Judith Ortiz Cofer's Volar: Summary, Setting and Symbolism

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Words: 934 |

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5 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

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Words: 934|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Volar: Summary, Setting and Symbolism
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Judith Ortiz Cofer, a bilingual author and poet, skillfully weaves her personal experiences and cultural background into her works. In her poem "Volar," she provides a poignant glimpse into the life of a young girl caught between childhood and adolescence, struggling with self-image and societal constraints. Cofer's bilingualism reflects her ability to navigate two worlds, mirroring her own life's duality as a Puerto Rican raised in the United States.

The story's symbolism, particularly the title "Volar," meaning 'to fly,' embodies the girl's yearning for escape from the confines of her impoverished barrio apartment. Through recurring dreams of transformation into a superhero with the power to fly, she seeks to transcend her limitations and compare her life to others.

Cofer's descriptions vividly capture the sense of confinement within the girl's small living space, emphasizing her desire to break free from these conditions. The closet stacked with treasured comic books symbolizes the lack of space and opportunity for growth.

Ultimately, "Volar" serves as a powerful exploration of the girl's dreams, desires, and struggles, offering readers a window into the challenges faced by young girls growing up in impoverished neighborhoods. Cofer's use of symbolism and setting masterfully conveys the girl's sense of confinement and longing for a better life.

Judith Ortiz Cofer was a bilingual author and poet, born into Puerto Rican roots but brought up in the United States and was, therefore, fluent in English and Spanish. Being the daughter of a soldier in the United States Army, Cofer moved around a lot in her early childhood years. Her father was stationed in Panama when she was born and was thus unable to see her until she was two years old. From then on, Cofer became accustomed to shifting from one place to another (Pagán, 2). She first moved to New York City and then made numerous trips back and forth between New Jersey and Puerto Rico throughout her childhood. Many aspects of Cofer’s life also have a visible thematic connection to her poems.

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“Volar” by Judith Ortiz Cofer is a first person narrative told from the point of view of a young twelve year-old girl, the daughter of parents from Puerto Rico, growing up in a poor neighborhood and dealing with self-image and emotional challenges that a girl of that age experiences. In the story, the girl is an avid reader and collector of comic books, in particular comic books that are centered around super heroes, her favorite being Supergirl. She is at an awkward age between childhood and adolescence, finds herself to be in contrast physically to the super heroes in her comic books, and is limited in her experiences because of her family’s financial circumstances. Cofer uses symbols to enhance the setting in “Volar” by capturing the impact of poverty, confinement, and media stereotypes on the day-to-day life struggles of young girls who long to be confident and carefree like the images of females portrayed in books and magazines that they can only dream of being.

One of the strongest elements of symbolism in this short story is the title, “Volar”, which means ‘to fly’ (Cofer 203). There are at least two references in the story of the desire to fly away from life in the small barrio apartment. These references give a good sense of the social setting in which the story takes place. The young girl recalls: “I had a recurring dream in those days: that I had long blond hair and could fly” (Cofer 204). The girl describes her dream world where she transforms into a superhero with the power to fly over the city and look into the lives of friends, teachers, and other people that she may admire or even dislike. This is symbolic of her wish to escape her own life or to compare her life to that of others that she encounters. Later, the young girl tells of how her mother looks out the kitchen window into the only view from their apartment of a “dismal alley littered with refuse” and wishes aloud, that she could just fly away: “Ay, si yo pudiera volar” (Cofer 205). Here, the young girl’s feelings are tied to those of her mother to signify that the dream of escaping poverty is one shared by both the girl and her mother. This is symbolic of the living conditions in which the family lives and their desire to escape their current reality for something better.

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The young girl’s dreams are also symbolic of the effect of media stereotypes on girls that may look different from the images portrayed in magazines, or in this case, comic books. For this girl, the female superhero that she admires is strong, powerful, and has beautiful hair, all qualities that she wishes for. When she dreams of having “long blond hair,” it is evident that she feels this is a sign of beauty and power. Later in that same paragraph, the young girl recounts waking up from her Supergirl dreams, to find her physical appearance to be as disappointing as it was when she fell asleep: “...back in my body: my tight curls still clinging to my head, skinny arms and legs and flat chested”. This symbolizes the power of media directed at children and the pressure that young girls feel to look like the female models that are seen in books, magazines, or in this case, comic books.

Setting is used throughout the story to give the reader a sense of confinement and the young girl’s desire to break free from the conditions in the barrio. The use of symbolism to connect this is through Cofer’s carefully worded descriptions. The girl’s treasured comic books are stacked in the closet, this indicates that there is not enough space for these in her bedroom. When the author describes the girl’s transformation into Supergirl while climbing the stairs to the roof, the girl is literally bursting at the seams to be released from the confining space and to spread her arms in order to fly away. “Step by step I would fill out: My legs would grow long, my arms harden into steel…I would get on tiptoe, arms outstretched in the position of flight”. This description is symbolic for two reasons: it indicates that she feels physically confined in her small apartment; and, that she feels she is not a strong, powerful person in real life. When the girl describes that her dreams allow her to explore “beyond the few blocks of her barrio” (Cofer 204), the reader can sense that the young girl has had limited opportunity to experience life outside of the poor neighborhood in which she lives. This is a common problem for families that live in impoverished situations. These descriptions symbolize that she feels confined in her current surroundings of the little apartment in the barrio and believes that it will take super powers for her to escape her surroundings in order to have a better life.

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Much of the symbolism in “Volar” is in the dreams and imagination of a young girl. The main character uses her dreams as a means to escape her own reality of a tiny apartment, poor family, and limited experiences in the world. She lacks self-esteem and desires to look like the image of Supergirl from her favorite comic book so that she can fly away from her reality. The author, Judith Ortiz Cofer, enhances the story’s setting by using symbolism to convey poverty, confinement, and the effects of media on a girl’s self-image.

Works Cited

  • Cofer, Judith O. 'Volar.' The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Kelly Mayes. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016. 203-205. Print.
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Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Volar: Summary, Setting and Symbolism. (2022, July 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 24, 2024, from
“Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Volar: Summary, Setting and Symbolism.” GradesFixer, 01 Jul. 2022,
Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Volar: Summary, Setting and Symbolism. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Feb. 2024].
Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Volar: Summary, Setting and Symbolism [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Jul 01 [cited 2024 Feb 24]. Available from:
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