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"Silent Dancing" by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Sometimes silence conveys a message much more meaningful than spoken words. This is proven in Judith Ortiz Cofer's essay "Silent Dancing". In her work, she explains her childhood. Around the age of three, Cofer, along with her mother and younger brother, moved from Puerto Rico to America to join her father. “Silent Dancing” describes what it was like growing up in a community within America with other Spanish natives, and how her family reacted to the transition. Amongst her account of her life in America, she includes a description of a silent film she made. The film includes the Spanish men and women found in her home during a gathering. It ends with a five minute clip of the guests dancing, but in total silence. Yet though there is no sound, the film still contains a deep meaning. The silence reveals a truth about Cofer.
In the essay, Cofer writes of an aunt, and her father’s uncle. These are the only two people that Cofer writes about their speaking. The uncle is an alcoholic, and is shriveling away due to his drinking habits. In a dream she has, the uncle is dancing silently, but comes to talk to her. She then responds with, “Move back, Tio. I don’t want to hear what you have to say.” Also in a dream, the aunt tells Cofer that she was right in thinking that her cousin had an abortion. These are the only spoken lines from other relatives of Cofer in her essay.
The silence in the film and essay seem to represent a sense of peacefulness for Cofer. When lines are spoken, they are of unpleasant topics. The aunt speaks bitterly of one of her own family members. Though the uncle’s words are never revealed in the essay, it is clear Cofer does not want to hear what her alcoholic uncle has to say. It is unclear that his words will be unpleasant. Thus, the silence seems to represent happiness for Cofer. The silent film shows a gathering at her home. In the description of the film, she writes kindly of her cousin, whom the aunt has verbally insulted. She writes of the men playing dominoes. She writes of the silent, but comical dancing. There is nothing unpleasant in the film. The silence is never about bad topics. Yet the speaking always seems to bring about negative feelings, which is why she tells her uncle in the dream that she does not want to hear him.
Sound is often referred to in the essay. She writes of the heat pipes banging, the Spanish voices within her complex, the Salsa music playing, and the clacking of the dominoes. All of these sounds represent her childhood on America, which she seemed content with. Her family was well off, and she seemed to enjoy the gathering described in the film. The sounds represent happiness with her childhood, unlike the actual speaking. The connection she establishes between seeing and hearing is that what she really sees, she does not really hear. This is proven through the film. By watching the film, she is actually viewing clips. Yet there is no actual sound she hears from it. Overall, visuals seem to represent happiness in her life, while vocals represent bitterness.