Naomi Shihab Nye's 'Shoulders'

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The Significance of Shoulders

In Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Shoulders”, the author uses symbolism, consonance and alliteration, and end-stopped lines to convey the kindness that is needed in our world. Nye uses symbolism when she describes “a man [crossing] the street in rain,/[...] his soon [asleep] on his shoulder”. The man is very careful to ensure that “no car [splashes] him” or “[drives] too near”. In this poem, the man carrying his sleeping and unaware son across the rainy street represents the kindness that we need in society to help the innocent through the rain, or hardships in life. The sleeping boy represents the innocent people who are unaware of the challenges in life. The boy is only a small child, and has not experienced many difficulties.
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The gentleness of these sounds emphasize the focus of the loving relationship between the father and the son, as the father is willing to make an ultimate sacrifice-- protecting his son, but at the same time being hit with all of the difficulties in life. As well as emphasizing that point, the letter “S” mimics the sound of rain falling, further intensifying the image and somber mood. However, in the latter stanzas, the sounds used are more harsh, such as the “d”, “g”, and “r” in “if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing/with one another”. The sounds emphasize the way the mood makes a sudden turn to the serious, connecting to the overall theme of being kind to others. Nye uses the harshness of those consonant sounds to draw a reader’s attention to the message of being kind, effectively conveying the seriousness the need for kindness is. Lastly, the usage of capitalization also conveys a serious mood in the poem as well as a lack of empathy. The reason the man carrying the boy on his shoulders is significant is because many other people, or “cars”, do not exhibit the same generosity. They try to drive “too near” and “splash” him instead. This lack of empathy is further represented by the line, “FRAGILE/HANDLE WITH CARE”. The capitalization seems like a warning label or
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