Quinceanera by Judith Ortiz Cofer Research Paper

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Dec 23rd, 2019

“Quinceanera” is a poem from the book Silent Dancing written in 1991 by a Puerto Rican writer, Judith Ortiz. The poem 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 of the transformation 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 endured in a vivid manner that has been praised by many critics. The essay shall provide the analysis of “Quinceanera” by Judith Ortiz Cofer.

Main Themes and Their Meaning

The culture of Latin society shapes the central theme of the poem. In the Latino communities, 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 fourteen couples attend the girl. 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 the first-person voice ‘I or My’. Also, the speaker’s voice and the utilization of word choice discloses her 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 a specific 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 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 a critical time in many families. To the speaker of the poem, the ceremony 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 “Quinceanera” by Judith Ortiz Cofer, at fifteen, she is maturing and has to do away with childish behaviors since she is now becoming a woman. This marks the 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 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 believes in maturing up and stopping all the childish behaviors, though, at times, it may be hard to appreciate the transition.

“Quinceanera” Poem. Analysis of Literary Devices

According to the poem, there is time for being a child and time to grow into an adult. The writer employs persona, and this is seen when the young girl tries to explain her feelings about growing up into an adult. The writer has also used a lot of imagery in the poem, especially when the young girl tries to explain her changing looks and emotions. The use of figurative language has helped to make the poetry 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 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 left her childhood is the memories she has of a time when everything was fun and straightforward.

The transition to adulthood has been a struggle for the young girl and the writers uses literary devices with negative connotation to show it. She sees that after turning into a woman, she will put on satin slips, and her days as a naïve 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 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 college essay on ““Quinceanera” shows that the transition from childhood to adulthood is one of the crucial steps in everyone’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 transformation 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.

Works Cited

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. Quinceañera. Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2010. Print.


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