Authors often use literary devices to subtly reveal the theme of the work. There are different types of literary devices that can be used in different types of stories including symbolism, conflict, diction, connotation, or foreshadowing. However, through the use of irony and internal conflict, Cynthia Rylant and Judith Ortiz Cofer teach important lessons to the reader.
In the short story, “Checkouts,” by Cynthia Rylant , irony is the most obvious literary device being used. This story is about a red-headed girl and a boy who meet once at the checkout line of a supermarket in Cincinnati, Ohio. The boy was nervous being that it was the first day on the job and because of the fact that this fascinating girl with red, thick hair was waiting for her groceries to be packed by him. When finally it was her groceries he was packing he responded by dropping her jar of mayonnaise on the floor. The narrator states, “She loved him at exactly that moment, and if he’d known this perhaps he wouldn’t have fallen into the brown depression he fell into which lasted the rest of his shift.” (Rylant 75.) He was embarrassed and believed he looked like a fool but to her, his clumsiness was very attractive. She left the supermarket loving everything about him including the way his hair kept falling into his eyes, the way his nervous fingers moved, and even the clothing he wore. Unfortunately, it took them another four weeks to see each other and during this time of waiting, there was a reason to be alive. The anticipation of meeting the bag boy ached her body. These hours had become a mystery and a sense of romance for them as they watched for each other every day. However, when they finally did see each other again, they avoided each other and strictly focused on what they had to do. The narrator states, “The girl hated herself for not checking out at the boy’s line, and the boy hated himself for not catching her eye and saying hello.”(Rylant 77.) This is where readers see how ironic this story is. The boy and the girl had been using each other as a person of obsessive thought for weeks but neither decided to introduce themselves or say hello. Overall, Cynthia Rylant used irony to teach the reader that realities overrule fantasies and people can be complicated or irrational.
In the short story, “American History,” by Judith Ortiz Cofer, internal conflict is the literary device being used. Skinny Bones or Elena is a teenage girl struggling to adapt to life while living in a Puerto Rican tenement known as El Building. She lives in a former Jewish neighborhood that now consists of predominantly African Americans and Puerto Ricans. As a person who is a victim of bullying, she attracts to people somewhat like herself. She finds her soulmate, Eugene, a shy teenager who moved into a house on her block in August with his family. Despite their cultural differences , Eugene begins to tutor Elena in different subjects because English is not her first language. Although, Elena is a very good student. Subsequently, Euguene invites Elena to his home for a tutorial session. She states, “But after meeting Eugene I began to think more of the present more than the future. What I wanted now was to enter that house I had watched for so many years.” (Elena 207.) She accepted his invitation gladly but was unfortunately interrupted by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It had been a very gray day from here on out for a lot of people but she never quite understood why everyone was making such a big deal over the death of the president. She was only focused on the fact that she had been invited to Eugene’s house. When she had reached Eugene’s house she had encountered another problem. Eugene’s mother had answered the door and realized she lived in El Building and was Puerto Rican so she dismissed her from her home. This resulted in her being forbidden to tutor with Eugene. Angry at this incident and the fact that she can’t see him, Elena returns home and decides to try and mourn her dead president. However, when she starts crying she realizes those tears are not from the president dying, they’re from the feelings she had received after being rejected by Eugene’s mom. The internal conflict of this story is that Elena does not know her identity, does not feel welcome in her community, and over the fact that she cries for herself and not the president. Because, she is Puerto Rican and lives in a place that is looked down upon , she is judged and mistreated by the people around her. This literary device allows readers to grasp the theme which is, the world is cruel.
Through the use of these two different literary devices, Cynthia Rylant and Judith Ortiz Cofer teach important lessons to the reader. “American History” teaches readers that the world is cruel while “Checkouts” teaches readers that realities overrule fantasies. These devices serve a broad range of purposes in literature.They highlight important concepts in a text and help readers receive the intended meaning of the characters and themes. Overall, without literary devices we wouldn’t be able to understand the true meaning of stories and their intended message.