A Summary and Analysis of Sandra Cisneros’ ‘My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn’

‘My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn’ is the opening story in Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, a 1991 collection of short stories by the American writer Sandra Cisneros (born 1954). In the story, a young girl describes her friendship with a girl named Lucy, and it emerges that the narrator envies Lucy’s home life with her sisters.

‘My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn’: plot summary

Cisneros’ story is narrated by a young girl who describes her friend Lucy Anguiano, a Texas girl. Lucy, she tells us, smells like corn: Lucy’s smell reminds the narrator of tortilla chips or nixtamal (a word for boiled maize or corn). Both the narrator and Lucy aren’t very old, but are of school age.

The narrator describes some of the conversations she and Lucy have had and some of the things they do together. For example, Lucy once told the narrator that she’d eaten dog food, before opening her mouth to prove it. The narrator describes Lucy’s appearance: she and all of her family are dark-skinned with thin eyes like ‘knife slits’. The narrator wants to sit out in the sun until she is tanned as dark as Lucy’s skin.

Next, she describes Lucy’s family’s house, which is partly rundown and in need of repair: for instance, the screen door at the front of the house has no glass in it. Lucy has eight sisters, so the family is a large one. For this reason, Lucy often helps her mother with the washing, and most of the sisters share clothes. The narrator tells us that Lucy once got her arm caught in the mangle or ‘wringer washer’ which Lucy’s mother was using.

By contrast, the narrator is (it is implied) an only child who is staying with her grandmother: she uses the word ‘Abuelita’, which means ‘granny’, when describing the adult who lives with her. She sleeps alone in a fold-out chair in the living room.

She envies Lucy for sleeping in a large bed with her sisters, topping and tailing. She looks forward to doing more silly things with Lucy, including combing and braiding her friend’s hair and scratching her mosquito bites. She looks forward to somersaulting on the rail of Lucy’s front porch, even though doing so will reveal her chones or underwear.

The narrator concludes the story by expressing the wish that she and Lucy will become so close, they will be like sisters to each other.

‘My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn’: analysis

This is the opening story in Sandra Cisneros’ collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. Like many of the early stories in the collection, such as ‘Eleven’ (which we have analysed in a separate post), ‘My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn’ is narrated by a young girl. Her narrative is plotless and instead focuses on character: specifically, her friend Lucy ‘who smells like corn’.

The narrative is at once joyful and tinged with sadness, although the sadness is on the fringes of the story, rather than being an emotion directly addressed by the narrator herself. She is, for the most part, focused on celebrating all of the things she likes about Lucy, and how close they are as friends. As she says at the end of the story, they are so close they could almost be sisters.

But therein lies the undercurrent of sadness in Cisneros’ story. We get the impression that one of the reasons the narrator likes Lucy and her life so much is because she’s jealous of Lucy’s large family, especially all of her sisters. She doesn’t just want to spend time with Lucy: she wants to be Lucy, as evinced by her comment about tanning her skin in the hope that she will resemble her (Latin American) friend. She envies the fact that Lucy has sisters. By contrast, the narrator appears not to have the same home life as her friend: it’s suggested that she lives with her grandmother, who tells her off for wearing the wrong dress at the wrong time.

She has to sleep in a fold-out chair in her grandmother’s living room, suggesting a temporary arrangement. Whilst all we can do is surmise about the narrator’s family – she doesn’t tell us any firm details – this sleeping arrangement implies a possibly volatile home life, with the narrator having temporarily moved in with ‘Abuelita’, her grandmother, perhaps because it was not safe for her at home. Alternatively, perhaps her own parents have died, or have run off, or are in prison.

These are all possibilities, but it would be out of place for such a juvenile and innocent narrator to fill in too many of these gaps for us. And ‘My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn’ is, first and foremost, a celebration of friendship: although the narrator does not have any sisters, unlike Lucy, she has come to view Lucy herself as a kind of sister to her. They behave like sisters together, being close – physically playing with each other’s hair and bodies and buying the same cheap flip-flops and sharing the same ice lolly – and spending lots of time together.

It is significant that Lucy’s family do not appear to be especially rich. The narrator doesn’t envy the fact that her friend lives in a big house or her parents have lots of money, and neither of these things appears to be true. Instead, she likes Lucy’s large family of sisters: the family she herself doesn’t have.

And yet if ‘My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn’ is about wanting what someone else has, it is also about our difficulties in realising what we ourselves have. At the beginning of the story, the narrator describes Lucy as ‘a Texas girl’, although we assume that the story is set in Texas and so she, as well as Lucy, is a ‘Texas girl’. She is also, we assume, Latin-American, since she uses Latino terms at numerous points in the story (nixtamal, Abuelita, chones). Lucy may have darker skin than her friend, but Cisneros also wittily implies that the narrator may struggle to identify the ways in which she is, already, remarkably similar to Lucy. She has not yet developed the self-awareness to appreciate these similarities.

Comments are closed.