Rocket Boys Throughout the memoir about his youth, Homer Hickam in Rocket Boys demonstrates excellence in prose. Hickam, a former aerospace engineer from NASA, credibly and masterfully crafts his memoir so as to bring the reader into his mindset. His insightful descriptions of action enable the reader to experience the moment firsthand with him through their imagination. He carefully selects his words in order to create an image in the mind of the reader through his deliberate syntax, powerful diction, literary devices, and imagery.
The following passage is an example of his powerful prose: Sherman wanted to light the fuse, but I worried whether he could get away from it fast enough. ‘Don’t you worry about me,’ he said with such intensity that I instantly gave in. In a lot of ways, Sherman was the least handicapped person I’d known. He lit the fuse and ran back to a rock. Flames burst from Auk II. It sat for a moment spewing smoke and sparks and rocking on its fins.
Then it jumped ten feet into the air, turned and zipped into the woods behind us, ricocheted off an oak tree, rebounded back to the slack, twisted around once, twanged into the boulder Quentin and I were hiding behind, jerked twenty feet into the air, coughed once, and dropped like a dead bird. (Hickam 91) This passage is excellent because it displays literary excellence while also revealing a moment of self awareness in Hickam’s thoughts. There are two key portions to this quotation.
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The first is the momentary reflection that Hickam had concerning his friend, and the second being the description of Auk II’s flight. In the first half of the passage Hickam displays a moment of self awareness. Sherman Siers, a member of Hickam’s BCMA, had a left leg that had been damaged due to polio. Hickam states that at first he worried that Sherman that Sherman might not be able to retreat quickly enough after lighting the fuse to Auk II, but he gave in due to the confidence and zeal that Sherman possessed.
In retrospect he writes “In a lot of ways, Sherman was the least handicapped person I’d known. ” (91) Here Hickam realizes that what many people label as handicaps may be in fact the opposite. Sherman’s handicap caused him to rise to the challenge and in doing so he gained a confidence that empowered him through other challenges that everyone in life may face; to Sherman handicaps were merely a state of mind. The second half of the portion, which describes the flight of the rocket, is teeming with literary goodies; the first of which being the syntax of the sentences.
The first of the goodies is the sentence syntax. In the sentences leading up to the rockets takeoff, you can see the sentence lengths are short and excited. Then it changes when it reaches the sentence: “It sat for a moment spewing smoke and sparks and rocking on its fins” (91). Just as the rocket is delayed sitting for a moment on the ground, the sentence length increases from that of the past sentences to show the delay through syntax. The final sentence is lengthy and jumbled with verbs all throughout it.
The constant usage of verbs each following the other gives a very staccato rhythm making the sentence very quick paced and full of action. This final sentence has a whopping total of ten verbs that show the actions and path of the rocket. By looking at the structure of the sentence, one can almost see the rocket flying all over the place jerking this way and that and finally hitting the ground with a thud at the period. Other goodies in the later portion of the passage include the strong choice in diction and literary devices he employs. Hickam superior choice in diction is evident in the final two sentences.
Hickam carefully chose each word according to its sound and meaning. He did not try to sophisticate his word choices to make himself seem intelligent. Instead he searched carefully for words that though simple to understand, create just the description for the rocket’s action. Some of the words like “twanged” (91) and “zipped” (91) are even examples of onomatopoeia; that is the words sound like what they mean. At the end of the final sentence Homer employs the simile “dropped like a dead bird” (91). This simile has a dual purpose as both a simile and a pun.
This sentence brings an abrupt end to the crazy flight path of the rocket and creates a visual of the rocket plummeting to ground in the minds of the readers, yet at the same time it is a play on words. A pun is the usage of a word which has two meanings to invoke humor. In this case the word which has two meanings is the word “bird” (91). The name of the rocket, the Auk II, is an allusion to the Great Auk which is an extinct, flightless seabird. When Hickam used the phrase “dropped like a dead bird” (91), he meant to show the rocket’s rapid descent while also humorously referring back to the origin of he rocket’s name. The last sentence from the passage is an excellent example of imagery. Instead of merely telling the readers about the rocket’s launch, Hickam shows the rocket’s launch to his readers. Using phrases like “twanged into the boulder” (91) and “jerked twenty feet into the air” (91), Hickam invokes the senses of seeing and hearing to bring the reader firsthand into the action. Overall I really enjoyed reading Rocket Boys. The passages really brought me into Hickam’s mindset and I was able to see the world from his point of view.
The frequent literary devices entertained my mind, while my imagination was absorbed in the imagery in the book. I was inspired by Sonny’s determination to succeed and make something of himself. I did not find any truly weak parts of this memoir as I personally was absorbed in every moment in it. However I can understand if some people were to find it dull or boring at times due to lack of action. Unfortunately many readers today read only for action and violence, so due to a general lack of these in Rocket Boys, many people might find it unentertaining.
I would only recommend this to a person who reads to be inspired and not merely to be entertained. Personally I found myself captivated by the book’s imagery and unknowingly I found myself on a mission to find every little literary device possible. Throughout my reading I always viewed the book positively and eagerly read ahead to find out what would happen next. Rocket Boys is an excellent book that I found to be truly inspirational and has positively impacted on my view on my own life. Now I truly believe that if I work hard enough, I can achieve just about anything.
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