What is the  meaning of "Quinceanera" by Judith Ortiz Cofer?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Quinceanera” by Judith Ortiz Cofer portrays a girl getting ready for her fifteen birthday celebration.  In the Spanish culture, this celebration is important as a rite of passage from a girl to a young woman..  It also has roots in spirituality as well.  The Quinceañera celebration is filled with traditions, many of them rooted in religion.  Through the years, some of the rituals have faded, but those that remain hold great meaning for the young Spanish woman.

The narration in this poem is first person point of view.  The main character is the speaker or narrator.  She is the fifteen year old girl who is getting ready to celebrate her Quinceanara.

The speaker announces a symbolic move into womanhood by putting up her dolls as though they were her dead children.  She will save them for her children when she marries.

Adding a slip to her undergarments is another sign of maturity.  No one should be able to see through her dress to her thighs.  The girl is feeling her new sexuality and reacting to the softness of the inside of her legs. 

Still, the narrator is a girl.  Her mother fixes her hair and pulls it so tightly that her eyes are pulled open. Her hair is twisted into a bun which shows the nape of the neck. 

Since she is growing up, her mother is now expecting her to take care of her own bedding. Apparently, her mother does not want to deal with her sheets any longer. The girl believes that her mother thinks that her bodily excretions are like poison.  If she bleeds on the bedding from her menses, her mother thinks that it is shameful. 

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  travels

from my heart to the world were


The narrator asks the question relating to her mother’s comment.  “Is not the blood of saints and men in battle beautiful?"  She feels that this is just a part of her growing up and her mother should accept it. She takes her concern to the next level when she remembers that Christ bled on the cross.

The girl describes her growing pains at night.  She believes that she can almost hear herself growing. Her feelings wake her up at night with her hands rubbing the skin as it stretches over her bones. 

The emotions of young womanhood make her feel uptight inside.  The narrator is experiencing all the intricacies of the change from girl to woman. With changing hormones and new feelings about her body, the girl is caught between the two aspects of her life.  She is not quite a woman but neither is she just a girl.  She knows and feels her body has changed.  With an interesting simile, the poet compares this young girl’s experiences to a clock with its insides wound too tight, just waiting to be turned loose on the world.

smurf824 | Student

I am not sure what you believe the superficial meaning to be, but I always took this poem as a girl trying to become a woman. I see her as someone who is struggling with the thought of being a grown-up, with all the responsibilities that go along with it. She feels as though her family is pushing her out into the world, and she's unsure of what to do.