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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   



16. The Search For Identity

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
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Activities: Author Activities


Judith Ortiz Cofer - Author Questions

Back Back to Judith Ortiz Cofer Activities
  1. Comprehension: Why does the narrator's family think she will be able to talk "sense" into her grandmother?

  2. Comprehension: Why did Abuela go to New York for a year and what did she do there?

  3. Comprehension: Why do you think the story is called "The Witch's Husband" and not, for example, "The Witch"? Is the story more about Abuela or her husband? Or is it actually about the narrator? Also, what does it mean to be a "witch"?

  4. Context: Think about how Cofer uses storytelling as a memorial to earlier generations, as a means of remembering and honoring ancestors. How does Abuela's ability to tell a good story, including her knowledge of her audience's values, affect her granddaughter's impressions of old age?

  5. Context: Compare this narrator's appreciation of her grandmother's "folk wisdom" to Dee/Wangero's simultaneous disdain and reverence for her mother's way of life in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use." You might also think about the way the homes, and setting more generally, function in a story, particularly Cofer's use of the hammock, Walker's use of the butter churn, and both authors' use of yards.

  6. Context: Compare Abuela to the "big-boned," down-home woman in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use." They are both earthy, sensual women, but in very different ways. They each fulfill some traditional gender roles and expectations but break others, and they each (as far as we know) expand their opportunities relatively privately, e.g., by wearing masculine clothes, attending secret witches' meetings, or taking an extended break from the family. Consider their decisions to act privately in relation to archive item [6181] ("When women become massively political, the revolution will have moved to a new level" poster). Could these women do more "good" for the women's movement if they were more public about their feminism? Why or why not?

  7. Exploration: Compare Abuela's storytelling approach of keeping memories to the more methodical approach--the "art of memory"--used by the father in Li-Young Lee's poems, especially "This Room and Everything in It."

  8. Exploration: Abuela's story ends, "And in time, the husband either began forgetting that he had seen her turn into a witch or believed that he had just dreamed it." How does this ending affect the story's meaning? Is his forgetting positive or negative? If he no longer recognizes her "powers" as real, does this mean he has lost his hard-earned wisdom?

  9. Exploration: The narrator tells us that in Puerto Rico, a "good woman" is willing to martyr herself to the interests and needs of those around her--and no woman has been better in this way than Abuela, whose "life has been entirely devoted to others." Do you agree that this kind of self-sacrifice makes a woman "good"? Think about this definition in relation to the following passage from British novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf, who wrote that when she began her career, she had difficulty because she was haunted by a phantom that she called "the Angel of the House." The angel whispered, "My dear, you are a young woman. . . . Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure." Is this good advice? Consider why this way of thinking could be difficult for both Woolf and Abuela, who seem very different.

  10. Exploration: Consider "The Witch's Husband" in relation to other stories about witches in American society, including Arthur Miller's The Crucible (about the Salem witch trials). Do you think that stories like "The Witch's Husband" allow us to interpret witchcraft and "possession" as a form of resistance for women? In what sorts of societies might such forms of resistance be necessary? You might consult I. M. Lewis's Ecstatic Religion, which discusses how witchcraft, shamanism, and possession can enable women to resist.




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