Why does the narrator spy on the neighbors in Cofer's "American History"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator could be spying on her neighbors for two reasons. First, her bedroom window gives her a perfect view of the only house in her neighborhood that has a yard and trees. She imagines herself living in such a house and having a nice life. Her father has promised that they would soon move to their own house, away from the chaos of the apartment. Furthermore, their fire escape, her favorite summer reading spot, is suspended over their neighbor’s backyard. Therefore, it is no wonder that the house and its inhabitants catch her attention.

Second, the boy she has a crush on has moved into the house with his parents and this sparks her interest in the house. She is curious to know more about Eugene and his family and thinks of exploring the other rooms, which she has no sight of from her window. Skinny Bones is thrilled when she finally receives an invite from Eugene to study at his house, but her excitement is crushed when his mother turns her away at the door.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator, Elena, is a ninth grade Puerto Rican girl who lives in a large, dull-gray apartment building. She goes out onto her fire escape, just outside her bedroom window, to read in the summertime. This is a peaceful place for her where she can read and think, but as she is suspended above the house next door, she notices that it is "the only house on the block with a yard and trees" (Line 70). The house represents having one's own space--a yard, trees, privacy, and possibly a piece of her American dream. Elena doesn't have those things, but she probably wishes that she could also sit under the tree to read. She probably dreams that she could enjoy the peace of having her own home rather than dealing with the loud neighbors in the apartment building and its "thin walls."

Elena sees that the property has many things that she cannot enjoy. It is natural from her height in the fire escape to wonder who would live in that house. She discovers an old Jewish couple at first, and falls in love with the kitchen activities which she can easily see. Their life is interesting to her because it is different from her culture. When Eugene's family moves in, she discovers a different type of family from Georgia. The mother is a nurse and the boy is her age. The cute boy next door gives Elena another reason to spy into the house. She sees an opportunity to have a friend, too, since the kids at her school don't seem to appreciate her and tease her.

The house next door presents mystery for Elena as she watches first the Jewish couple's routines unfold at the kitchen table and then Eugene, who sits and reads there. She is young and is learning about the world around her, and when a young girl sees someone different than her right next door, she's going to peek a few times to see what she can learn.  

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial