Narrative Verse and Free Verse
‘‘Oranges’’ is an example of a narrative poem, or one that tells a story. Narrative verse is traditionally considered to be one of the four basic literary modes of poetry, along with lyric, dramatic, and didactic poetry. Narrative poems include the oldest poems known to history: epics such as the Iliad of Homer (circa eighth or ninth century BCE) and the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, which is dated to the seventh century BCE. Geoffrey Chaucer’s fourteenth-century story The Canterbury Tales is a collection of interrelated narrative poems tied together to make one overall story. Many older narrative poems are believed to be stories that were passed from one person to another, from generation to generation for hundreds of years before finally being written down.
As with most narratives, Soto’s poem is more concerned with the story that it is telling than with using a particular poetic style to capture readers’ imaginations. ‘‘Oranges’’ is written in free verse—it does not use any particular rhyme scheme or rhythm pattern to enforce its message. Instead, Soto keeps the action moving so that readers want to know what happens next. The fact that the story of the poem is something that happened to him, or at least could have happened to him, helps create a personal bond with readers, making the fate of the boy in the poem that much more meaningful to them.
First-Person Point of View
‘‘Oranges’’ is told in the first person, from the perspective of one of the participants in the poem, but in some sense the person who is telling the story is a very different person from the boy who walks with the girl. The speaker of the poem is clearly telling the story years after the action took place. This distance in time gives the poem a feeling of calmness that would be lacking if the events were presented with more immediacy. The very fact that he has chosen to tell about this event, noting that it was the first time he was in a date-like situation, indicates by itself that this was an important moment of his life. Soto’s decision to draw attention to the adult speaker in the first line, though, helps to show readers that this one long-ago event is a relatively small part of an overall life. In the last line, he takes an even wider perspective, switching to a different point of view, relating what an observer who was far away from the action might have seen and how they might have interpreted what they saw.
Imagery / Motif
Soto uses the cold weather as a motif, or recurring device or image used to emphasize the mood or message of the work. In the first segment, the boy’s loneliness and foreboding about approaching a girl’s house for the first time is magnified by the fact that he is cold. Mentioning the external effects of the cold, such as his visible breath and the sound of frost crunching beneath his footsteps, draws attention to his apprehension by showing just how hyper-aware he is to sensory input. When the girl comes out of her house the first thing she does is pull on her gloves, which is a reasonable defense against the cold air but also draws readers’ attention to her overall defensiveness in this new and uncertain situation.
By contrast, the weather seems warmer after they leave drug store. The crunchy frost has melted to wetness, which makes cars on the street hiss on the pavement and moisture has risen into the air as fog. The girl’s hand is uncovered during the walk home, allowing the boy to take hold of it briefly. At the end of the poem, Soto uses the weather as a visual aid. The gray, foggy day is invoked to contrast the brightness of the orange in his hand, making it look even more vibrant, like fire.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Gary Soto, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009