Friday, November 7, 2014

“The Changeling” by Judith Ortiz Cofer

    Judith Ortiz Cofer was born in Puerto Rico in 1952.  As a child, she only spoke Spanish.  She moved to the United States as a child and has spent much time in Georgia.  She is a poet, novelist and essayist.  Her primary focus is Hispanic American culture. She is best known for her creative non-fiction. 

The Changeling

As a young girl
vying for my father's attention,
I invented a game that made him look up
from his reading and shake his head
as if both baffled and amused.

In my brother's closet, I'd change
into his dungarees -- the rough material
molding me into boy shape; hide
my long hair under an army helmet
he'd been given by Father, and emerge
transformed into the legendary Ché
of grown-up talk.

Strutting around the room,
I'd tell of life in the mountains,
of carnage and rivers of blood,
and of manly feasts with rum and music
to celebrate victories para la libertad.
He would listen with a smile
to my tales of battles and brotherhood
until Mother called us to dinner.

She was not amused
by my transformations, sternly forbidding me
from sitting down with them as a man.
She'd order me back to the dark cubicle
that smelled of adventure, to shed
my costume, to braid my hair furiously
with blind hands, and to return invisible,
as myself,
to the real world of her kitchen.

The narrative poem entitled The Changeling by Judith Ortiz Cofer allows the reader to have a glimpse into interactions between a father and a daughter.   The speaker in this poem is a young girl as she tells us about a game she made up to gain her father’s attention.   By transforming herself into a male by putting on her brother’s dungarees and a helmet, she was able to have her father put down his reading and capture his attention momentarily.   With taking on the persona of Ernesto “Che” Guevera (a Cuban revolutionary leader) and telling stories of make-believe battles and adventures, the speaker challenges the typical role women have in society.  While her father was rather amused by her antics, her mother was not.  Her mother seemed to have strong feelings concerning the role of women.  To her, a woman’s place was in the kitchen.

The title of this poem (The Changeling) reflects the make-believe world of children and their tendency to role play.  The poem is written in free verse.  It does not contain rhyme or any particular rhythm.   It is written in first person.  Certain phrases stand alone, which makes them stand out;  i.e., “as myself” (line 28).  The mood of this poem is rather sad in that the girl has to pretend to be someone else in order to get her father’s attention.  There is a sense that the girl feels lonely and almost abandoned by her father.  On the other hand, the speaker shows us an impish side to her that is imaginative and playful.    There is an undertone in the poem that suggests the speaker wants to branch off and discover/ be a part of things outside of the traditional view of “little girls.”  


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