Rites of Passage' the Poem 'Rites of Term Paper

  • Length: 4 pages
  • Sources: 1
  • Subject: Literature
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #35489257
  • Related Topics: Masculinity, Theme, Poetry

Excerpt from Term Paper :


The poem 'Rites of passage' says a lot about the way society conditions young girls and boys to behave in a manner befitting their gender. This is not exactly a poem celebrating a young boy's birthday party, but it actually focuses on the way society and environment conditions people in a gender specific manner. The poem appeared in Sharon Olds' collection titled The Dead and the Living published in 1984. Olds is basically concerned with various stages and phases of life. Apart from celebrating various important milestones in one's life journey, the poet also goes a little deeper into these stages to find out how society trains young girls and boys to behave in gender-appropriate manner.

In this poem for example, Olds is surprised to see that boys from a very young age are aggressive in nature and therefore love playing generals and soldiers. This clearly shows that men and women are trained to behave differently from a very early age. While the poet doesn't actually refer to society's role in this connection, it is important to keep in mind that gender-specific conditioning appears to be the most prominent theme in the poem.

The tone of the poem is ironic in the sense that while on the surface it seams to be celebrating the birthday of first grade child but on closer study we notice that it contains heavy undertones. These hints can be excavated only through in-death study of the poem and its intense emphasis on the behavior of young boys.

The lines below shed slight on the bewilderment of the poet on realizing that the little boys she had invited over to her place were not innocent souls
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but young men fully aware of their future roles and duties.

A short men, men in first grade with smooth jaws and chins.

Hands in pockets, they stand around jostling, jockeying for place, small fights breaking out and calming (lines 3-7)

Olds finds out that these young men were more interested in jostling and pushing each other around than sitting down calmly like most young girls would do. The more amazing aspect of this gender-specific behavior is that all young boys are familiar with it and none of them seems to be surprised by the conduct of others. This shows that for some odd reason men from a very young age know they are required to fit a certain image. They never visualize themselves in any so-called weaker roles but feel that their activities must reveal their masculinity.

Why this happens is actually not clear but it is commonly believed that society and environment trains people to behave in such a manner. It is also possible that their brains work differently which affects the way they perceive various incidents and situations. This difference in their perception later influences their reactions and behavior. But in any case, the one thing, which seems clear, is the fact that young boys and girls behave in a manner, which befits their gender. They rarely ever engage in activities, which might make them, appear different from their peers.

For example all the six years olds in this poem behave in the same manner with everyone ready and willing to fight with others. There seems to be little compassion or empathy between the boys as they gear up for a 'brawl'. This is quite different from the behavior we would expect from a group of young girls. Not only would most of them be gathering around their dolls, they would also show…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

1) Sharon Olds, Rites of Passage, The Dead and the Living, (1984)

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