Writing About Literature 1102
30 November 2008
Sharon Olds: “Rite of Passage”
The poem “Rite of Passage” is a poet’s account of the simple nature of man and his need to feel powerful. Sharon Olds uses a first narrative voice to describe the atmosphere of her son’s birthday, while incorporating subtle hints of what she expects will be many more battles in the young man’s life. The relationship of these battles is connected through the needs of men to engage each other and the world of meaningless and deadly wars.
In the opening passage, Olds sets the scene by simply describing the setting of the poem. She refers to all that are attending as “guests” (line 1) insinuating that the young children are coming in on their own accord. The use of the term guests adds an age value that would suggest more adult than child. The poet is not even suggesting that they are just small children with very little independence. Olds only suggests in the first two lines that the guests are congregating much like adults would at a party. She is adding an age value to the characters of the poem by giving them adult like features and mannerisms.
In the subsequent lines of the poem, “short men, men in the first grade” (line 3) followed by “with smooth jaws and chins” (line 4) Olds paints the picture of age with a mature and masculine generalization. The poet in these two lines is adding an ironic pose to the characters of the poem. By putting “short men” followed by “men in the first grade”, Olds is now validating that these guests are just in the first grade with overt sarcasm. She then follows that up by characterizing them as having manly type physical features. The description of the jaws and chins is a representation of strength and manhood. Up to this point in the poem there is a setting, meaning for the meeting, and an established presence of the guests at her son’s birthday party.
Now that the setting and purpose have been...