Autobiographical Subjectivity in Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Silent Dancing and Marjorie Agosín’s The Alphabet in My Hands

dc.contributor.authorGumbar, Dziyana P.
dc.creatorGumbar, Dziyana P.
dc.description.abstractThis thesis examines the construction of autobiographical subjectivity in two U.S. Latina autobiographies, Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (1990) and Marjorie Agosín’s The Alphabet in My Hands: A Writing Life (2000). In a comparative way, this study follows Sidonie Smith’s and Julia Watson’s five-point classification of the constitutive processes of autobiographical subjectivity in Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives (2001); that is, experience, memory, embodiment, identity, and agency. This thesis identifies two culturally specific strategies of constructing subjectivity that enrich the U.S. Latina autobiographical tradition: the use of the Latin American storytelling tradition, and the emphasis on “poetic truth.” The storytelling tradition shapes subjectivity in three ways: first, as a discursive pattern that forms the fragmented subject; second, as a discursive pattern that predicates Latina autobiographical subjectivity on female experience, embodiment, and identity; and that underwrites gender, sexuality, class, race, and ethnicity discourses; third, as a tradition that conflates the collective and personal memories of the subject. As a specific Latina rhetorical strategy, “poetic truth” affects the construction of subjectivity in two ways: first, it validates the use of imagination and creativity in the representation of reality; second, it also serves as an empowering strategy. The second chapter establishes the theoretical framework of this study, situating U.S. Latina autobiography within the tradition of women’s writing and discussing the configuration of the specificity of Latina autobiographical subjectivity. The third chapter studies comparatively how the storytelling tradition operates at the nexus of female experience, embodiment, and identity in Ortiz Cofer’s and Agosín’s texts. This analysis demonstrates that the major difference between their texts regarding the function of storytelling is in the autobiographical subjects’ identification of discourses that are central to female oppression. The subject in Ortiz Cofer uses storytelling to interrogate gender discourse, whereas Agosín’s subject employs the storytelling tradition to uncover inequality in power relations between classes. The fourth chapter explores how these texts incorporate personal and communal memories in the representation of the past. It demonstrates that the validation of “poetic truth,” as a combination of imagination, creativity, and emotions, disidentifies with traditional autobiographies by claiming the primacy of emotional and subjectively interpreted experiences in the construction of subjectivity. In both Ortiz Cofer’s and Agosín’s texts the autobiographical subjects envision writing as a crucial tool for cultural survival, and also conceptualize the political and cultural roles of women as spokespersons for their respective ethnic communities.
dc.subjectLatina writing
dc.subjectU.S. Latina autobiography
dc.subjectFeminist writing
dc.titleAutobiographical Subjectivity in Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Silent Dancing and Marjorie Agosín’s The Alphabet in My Hands
dc.typeThesis Studies Mason University's of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies


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