Summary Of On The Subway By Sharon Olds

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Sharon Olds, in her poem “On the Subway”, used a white woman to reveal the complex relationship between herself and the African-American boy on the subway; through Old’s use of juxtaposing visual imagery along with tonal shifts and levels of realization as well as other poetic devices Olds comments on the stark differences between their lives as a result of discrimination in society coming to realize, in the end, they are both human and therefore inherently the same. Olds uses contrasting visual imagery to develop both portraits as well as illustrate the deep disparities between the life of the caucasian speaker and the African American boy on the subway. The boy wears “black sneakers laced with white in a complex pattern… like scars” symbolizing …show more content…

Furthermore, these were not just scars, but “intentional” scars revealing the purposeful nature of the pain white people inflicted on African Americans. Moreover, the two characters are on “opposite sides of the car” illustrating the literal segregation between the two races in society. To further contrast the two characters, Olds reveals how vulnerable and exposed the boy is “wearing red, like the inside of a body exposed”. Skin is an organ that is supposed to protect other organs vital to life, but without this covering, he is utterly exposed anything trying to destroy him. Similarly, being African American leaves him defenseless to the white people seeking to harm and discriminate against him because society teaches African Americans are lesser humans. Additionally, removing his skin also makes him less human and more like vulnerable prey-- a weaker animal to be used for the benefit of a stronger animal. Contrastingly, the woman is lavishly “wearing …show more content…

Their connectedness is immediately established by a metaphor as both are “a couple of molecules stuck in a rod of light rapidly moving through darkness”. This is literal in a sense that both are a minute part of the many traveling in the subway through a dark, underground tunnel. Metaphorically, both the white woman and African American boy are two tiny people trying to make their way through a life surrounded by evil and darkness. However, the boy is also compared to “a mugger” with a “cold casual look” depicting him as someone to fear and associated with evil and corruption by hiding his intentions. The alliteration “cold causal” created a cacophonous, unappealing sounds associated with disgust because it sounds like spitting. In addition, the woman’s frightened insights are exposed through a simile when she confesses she fears he will “break [her] across his knee like a stick”. Although she has had no problem discriminating against him and breaking his back and causing him agony, when the tables turn she becomes distraught highlighting the golden rule that would end all discrimination-- treat others as you would want to be treated. Her thoughts become even more complex through the last simile when she contemplates “the rod of

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