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Unpeaceful Transition

According to Daina Savage, death and life are always intertwined in Sharon Olds’ works. And so, her “Rites of Passage” must also deal with the darkness we associate with death. Olds writes that the son at the birthday party, with six and seven year olds as guests, claims aloud that the children at the party are capable of killing a two year old. And yet, the birthday party is a celebration of the very same son’s life. Savage is partly correct when she states that Olds “writes of life in its entirety; the good with the bad.

” While it is true that the “Rites of Passage” mingles the good with the bad, by merging the unpeaceful image of war with the light of life that the birthday party is meant to represent – it is untrue that Olds is writing of life in its entirety. On the contrary, the poet does not express anything to imply that the boys at the party may have anything peaceful on their minds. The young boys are going through a transition during which their innocence is marred by gender specific violence that we associate with the macho male as seen on television.

All the same, it is impossible to believe that all of the young boys are truly violent individuals who would actually go on to commit crimes against the innocent at their age of transition. Hence, it is obvious that Olds has a tunnel vision. In other words, she does not write about life in its entirety. Rather, she views the young boys as though all of them would one day become military men, if not terrorists, fighting a world war. There is nothing very peaceful in Olds’ view of the boys. There is nothing truly innocent, or positive either, about the boys, according to Olds.

And so, Savage has written: “Olds is a poet for whom nothing is sacred … or perhaps, for whom all is sacred. ” Although the first part of this statement can be agreed with; at least, “Rites of Passage” lacks a focus on the sacred. Besides referring to the birthday party as a celebration of the son’s life, there is nothing UNPEACEFUL TRANSITION Page # 2 sacred to be viewed in the poem.

Perhaps this is because there is nothing sacred beyond life in any case. Even so, Olds’ perspective at the birthday party is seriously negative. There is no feeling of caring among the young boys at the party. Savage has further written about Olds works: “She treats her subjects with such honesty and power, that what might have seemed vulgar or cruel, becomes breathtakingly beautiful. ” The “Rites of Passage” is certainly very well composed. It is also a fact that the poet has treated her subject with power, and made the boys appear as vulgar and cruel.

However, the poet is not being honest in her depiction of the young boys. Her understanding of their behavior and their minds is too narrow. A perfect description of the boys’ behavior and minds would have included the positive side of their behavior and their minds. After all, they were at a birthday party and must have arrived with presents for the son, whose birthday it was. Perhaps even a smile on one of the boys’ faces would have given the reader a better view of the individuals at the party.

While it is a fact that young boys of six and seven are competitive, and learning through television about the macho male and his perfect ability to beat, kill, and destroy – it is also a fact that young boys at this age learn about heroes on television, who use their abilities to beat, kill, and destroy only with the real enemies of humanity. Such macho males are referred to as saviors. They could be “Generals,” or they may be “bankers” by profession. Regardless, these macho males serve as better models for young boys of six and seven.

Many young boys are also very impressed by these saviors of humanity, and seek to emulate their behavior. Nevertheless, Olds has none of these heroes on her mind when she describes the children who seem to be at war among themselves. There is no child at the party who would stand up for others’ rights, and UNPEACEFUL TRANSITION Page # 3

proclaim: No, we cannot kill so and so; no, we should not beat up so and so. Instead, all of the boys at the party appear wicked and unjust. Despite the fact that Olds’ poem is brilliantly written, it would seem immature to any reader who does not share Olds’ worldview, according to which all boys of six and seven must be learning wickedness and injustice. Perhaps the poet is dealing only with a certain class of people that the children identify with. It could be that all of the children do have violent parents, or families involved in drug abuse.

It may also be that all the children at the birthday party have parents who live in jail. Olds leaves the reader to think about the background of the boys, seeing that they are unnatural in their description for any reader who has noticed that boys of six and seven do also love peace and heroes who are saviors. To put it another way, it is difficult for all readers to appreciate the poem beyond its form for long. While it is well written, it is not comprehensive in terms of the subject that occupies it.

Hence, all readers cannot take the poem seriously. And, it may even seem to certain readers that the poet is one of the young boys who cannot think about the “whole” as opposed to “parts. ” Olds’ view of the boys’ minds and their behavior, is imprudently negative. She writes about them: “Hands in pockets, they stand around/ jostling, jockeying for place, small fights/ breaking out and calming. ” This description of the boys’ behavior is believable. Nevertheless, the poet makes no mention of what the boys are doing to calm themselves.

What is happening in the transition between the fights and the calming? – The reader asks for more. Did one of the children say something sweet or funny? Did they all laugh at any point? Perhaps so. UNPEACEFUL TRANSITION Page # 4 By not going through with depictions of the calming processes she observes at the party, the poet is making her work rather fictitious.

The birthday party appears as a violent fantasy rather than a picture of reality, seeing that it is incomplete. There should have been a smile, a joke, or something that the poet notices that appears “sacred,” seeing that she is dealing with young children after all. Also in a fictitious situation, if a young boy were to read Olds’ poem, he would perhaps believe that all six and seven year old boys are violent – which is not true. In the mind of the boy who reads the poem (in an unreal situation) – the heroes and saviors of humanity would be, once again, erased.Hence, the poem that only deals with a negative view of the boys’ minds and behavior – fails to be a true picture of reality.

Works Cited

1. Olds, Sharon. “Rites of Passage. ” Retrieved from http://www. ducts. org/12_00/poetry/poetry_olds. html. (11 February 2007). 2. Savage, Daina. “Sharon Olds: The Golden Cell. ” Rambles. Retrieved from http://www. rambles. net/olds_goldcell. html. (11 February 2007).

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