47 pages 1 hour read

Judith Ortiz Cofer

American History

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1993

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Literary Devices


The Kennedy assassination serves as an archetypal moment in “American History.” Cofer uses it to anchor the story in a particular moment. The assassination also reflects a broader truth about America: It is a missed opportunity for true national unity and a reminder of how often America’s reality falls short of its promises.


Denouement is a narrative device in which an author ties together a story’s events to create a resolution—a conclusion that is clear and decisive. The ending of “American History” is as clear and decisive as the assassination that brings an end to the Kennedy years. Eugene’s mother’s rejection of Elena forces an end to Elena’s infatuation. This is Elena’s first experience of racism and classism. That night, Elena mourns the loss of Eugene, though she knows that she ought to be mourning President Kennedy’s death.


Cofer frequently uses juxtaposition to illustrate the myriad differences between the residents of Paterson—a midsize city in Northern New Jersey that exemplifies the nation’s diversity and changing demographics. Cofer contrasts Eugene’s idyllic house, which seems better suited to a neighboring suburb, to El Building, which is crowded and has dirty windows.