47 pages 1 hour read

Judith Ortiz Cofer

American History

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1993

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Character Analysis


Elena is a 14-year-old Puerto Rican girl who lives with her parents in El Building—a tenement in Paterson, New Jersey. Elena dislikes both her school and the city in which she lives. She is an only child. Elena’s mother, a devout Catholic, is usually home with Elena during the day, while her father works a late shift at the blue jeans factory in Passaic until midnight. Her parents talk frequently about their plans for the future, including her father’s wish to buy a house in a Passaic suburb, and their memories of Puerto Rico. Elena has visited Puerto Rico only when her maternal grandmother died, but her extended family remains there.

Elena is bilingual, understanding both Spanish (her first language) and English. She attends P.S. 13, a large and overpopulated Paterson school, where she is a straight A student. She describes her pubescent body as skinny and flat-chested; her nickname at school is “Skinny Bones.” Elena is bookish, dreamy, sensitive, and interested in love. She has just started menstruating. As she develops into a young woman, she nurses a crush on a boy named Eugene, who has just moved in next door. Despite being a rather modest girl, Elena introduces herself to Eugene, though she worries about being rejected.