later serves to deepen the reader’s emotional involvement in the story. There are many instances throughout the essay where Nava uses the place as a metaphorical representation of his own personality. His presentation of Gardenland demonstrates the effect that his social and physical environment had on his growth as an individual.
In spite of its brevity, this essay follows a clear form as the focus progresses from more impersonal, physical description to introspective confession. Nava begins with a depiction of Sacramento before it had become one of California’s major urban cities. In this largely objective introduction, he interjects some emotion: he mentions the “shadowy small-town melancholy” of the “run-down Victorian mansions” (647). His discussion then moves toward his own neighborhood within the city called Gardenland, and the rhetoric becomes more detailed as he lists individual streets and specific buildings (e.g. his cousin Josephine’s house which doubled as a beauty shop). This specificity grows as he discusses his street, his family situation, individual houses, and finally his own conflicted relationship with the place where he grew up. One might compare this progressive focus to satellite imaging that needs to zoom in on its intended target in stages. In this case, the intended target or final image is Nava...
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