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Analysis of "Oranges" by Gary Soto

Updated on May 16, 2017
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Gary Soto
Gary Soto | Source

Gary Soto and Oranges

Oranges is a poem that focuses on the feelings and thoughts of an adolescent boy about to meet up with a girl. It's a first date so he is full of nerves and apprehension, but the two oranges he has in his pocket help offset the winter cold and inner fear.

Gary Soto uses a range of poetic device to get his message over - simile, metaphor, personification and lots of figurative language help keep the reader interested. Add vivid imagery to the pot and it is plain that Oranges appeals greatly to the senses.

The speaker is looking back to his first date, back to winter time cold. It is a bittersweet thrill. The weather doesn't help his cause but to the rescue so to speak come the oranges, full of warmth and color. They are the symbols of hope and confidence.

Oranges

The first time I walked

With a girl, I was twelve,

Cold, and weighted down

With two oranges in my jacket.

December. Frost cracking

Beneath my steps, my breath

Before me, then gone,

As I walked toward

Her house, the one whose

Porch light burned yellow

Night and day, in any weather.

A dog barked at me, until

She came out pulling

At her gloves, face bright

With rouge. I smiled,

Touched her shoulder, and led

Her down the street, across

A used car lot and a line

Of newly planted trees,

Until we were breathing

Before a drugstore. We

Entered, the tiny bell

Bringing a saleslady

Down a narrow aisle of goods.

I turned to the candies

Tiered like bleachers,

And asked what she wanted -

Light in her eyes, a smile

Starting at the corners

Of her mouth. I fingered

A nickle in my pocket,

And when she lifted a chocolate

That cost a dime,

I didn’t say anything.

I took the nickle from

My pocket, then an orange,

And set them quietly on

The counter. When I looked up,

The lady’s eyes met mine,

And held them, knowing

Very well what it was all

About.

.Outside,

A few cars hissing past,

Fog hanging like old

Coats between the trees.

I took my girl’s hand

In mine for two blocks,

Then released it to let

Her unwrap the chocolate.

I peeled my orange

That was so bright against

The gray of December

That, from some distance,

Someone might have thought

I was making a fire in my hands

Analysis of Oranges

Oranges is a free verse poem, that is, it has no end rhymes or rhyme scheme, and the meter is mixed, variable, with no steady consistent beat to the lines. On the page it is a slim work, with simple, short lines that work mostly with the device of enjambment, one line running in to the next without losing sense.

Tone

There is a conversational tone to this poem, the speaker clearly wants the reader to understand the experience he went through. Yes, it was exciting and memorable, but the boy also felt a little daunted, so there is added uncertainty about just where this first walking date will end up.

The speaker is looking back into the past, the whole poem focusing on the boy, initially walking, weighed down with two oranges, on his way to the girl's house to take her out for a walk to the store. There he buys her some chocolate which costs a nickel and an orange.

Imagery

There are several contrasting images in this poem. It is winter, December, so the weather is gray and cold, contrasting with the oranges which are warm and brightly colored. The girl's porch light is yellow in all weathers, whilst the fog is like old hanging coats. The girl wears red rouge on her face, but the fog is dull gray.

Symbolism

Oranges become a symbol of warmth, confidence, love and passion. Newly planted trees represent the growth of what could be a first love, fresh and full of potential. The bell in the shop and the aisle might be the echo of church - a wedding ceremony?

Further Line by Line Analysis of Oranges

Oranges is all about the tensions that surface when a first date, an initial meeting, is to be experienced. In this case the reader hears all about it from the young man's perspective - it would be an interesting exercise to read about the girl's experience of the same date! Wonder how much different it would be?

  • The diction, the language used is simple and straightforward but the emotional undercurrents running through Oranges give it an edge that sometimes has the reader thinking outside of the box. Note the emphasis on the breath - it is winter so the boy's breath shows up in the December air - and the second mention when they are both outside the store. Every breath you take.

Lines 1 - 11

It may be winter outside, cold, but the frost and the fog won't get this determined young man down because he has two oranges in his pocket, full of sunshine, warmth and passion. Here is the speaker looking back to his very first walking date.

This is December and he feels the responsibility despite the oranges and the excitement. Note the tension in the word cracking and the fact that his breath appears in this frosty air and then is gone! A bit like a feeling; sometimes like love, which can be fickle and disappear as soon as it arrives.

He's on the way to the girl's house. The porch light is always on there any time of year, which is a definite symbol of hope, brightness and consistency, necessary ingredients for a stable and long relationship? Again, the language is important - the lamp burns, to offset the wintry conditions.

Lines 12 - 24

He's at the door, waiting for the girl. A dog barks, which tends to be an alarming thing, and could certainly be a pointer towards something unpleasant or frightening - but the bark comes to nothing as the girl appears at the door readying herself for the cold. Rouge is a red make- up material people put on their cheeks to beautify themselves, always enhanced with a smile.

  • For a first date, it could be argued that the boy is being too forward when he touches the girl on the shoulder, even if it just a gesture showing her the way to go?

The couple, yes, they're a couple now, walk together on the street and pass a used car lot and newly planted trees. Note the contrast - this poem is choc-a-bloc with contrasts - old cars/new trees - this boy is beginning a new chapter in his life. The cars are second-hand, the trees fresh and inspiring. His new found love will be just the same?

Then they're together, breaths entwined, outside the drugstore. Time to go in, time to act out being a couple (bell plus aisle= church matrimony?).

Lines 25 - 42

Once inside they start to browse in the candy section (some resemble bleachers, or the cheap bench seats at a sports stadium) before the girl decides on chocolate. Again we have the reference to light, which counteracts the dark outside. And it shouldn't be forgotten that the boy is being very kind and polite, asking the girl to choose.

Unfortunately, she goes for the more expensive chocolate, which costs a dime, more than the single nickel in his pocket, which he's been fingering in the hope she chooses something he can afford. Luckily, the saleslady is one of those worldy-wise types and, without a word, accepts one of the oranges as part payment.

The boy is saved from complete embarrassment on this his inaugural date by a citrus fruit. Phew, he got away with it. His confidence is growing. The date is progressing nicely.

Line by Line Analysis

Lines 43 - 56

With the chocolate purchased it's time to go outside. The boy is much more confident now, taking the girls hand as the fog like old coats hangs between the trees. Note that now he is holding the hand of 'my girl' and not just any girl, holding it for two blocks, until she gets hungry and starts eating the chocolate.

To keep the feeling of togetherness he also starts to unpeel the remaining orange, symbol of warmth, passion and sweet nourishment. In the fog, on this cold December day, it could easily be mistaken for a flame.

© 2017 Andrew Spacey

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