5 November 2013
“Rite of Passage”
In the poem “Rite of Passage” by Sharon Olds, the speaker, who is the birthday boy’s mother, observes the guests at her son’s birthday party. The boys are constantly trying to prove their power over the others. The mother seems to view these behaviors as rites of passage into the male dominated world. Olds uses literary devices such as figurative language, imagery, tone, and structure to show that boys are overly competitive and are eager to prove their maturity.
The speaker uses metaphors to draw a comparisons between the boys and men. When the guests arrive the mother describes them as “short men” (3) and “men in first grade” (3). The mother sees them acting like men, but in the short bodies of first graders with “smooth jaws and chins” (4). As the competition of maturity began to escalate the mother describes them as “a room of small bankers” (11) that clear their throats frequently. The boys act like bankers which they view as very serious and mature. Bankers are important and predominantly male so the boys look up to them as mature role models. As the boys threaten and compete against each other a
“dark cake, round and heavy as a / turret” (14) lies in the background. Usually a birthday cake is a symbol of celebration and happiness, but this cake is illustrated as a turret that is dark, round, and heavy. A turret is the part on a military tank, airplane, or ship from which guns are fired.
This cake reflects the boys hostility and violent actions. Later the boys all agree that they could
“kill a twoyearold” (22) so they “clear their throats / like Generals” (2425). The boys once
again try to demonstrate their maturity by acting like a mature authority figure. The boys have elevated from mimicking bankers to generals. Generals are highly respected and possess significantly more power than bankers. So by acting like generals the boys feel powerful and mature. The speaker uses Irony when she says the boys “get down to playing war, celebrating my son’s life” (26). War is often glorified by men. The boys are mislead into thinking war and violence is acceptable. Boys are given toy guns and other war related toys that makes war and killing seem exciting. They see war as merely fun and games and don't understand the real life consequences of war. Unaware that war causes death, the boys play it to celebrate life.
Imagery is used to describe to boys appearance and behavior. After the son’s friends gathered in the living room they stand with their “Hands in pockets ... / ... jockeying for place, / small fights breaking out and calming” (57). The boys emulate the actions and behavior of men that they have seen. They copy these behaviors because they want to seem more mature. While the boys act like bankers they “fold their arms and frown” (12). This is another example