Quinceanera is a poem written by Judith Ortiz that talks about a young girl preparing for her transition from a child into a woman. In Spanish, the word Quinceanera is used to refer to a celebration that is done to celebrate the transition of a girl into a woman where she matures and becomes responsible. In the poem, Judith Cofer, looks at the changes she had to undergo when she turned fifteen. She succeeds in conveying a myriad of emotions and changes she underwent in a vivid manner that has been praised by many critics.
The main theme of the poem is shaped by the culture of the Latin society. In the Latino communities, the Quinceanera is one of the most important celebrations as it marks the entrance of a young girl into womanhood usually at the age of fifteen. The Quinceanera is an elaborate and communal affair that is conducted by the girl’s parents. The celebration usually begins with a catholic mass that is followed by a reception where the girl is attended by fourteen couples. We can therefore see that Judith Cofer borrows heavily from the Latin social culture while writing the poem (Kennedy and Pearson 586). Throughout the poem, the speaker makes use of first person voice ‘I or My’. In addition, the speaker’s voice and the utilization of word choice discloses her personal identity as a female. This is illustrated in the phrase “I reach under my skirt to feel a satin slip” (Cofer 116).
The quinceanera is associated with certain ritual that involves a traditional waltz dance that is performed by the father and daughter. The occasion is also involves toasting of wine and the girl throwing a bouquet of flowers to a group of boys to determine who will have the honors of dancing with the young woman. Although the celebration is usually time consuming and expensive it marks an important time in many families. To the speaker of the poem, the celebration only contributed to heightening her anxiety and this can be seen from the line “…waiting for each hour to release me.” She is nervous and cannot wait for the celebration to end (Stavans 96). She dreads being a woman and having to do most of the things that were done for her.
Judith Cofer in her poem explores the problems of being a woman. In a society, that sees a woman as inferior to a man, she is opposed to the changes that accompany womanhood. This she says is one of the reasons that drove her to write the poem based on her own experiences when she turned fifteen. In the poem, at fifteen, she is maturing and has to do away with childish behaviors since she is now becoming a woman.
This marks a beginning of a new life where she would be responsible for most of the things she had done for her. This is evident in the line “I am to wash my own clothes and sheets from this day on,” where the poet complains about doing her own laundry (Stavans 96). In the poem, the poet sees herself as a young girl confined in a mature girl’s body. She is seen admiring herself in a beautiful dress with her hair well fixed as she imagines of maturing on the day and becoming a woman. The poem is thus about how everyone imagines of maturing up and stopping all the childish behaviors, though at times it may be hard to appreciate the transition. According to the poem, there is a time for being a child and a time to grow into an adult. The writer employs persona and this is clearly seen when the young girl tries to explain her feelings about growing up into an adult.
The writer has also employed a lot of imagery in the poem especially when the young girl in the poem tries to explain on her changing looks and emotions. The use of figurative language has helped to make the poem rich. For example, the fifth line says, “It is soft as the inside of my thighs” which not only captures the imagination of the reader, but also makes the poem interesting. The use of figurative language also helps in emphasizing on the changes she is experiencing when her childhood is ending and she is turning into a woman. The young girl is scared and dreads becoming a woman. In the poem, she compares herself to a broken clock and she is scared that as her skin broadens it will break her bones. The poet writes, “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” (Cofer 116).
To the young girl the only good thing that is left of her childhood is the memories she has of a time when everything was simple and fun. The transition to adulthood has been a struggle to the young girl. She sees that after turning into a woman, she will put on satin slips and her days as a naive girl who plays with toys will be long gone. Her definition of being a woman is that she will have to do more of the household tasks such as washing her own laundry as she prepares for marriage. Her body changes are making her worried and the fact that her menstrual periods have started makes her feel ashamed of being a woman. She cries that, states “the little trickle of blood I believe travels from my heart to the world were shameful” (Stavans 96). Losing her toys seems to affect her so much that she is afraid that her new direction in life will not permit her to play with them and this makes her nervous.
In the first two lines of the poem, she cries that her doll is being packed like a dead child. To her this signifies the death of her childhood and the beginning of a new life that she detests. While concluding the poem the writer gives her fear of being a woman and her life being “wound twisted like the guts of a clock” (Cofer 116).
The transition from childhood to adulthood is one of the important steps in every one’s life. To some it can be easy and appreciated, but to others the transition is filled with a lot of fear, anxiety, and resentment.
Judith Cofer’s transition into a woman was one of the hardest periods in her life. She writes the poem to illustrate the mixed feelings she had during the transition and the events that marked this transition. The changes in her body and the expectations of the society made her embarrassed and resentful of the transition.
Cofer, Ortiz. Silent dancing: a partial remembrance of a Puerto Rican childhood. New York: Arte Publico Press, 1990.Print Kennedy and Pearson, Gioia. An introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing.
New York: Pearson Longman, 2004.Print Stavans, Ilan. Quinceanera. Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2010.Print