The main idea of Gary Soto's "A Red Palm" is two-fold, as the narrator expresses a father's regret for lost opportunities, resulting in a life of back-breaking work, and also his hope for a better future for his son. Soto, a child of Mexican-American laborers, was unmotivated in school until he discovered poetry, according to Poets.org. He encapsulates the experience of the uneducated field worker in a few lines.
Labor and Regret
The "red palm" is a blister formed on the father's hand while laboring over cotton plants, which let out a "sigh that follows you into town" -- the cry of plant and worker. Soto writes, "You were a fool in school, now look at you. You're a giant among cotton plants," expressing regret over lost education and opportunities. Soto's regret-and-hope theme is largely autobiographical, reflecting his own near-missed educational experiences.
Mathematics and Hope
The poem ends hopefully, as the worker asks his son a mathematical problem, smiling because "he knows as well as you." The son is learning, and there is hope for the future. The same is true for the laboring father, an optimistic thought sending the man to sleep "with a red sun on your palm."