Salvador Late or Early, Sandra Cisneros: Summary & Analysis

'Salvador Late or Early' is a poignant short story featured in Sandra Cisneros' collection of short stories, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, published in 1991. Unlike a conventional plot-driven narrative, the story serves as a character study, offering a glimpse into the life of a young boy named Salvador. Through its vivid portrayal of Salvador's daily routine and the challenges he faces, the story delves into themes of family, childhood, and self-sacrifice, evoking a sense of empathy and contemplation.

Plot Summary

The story introduces Salvador, a young boy with "crooked" hair and teeth, residing in a bleak, impoverished neighborhood where houses mirror the drabness of grey, cloudy skies. Salvador leads a life of self-sacrifice, taking on the responsibility of caring for his younger brothers, Cecilio and Arturito, each morning. Their mother, preoccupied with the youngest sibling, relies on Salvador to wake them up, prepare breakfast, and ensure they reach school on time.

As Salvador walks his brothers to school, he patiently tidies up after them, even picking up the color crayons scattered by Arturito along the way. Despite his dutiful actions, Salvador remains unnoticed and friendless. The teacher struggles to remember his name, further highlighting Salvador's invisibility within his surroundings.

The story concludes with a poignant portrayal of Salvador's character – a quiet, unassuming boy whose body bears scars from past experiences. He apologizes every time he clears his throat to speak, hinting at a sense of insecurity and lack of self-assurance. As the story reaches its final moments, Salvador leads his brothers through the school gate and into the schoolyard, gradually growing smaller and eventually disappearing into the bright horizon, seemingly vanishing into thin air.



The theme of family is central to 'Salvador Late or Early.' Salvador takes on significant responsibilities, caring for his younger brothers while their mother tends to the youngest sibling. Despite the challenges, Salvador remains devoted to his family, showcasing a selfless and caring nature.


The story effectively captures the essence of childhood, portraying Salvador's youthful innocence and vulnerability. His lack of friends and the teacher's inability to remember his name underline the loneliness and isolation often experienced during childhood.


Salvador's self-sacrifice is a prominent theme in the story. He puts aside his own needs and desires to care for his younger brothers, demonstrating his sense of responsibility and maturity beyond his years.


'Salvador Late or Early' by Sandra Cisneros is a touching character study that delves into the life of a young boy burdened with adult responsibilities. Through the portrayal of Salvador's selflessness and quiet resilience, the story emphasizes the themes of family, childhood, and self-sacrifice. Salvador's silent presence in the story leaves a lasting impression, prompting readers to reflect on the often unnoticed struggles faced by individuals within their communities.

Critical Analysis

Salvador's Name and Symbolism

The title 'Salvador Late or Early' carries profound symbolism. The boy's name, 'Salvador,' meaning 'saviour' in Spanish, holds a significant connection to Jesus Christ, the saviour of humanity in Christianity. Similarly, Salvador plays the role of a saviour within his family, taking on responsibilities more akin to that of a parent rather than an older brother. He selflessly cares for his siblings, ensuring they are fed, clothed, and safely taken to school. His name reflects his sacrificial nature, putting the needs of his family before his own.

Magical Realism and Salvador's Dissolution

The imagery and symbolism in 'Salvador Late or Early' manifest prominently through a magical realist touch at the story's conclusion. As Salvador seems to 'dissolve' into the air and merge with the sky above the school, it is not intended to be taken literally. Instead, it symbolizes Salvador's selfless nature and lack of a distinct identity. He exists solely for others, subjugating his own desires and interests to care for his family.

Absence of the Father

The absence of Salvador's father looms over the story, left unmentioned by the narrator. Whether he is deceased or has abandoned the family, his absence accentuates Salvador's pivotal role as the father figure to his younger brothers. He takes on the responsibility of guiding and protecting them, assuming a significant role in the family structure.

Self-Sacrifice and Struggle for Identity

Cisneros effectively portrays Salvador's self-sacrifice, emphasizing his willingness to forego his own needs for the well-being of his family. Despite the burden of caring for his siblings, Salvador continues attending school. However, the teacher's inability to remember his name hints at possible struggles, suggesting he may face difficulties in juggling his responsibilities.

Moreover, Salvador's selflessness extends beyond his familial duties, as he is shown to be a loner among his peers. He lacks close friendships due to his devoted focus on his siblings, further underlining his lack of a distinct identity. The story portrays his struggle to find a sense of self amidst his selfless actions for others.


'Salvador Late or Early' is a profound exploration of selflessness, family, and the search for identity. Through Salvador's sacrificial actions and lack of recognition, Sandra Cisneros presents a poignant character study. The magical realist conclusion emphasizes the ethereal nature of Salvador's presence as he dedicates himself to being the saviour of his family, making the story a compelling and thought-provoking glimpse into a young boy's world of self-sacrifice and quiet strength.

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