‘Quinceañera’ is a poem written by the modern American poet Judith Ortiz Cofer. The title of the poem alludes to the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday. This occasion is related to a girl’s stepping into womanhood. It is chiefly observed in Latin American countries and Spanish-speaking countries. The celebration finds its roots in Mexico. It was also popular in Cofer’s homeland Puerto Rico.
‘Quinceañera’ by Judith Ortiz Cofer is about a girl who copes up with the reaction of her family and her own bodily changes after reaching puberty.
This heartfelt poem captures a girl’s reaction when she steps into womanhood. Several changes occur in her life that makes her soul troubled. She finds herself caged inside a body that is portrayed as “impure” to society. Furthermore, Cofer captures her intimate feelings about the painful changes within her body. The child has to tackle the transition on her own. None consoles her instead they burden her body with womanly modifications.
You can read the full poem here.
My dolls have been put away like dead
black hairpins to my skull. Her hands
Cofer’s poem ‘Quinceañera’ begins with the theme of change that occurs when a girl comes of age. To be specific, this poem captures the changes occurring in a girl’s life after she becomes a woman. Her dolls are put aside in a cold box, like “dead children” in a grave. The girl cannot play with them anymore. She can only carry them with her while marrying. Then those come to the use of her children.
The speaker has to wear a satin slip beneath her clothes. She can feel its softness above her skin. It feels as soft as her tender thighs. Her mother clips her hair with her black hairpins. The end of the pin gives pain to her skull. It feels like someone has riveted those pins to her skull.
stretched my eyes open as she twisted
shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
The way of dressing up or being comfortable as a woman does not appear so glorifying to the speaker. No matter how her society appreciates the Quinceañera of a girl, she finds it quite uncomfortable and painful. A girl of only fifteen cannot cope up with the changes appearing in her life so fast.
The mother of the speaker ties her hairs in twisted braids and locks them at the nape of her neck in a tight circle. The pain causes her eyes to glare. This tedious process does not seem suitable for the speaker. She loved the way she lived before. Being a woman is tougher than being a girl.
Then one day she realizes that she has to do her work on her own. She has to wash her own clothes and her sheets used while menstruating. The blood that comes out of her body is not pure for others including her parents. Hence, she has to wash the sheets all by herself. It makes her ask whether the blood flowing in her body is shameful for society.
men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
waiting for each hour to release me.
The girl of ‘Quinceañera’ goes on to ask readers some rhetorical questions in order to justify her point. Her main question is: Does the purity of blood vary for males and females? She asks whether the saints or soldiers who bleed for a noble cause are more beautiful than her menstrual fluid containing blood. The color is the same yet the quality is different. She asks again whether the blood of Christ is not the same that she carries within her body.
After reaching puberty, a girl does not only becomes confused but also has to bear the bodily pain. At night, the speaker can feel how her tender body parts (breasts) grow. Suddenly, she wakes up and finds her hands instinctively soothing those swollen parts above her chest.
In the next line, she compares the “wound” to the “guts of a clock” or the mechanical parts within a clock. Like a clock, her body grows slowly and she waits for each hour to release her sick soul. But, she is not sure when the painful chain of events will end.
‘Quinceañera’ is a free-verse lyric poem that consists of a total of 24 lines. Cofer packs the lines into a single unit without separating them into specific stanzas. For stylistic endings, she cuts the lines short with a full stop. Being a free verse poem, it does not contain a regular rhyme scheme or meter. In some instances, the poet uses internal rhyming by repeating similar sounds in neighboring words. Apart from that, the poem is told from a first-person speaker’s point of view. The speaker is none other than a fifteen years old girl who has reached puberty.
Cofer uses the following literary devices in her poem ‘Quinceañera’.
- Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text in order to connect the lines internally. For example, the first three lines of the poem are enjambed.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “satin slip”, “Her hands”, “battle beautiful”, “soothe skin stretched”, etc.
- Simile: This device is used in “It is soft/ as the inside of my thighs” and “I am wound like the guts of a clock”.
- Rhetorical Question: Cofer uses interrogations in order to compare her menstrual blood to that of other men and Christ.
Judith Ortiz Cofer’s thought-provoking poem ‘Quinceañera’ is about a fifteen years old girl’s struggle to cope up with the bodily changes as well as her mental confusion. She finds herself trapped inside her body after stepping into womanhood.
The poem was first published in 1991. It appeared in Judith Ortiz Cofer’s best-known collection of essays and poems Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood. This collection is about the poet’s childhood and the collision between her dual identities.
Quinceañera is the celebration of a girl’s womanhood on her 15th birthday. This occasion originated in Mexico. The girls of Latin America and other Spanish-speaking countries celebrate it.
It is a free-verse lyric poem. The text consists of a total of 24 lines that are grouped into a single stanza. There is no set rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The overall text is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker who is a fifteen years old girl.
The central theme of the poem is coming of age. It captures a girl’s experience after reaching puberty and the process of being a woman. Besides, this piece also taps on the themes of change, body, suffering, and pain.
The following list contains a number of poems that capture the similar themes present in Judith Ortiz Cofer’s ‘Quinceañera’.
- “After Reading ‘Mickey in the Night Kitchen’ for the Third Time Before Bed” — This poem presents a conversation between a mother and daughter regarding their lady parts.
- ‘The Youngest Daughter’ — This poem explores the relationship of an aging mother and her daughter.
- ‘Her Kind’ — In this poem, a woman discusses and celebrates her individuality.
You can also read about these inspirational poems about womanhood.