"Volar" by Judith Ortiz Cofer is a first-person story recounted from the perspective of a young twelve-year-old girl growing up in an impoverished neighbourhood and dealing with the self-image and emotional issues that a young girl of that age faces. The protagonist of the novel is an ardent reader and collector of comic books, particularly those featuring super characters, her favorite of which is Supergirl. She is between childhood and adolescence, finds herself physically in contrast to the superheroes in her comic books, and is restricted in her experiences due to her family's financial situation. In "Volar," Cofer uses symbols to enhance the setting by depicting the influence of poverty, confinement, and media stereotypes on the day-to-day challenges of young girls who yearn to be confident and carefree like the pictures of females presented in books and magazines that they can only imagine.
The word "Volar," which means "to fly," is one of the most powerful symbols in this short narrative (Cofer 203). The urge to flee from life in the small barrio flat is mentioned at least twice throughout the novel. These allusions help to establish the social setting in which the narrative is set. "I had a reoccurring dream in those days: that I had long golden hair and could fly," the young girl recalls (Cofer 204). The young woman describes a fantasy world in which she changes into a superhero with the ability to fly over the city and peer into the lives of friends, teachers, and other individuals she admires or dislikes. This represents her desire to escape her own life or to compare it to the lives of those she meets. Later, the small girl describes how her mother looks out the kitchen window into their apartment's lone view, a "dismal alley cluttered with waste," and wishes aloud that she might simply fly away: "Ay, si yo pudiera volar" (Cofer 205). Here, the young girl's feelings are linked to those of her mother, implying that the youngster and her mother share the same ambition of escaping poverty. This represents the family's living situation and their desire to flee their current situation for something better.
The aspirations of the little girl are also emblematic of the impact of media stereotypes on girls who may not look like the images depicted in publications or, in this case, comic books. This girl admires a female superhero who is strong, powerful and has gorgeous hair, all of which are attributes she desires for. She clearly believes that having "length blond hair" is a sign of beauty and power when she fantasizes about it. Later in the same paragraph, the young girl describes waking up from her Supergirl dreams to find her physical appearance to be just as disappointing as it had been when she was sleeping: "...back in my body: my tight locks still clinging to my head, skinny limbs and legs, and flat-chested." This represents the influence of the media on children, as well as the pressure that young girls face to appear like the female models depicted in books, periodicals, and, in this example, comic books.
The setting is employed throughout the novel to convey a sense of imprisonment and the young girl's longing to escape the barrio's surroundings. Through Cofer's carefully phrased statements, symbolism is used to connect the dots. The girl's prized comic books are heaped in the closet, indicating that there is insufficient space in her bedroom for them. The girl is literally bursting at the seams to be released from the restricting area and to stretch her arms in order to fly away when the author describes her transformation into Supergirl while mounting the steps to the roof. "Step by step, I'd fill out: my legs would lengthen, my arms would stiffen into steel, and I'd get on tiptoe, arms outstretched in a flight position." This description is symbolic for two reasons: it implies that she feels physically restricted in her small flat, and it implies that she does not believe she is a strong, powerful person in real life. When the kid says that her dreams allow her to go "beyond the few blocks of her barrio" (Cofer 204), the reader gets the impression that the young girl has had limited opportunities to see life outside of her impoverished neighbourhood. This is a prevalent problem among impoverished households. These descriptions represent her feeling trapped in her existing circumstances of a small apartment in the barrio and her belief that escaping her surroundings in order to live a better life will require superpowers.
Much of the symbolism of "Volar" is found in a young girl's dreams and imagination. The main heroine utilizes her dreams to escape her own reality, which consists of a small apartment, an impoverished family, and restricted world experiences. She has low self-esteem and wishes to resemble Supergirl from her favorite comic book in order to be able to fly away from reality. The story's setting is enhanced by the author, Judith Ortiz Cofer, who uses symbolism to express poverty, imprisonment, and the influence of media on a girl's self-image.
Cofer, Judith O. 'Volar.' The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Kelly Mayes. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016. 203-205. Print.