The Line of the Sun by Judith Ortiz Cofer

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Marisol San Luz Vivente, the protagonist in The Line of the Sun, Ortiz Cofer’s first novel, is an autobiographical character. Like Ortiz Cofer, Marisol was born in southwestern Puerto Rico but, from an early age, spent much of her life in Paterson, New Jersey. The novel encompasses three decades, beginning in the late 1930’s and ending in the 1960’s, and traces the impact these decades have on three generations of a family.

Marisol’s father, Rafael, works near New York City and lives with his wife and children. Marisol, through stories she hears from her mother, has enough direct and immediate contact with her heritage that she feels strongly impelled to cling to it—as her mother, who wants her to retain the values and culture of her forbears, thinks she should.

Her Puerto Rican father, having struggled successfully to become assimilated, wants Marisol and her brother to adopt the manners and customs of the United States so that they can blend in inconspicuously, thereby improving their economic opportunities. Marisol, at a highly impressionable age, has to deal with an inner conflict between her two cultures and, in doing so, has to consider the impact that the resolution of her dilemma will have on her relationship with her parents and on her future.

Into this situation, Ortiz Cofer, writing vividly and poetically about the family, introduces Uncle Guzman, a relative about whom the parents have talked quite darkly. During the Korean War, Guzman’s brother, Carmelo, was killed in combat. At about the same time, Guzman, fifteen and the wilder of the two brothers, was involved in a scandal in his native Salud, where he lived with a prostitute known as La Cabra. He fled his island for New York, going there as a migrant farmworker. Years later, he appears on the Viventes’ doorstep in Paterson one Christmas Eve and stays with his relatives for several months. During part of this time, he is confined to bed after he is attacked by a neighborhood thug.

The introduction of Guzman, her father’s best friend during adolescence, is necessary to the resolution of Marisol’s conflict. She had known this uncle largely through reputation; the family talked about him in hushed tones. Guzman, quite unwittingly, enables Marisol to see in sharp focus the two major forces in her life and...

(The entire section is 590 words.)