Quinceañera

Judith Ortiz Cofer

My dolls have been put away like dead
children in a chest I will carry
with me when I marry.
I reach under my skirt to feel
a satin slip bought for this day. It is soft
as the inside of my thighs. My hair
has been nailed back with my mother’s
black hairpins to my skull. Her hands
stretched my eyes open as she twisted
braids into a tight circle at the nape
of my neck. I am to wash my own clothes
and sheets from this day on, as if
the fluids of my body were poison, as if
the little trickle of blood I believe
travels from my heart to the world were
shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
not bleed into your eyes from His cross?
At night I hear myself growing and wake
to find my hands drifting of their own will
to soothe skin stretched tight
over my bones,
I am wound like the guts of a clock,
waiting for each hour to release me.

Way 1: First Impressions

When first reading “Quinceanara” by Judith Ortiz Cofer, my first impression of the text was a girl getting ready for a party to celebrate becoming a woman. I imagined a young, Hispanic girl sitting in front of a mirror looking at herself and how her life is about to change on her fifteenth birthday. She had to put away her toys she played with as a child in order to become a grown woman. Her satin slip and new hairdo all represent her becoming a woman and no longer being a child. The girl’s mother no longer will wash her sheets because she is a woman now and has to learn to do household chores. Also, the girl must learn to do her own laundry because she will be having her own family to take care of soon and must know how to be the head of the household. Overall, I feel the girl in the poem is unhappy about her Quinceanara and becoming a woman by the tone towards the second half of the text.

After initially reading “Quinceanara”, I did have some questions left unanswered. In the third line “with me when I marry.” I’m unclear why the fifteen year old girl would be taking her dolls along when she is married. I would think she would get rid of the dolls because she is becoming a woman and a doll is a child’s toy, but she could be taking along the dolls when she marries to pass down to her own daughters. Second, I am unsure of the second half of the text after the line “the little trickle of blood I believe”. I understand she does not want to wash her own sheets and clothing and feels because she is turning into a woman everyone is treating her differently, but the comparison of Christ and blood is what is throwing me off.


Way 2: Engaging with the Text


After retyping “Quinceanara” by Judith Ortiz Cofer, it made me realize where the author placed the periods. Instead of finishing the sentence and continuing to another line, the author finishes some of the sentences in the middle of the line and continues into a new sentence. I think this might be done to emphasize these lines and to break the poem up to appear choppy. I tried to find a YouTube link on the internet but none of the poems were read in English so that didn’t help me much. Instead, I asked different people in my family to read the poem out loud for me. After hearing other people read the poems I noticed how there is some repetition in lines twelve through fifteen “as if/ the fluids of my body were poison, as if/ the little trickle of blood I believe/ travels from my heart to the world were”. By repeating “as if” it makes those lines stand out and be more dramatic. Also, by asking two questions in lines sixteen and seventeen it draws attention to the questions and makes me want to raise my voice like I’m in an argument while reading them. When re-reading the poem a third time to notice sounds in the poem, I found alliteration. In line two “children in a chest I will carry”, the consonant “c” is repeated.

Way 3: Form and Their Relationship to Content

My dolls have been put away like dead
children in a chest I will carry
with me when I marry.
I reach under my skirt to feel
a satin slip bought for this day. It is soft
as the inside of my thighs . My hair
has been nailed back with my mother’s
black hairpins to my skull. Her hands
stretched my eyes open as she twisted
braids into a tight circle at the nape
of my neck. I am to wash my own clothes
and sheets from this day on, as if
the fluids of my body were poison, as if
the little trickle of blood I believe
travels from my heart to the world were
shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
not bleed into your eyes from His cross?
At night I hear myself growing and wake
to find my hands drifting of their own will
to soothe skin stretched tight
over my bones,
I am wound like the guts of a clock,
waiting for each hour to release me.

I believe Judith Ortiz Cofer's "Quinceanara" is a lyric poem because the poem gives the impression of a single speaker. Also, I believe Judith Ortiz Cofer's "Quinceanara" is a free verse poem. A free verse poem is a poem without regular metrical form or an overall, uniform rhyme scheme. Cofer's poem makes use of inconsistent similies and imagery throughout her poem. Also, she breaks up lines and stanzas to portray how Cofer was not excited about becoming a woman and all the changes she is going through.

Way 4: Unpacking Figurative Language


My dolls have been put away like dead
children in a chest I will carry
with me when I marry.
I reach under my skirt to feel
a satin slip bought for this day. It is soft
as the inside of my thighs. My hair
has been nailed back with my mother’s
black hairpins to my skull. Her hands
stretched my eyes open as she twisted
braids into a tight circle at the nape
of my neck. I am to wash my own clothes
and sheets from this day on, as if
the fluids of my body were poison, as if
the little trickle of blood I believe
travels from my heart to the world were
shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
not bleed into your eyes from His cross?
At night I hear myself growing and wake
to find my hands drifting of their own will
to soothe skin stretched tight
over my bones,
I am wound like the guts of a clock,
waiting for each hour to release me.

Way 5: Analyzing the Setting

Judith Ortiz Cofer's poem "Quinceanara" is unlike many stories and poems where the setting, or when and where a narrative takes place, is told straight to the reader of the story or poem. From the title of the poem, the reader can assume the poem takes place in a Latin or Mexican country. The word "quinceanara" means fifteen years old in English. A quinceanara is a coming of age ceremony to celebrate a young Latin girl becoming a woman. The Latin and Mexican tradition of a quinceanara is comparable to a Sweet Sixteen for a young girl in the United States. The poem gives little to no clues about when the poem takes place. Judith Ortiz Cofer's poem could be read as a young girl living many years ago or as a young girl living today. This is one of the reasons I really enjoy the poem "Quinceanara" by Judith Ortiz Cofer, the poem can relate to many girls of all ages and ethnicities. Almost every girl or woman can relate to the first time during puberty where they felt uncomfortable in their own skin and trying to understand the many changes their body is going through.

Way 6: Identifying and Analyzing the Point of View

In the poem "Quinceanera" by Judith Ortiz Cofer the point of view, or standpoint of the speaker who is telling the poem or story, is first-person point of view. "Quinceanera" is first-person point of view because it is told by a narrator who is actually a participant in the events of the poem. Throughout the poem, Judith Ortiz Cofer uses the word "I" to refer to herself telling her experience of the start of puberty, menstration, and her Quinceanera.

Way 7: Analyzing Complexity, Ambiguity, & Difficulty

After reading Judith Ortiz Cofer's poem "Quinceanara", the writer of the poem uses ambiguity, or uncertainty of meaning, mainly in lines 12 to 16. In lines 12 to 16 "as if/ the fluids of my body were poison, as if/ the little trickle of blood I believe/ travels from my heart to the world were/ shameful" can be taken as the author believes now that she is becoming a woman she has to do household chores and wash her own sheets because everyone else around her sees her as posionous or they might catch something from her. But the author actually is describing her first menstrual period and becoming a woman. Lines 12 to 16 describe how the author as a young girl does not fully understand the biological changes which are taking place in her body. The little description of what puberty and menstration is was given to the author and can be seen in lines 12 to 16 because the author believes it is shameful, when in reality almost every woman goes through this experience. When Judith Ortiz Cofer describes her blood traveling from her heart to the world shows the reader the author still feels she is a young girl and that the beginning of menstration represents her transition to adulthood.

Way 8: Considering Canonicity

The poem "Quinceanera" by Judith Ortiz Cofer displays canonicity, or a work of literature that depends on the perception of readers which are culturally or aesthetically important. People of different cultures and time periods would view Judith Ortiz Cofer's poem differently. I believe many older women would read the poem "Quinceanera" and relate to the poem a lot because the start of puberty and menstration was not something people talked about many years ago. Instead, people kept hush about the topics and young girls were left confused and on their own to figure out the changes which were occuring in their bodies. In the poem, Judith Ortiz Cofer is left confused and uncertain as to why she has all these new responsibilites and all these biological changes which are happening to her body. I think today, young girls can still relate to Judith Ortiz Cofer's poem because almost every girl goes through the experience of puberty and getting their first menstrual period. Young girls know how it feels to be uncertain in your own skin and all the new responsibilities growing up entails.

Way 9: Developing Biographical Context

Judith Ortiz Cofer was born on February 24, 1952 in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico. At the age of four, she immigrated to the United States with her two parents and siblings in order for her father to join the United States Navy. Judith Ortiz Cofer grew up in Paterson, New Jersey where she struggled between her traditional ties with Puerto Rico and her English language skills. Cofer's father wanted her to grow up following Anglo customs and becoming fluent in the English language, while Cofer's mother did not want her to forget where she came from and the traditions of her home country (Thomson). In Judith Ortiz Cofer's poem "Quinceanera" the reader can see how Cofer's background and upbringing affected her style of writing. Cofer writes in fluent English to represent the United States immigrant side of her and she writes about traditional Puerto Rican life to represent her home country and where she came from. Also, in the poem "Quinceanera" the reader sees Cofer as a young adolescent girl representing her Puerto Rican heritage by writing about the celebration of a Quinceanara and representing the United States immigrant by writing about her first menstrual period, which many females can relate and go through.

Thomson, Gale. "Judith Ortiz Cofer." Contemporary Authors via GaleNet. 20 August 2004. 23 April 2010 <http://galenet.galegroup.com.ezproxy.uwc.edu/servlet/GLD/hits?r=d&origSearch=true&o=DataType&n=10&l=d&c=1&locID=cicctr&secondary=false&u=CA&t=KW&s=2&NA=Judith+Ortiz+Cofer>.

Way 10: Developing Historical and Cultural Contexts

During the time period Judith Ortiz Cofer "Quinceanera" our country was having problems controlling the United States and Mexico border. All over the media in newspapers and on television, people were very upset with people from another country coming and taking work away from Americans because of high unemployment rates. Employers would hire illegal workers from Mexico to do jobs Americans did not want to do and pay them less wages to do the job. Ana Elizabeth Rosas describes how Mexican Americans feel in today's society in "Historical Paths to Mexican American Citizenship", "the mid-20th-century Mexican-American experience produced a complex continuum of flexibility, anxiety, resilience, and ingenuity" (147). Judith Ortiz Cofer wrote about how hard it was to be a Puerto Rican girl growing up in today's society. She had pressure from her father to be more American and adapt to society and she had pressure from her mother to remember her Puerto Rican roots and to never forget where she came from. Also, she had pressue from society with all the controversial issues in the United States and probably faced some racism.

Rosas, Ana Elizabeth. "Historical Paths to Mexican American Citizenship." Humanities Full Text via Wilson Web 24.1 (2008): 147-67. Web. 2 May 2010. <http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com.ezproxy.uwc.edu/hww/results/getResults.jhtml?_DARGS=/hww/results/results_common.jhtml.33>.

Way 11: Considering a Theoretical Perspective

Psychoanalytic criticism is the application of a modern psychology to the interpretation of literary texts. When the author uses this criticism, the narrator of the poem may be frozen in time or in there development due to the absense of a traditional father or mother figure (242). In Judith Ortiz Cofer's "Quinceanera" the psychoanalytic criticism is apparent with the relationship Judith Ortiz Cofer has with her parents. In the poem, Cofer seems to be stuck in this point of her life in where she is stuck between being a young child and becoming a woman. Sigmund Freud would blame Cofer's relationship with her parents as the result of being "stuck" at this point in her life. Cofer's relationship with her mother is a constant battle trying to maintain enough of her Puerto Rican heritage as she is growing up. Cofer's relationship with her father is a constant battle trying to adapt to the United States and the society.

Brown, James S., and Scott D. Yarbrough. A Practical Introduction to Literary Study. 1st ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005. 242. Print.

Way 12: Considering Another Theoretical Perspective

Feminist criticism is the study and critique of the concept of gender. The feminist criticism analyzes the relationship between biological sex and gender (232). Although the female character in "Quincenara" is well developed, Judith Ortiz Cofer has a hard time in the poem determining what makes up her gender and the way she is treated in society. Cofer is going through a dramatic change in her life from being a child to becoming a woman. She faces many problems with putting her toys away, having to do household chores, and getting dressed up for her Quincenara in order for society to now see her as a woman instead of a child. Cofer is confused by what is expected of her and questions why she has to perform these acts in order to be seen as a woman by society.

Brown, James S., and Scott D. Yarbrough. A Practical Introduction to Literary Study. 1st ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005. 232. Print.


Way 13: Developing a Cohesive, Unified Interpretation Through the Previous 12 Ways

My overall interpretation of "Quincenara" by Judith Ortiz Cofer has grown from the 13 Ways Project. When I first read "Quincenara" I was confused at what the different similies and metaphors meant, especially when Cofer was comparing Christ's blood and hands to herself. After finishing Way 2 I was still confused by the poem because I could not find an audio link of the author reading the poem. It would have helped a lot to hear how the author intended the poem to be read. After completing Ways 3 and 4, I felt I had a better understanding of "Quincenara" by Judith Ortiz Cofer because I had to interpret what some of the similies and metaphors in the poem meant. I now understood what Cofer was comparing herself to. Way 5 helped me understand where Judith Ortiz Cofer was coming from and reading about her background helped me to understand why she wrote what she wrote. Way 6 helped me understand the author's point of view and made me think of why Cofer would choose to write in first person. Way 7 was my "ah-ha" moment when I finally understood the poem. I discovered Cofer was going through the difficult time of her first menstrual period and becoming a woman. After re-reading the poem it really made sense to me and I understood why Cofer compared herself to Christ and God. Ways 8 through 12 were especially difficult for me. I had to go over the textbook a lot to try to understand the different concepts we were learning. But after reading other people's discussion posts I really felt like I understood Ways 8 through 12 more. Overall, I really enjoyed doing the 13 Ways Project and it helped me to better understand all the different ways a reader can look and analyze a poem. I definitely know I have a better understanding of the poem "Quincenara" and will use these techniques when analyzing different literature in my future classes.