What Is the Tone of the Short Story American History?

The short story “American History” by Judith Ortiz Cofer is a poignant and introspective look at the complexities of identity and heritage in America. The story follows Elena, a young Puerto Rican girl living in America, as she navigates the challenges of fitting into a new culture while still holding onto her roots. The tone of the story is one of both nostalgia and frustration, as Elena grapples with the conflicting emotions that come with straddling two worlds.

One of the prominent themes of the story is the tension between assimilation and cultural preservation. Elena’s mother encourages her to adopt American customs and to “speak like an American”, but Elena struggles with this idea as it feels like a betrayal to her Puerto Rican heritage. This tension is reflected in the tone of the story, which oscillates between moments of exasperation and sadness.

Throughout the story, Cofer employs vivid imagery to convey Elena’s sense of displacement. For example, she describes how Elena feels when she visits her grandmother’s house: “It was like being inside a coconut.” This simile emphasizes Elena’s sense of being trapped between two cultures, unable to fully embrace either one.

Another notable aspect of the story’s tone is its use of irony. When Elena wins an essay contest on American history, she sees it as a validation that she has finally assimilated into American culture.

However, when she reads her essay aloud at school and receives no applause or recognition from her classmates, it becomes clear that her victory was hollow. This moment highlights how difficult it can be for immigrants to truly feel accepted in America.

Overall, the tone of “American History” is bittersweet – there are moments that are hopeful and optimistic but also moments that are melancholic and disheartening. Cofer skillfully captures all these nuances through her use of imagery, irony, and other literary devices.


In conclusion, “American History” is a compelling and emotionally resonant story that explores the complexities of identity in America. Through Elena’s experiences, Cofer highlights the challenges that immigrants face as they try to reconcile their cultural heritage with their desire to fit in and be accepted.

The story’s tone is both nostalgic and frustrated, reflecting the conflicting emotions that Elena feels as she navigates this difficult terrain. Cofer’s use of vivid imagery and irony make the story all the more poignant, creating a powerful work of fiction that speaks to the universal human experience of belonging.