Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Puerto Rican American literature has shown a strong attachment to northeastern cities in representing the cultural clash that Puerto Rican immigrants have experienced in the United States. The characters most typically depicted by Puerto Rican authors are adult males—who experience the plight of living in poverty, isolated from the expected American Dream. Judith Ortiz Cofer deals with issues related to the Puerto Rican migration experience, but her characters are usually teenage girls or women, who—like the male characters of other Puerto Rican writers—confront ethnic discrimination. Her female characters also tend to abandon the traditional barrio of Puerto Rican culture and involve themselves in cultures that are foreign to the traditional Puerto Rican Caribbean lifestyle.

“American History” stands out particularly because the theme of cultural isolation and xenophobic attitudes in a large American city is viewed through the fresh eyes of a teenage Puerto Rican girl. During Skinny Bones’s early struggles to adapt to life in Paterson, the theme of cultural isolation is explored on various levels. The problems that she has in adapting are geographical (she is unused to the bitter cold of the Northeast), interpersonal (she is still learning about another culture’s codes), and familial (she confronts her mother’s inability to provide feminine advice in this foreign society). Through narrating her daily-life experiences she discovers that...

(The entire section is 423 words.)