On The Subway Analysis

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In “On The Subway,” Sharon Olds depicts an affluent white narrator’s initial description of the blatant differences between her and a poor black boy seated on the opposite side of the subway car. The narrator’s external observation then shifts into an introspection of the subtle similarities shared between the two individuals despite their socioeconomic differences. Through juxtapositioning the physical differences between the narrator and the boy, allusions and comparisons of the boy to slavery, Olds asserts that white individuals achieve false superiority through their racist act of discrimination and oppression of the not-so-different African Americans. Old’s repeated allusions to slavery and racism demonstrates that even in modern day,…show more content…
When first describing the boy, the narrator states, “I look at his raw face, he looks at my fur coat.” The word raw is defined as an area of the body that is red and painful; therefore, the raw face of the boy represents the harsh struggles that the boy must endure due to his impoverished environment. On the other hand, the narrator’s fur coat—an object that is both rare and expensive—symbolizes her wealth. Through the narrator’s donning of the fur coat, one is able to infer that the poem sets during the winter. Therefore, the redness of the boy’s skin is most likely due to the inability of his thin clothing in protecting him from the coldness of the weather. The white narrator, however, is able to fare well due to the protect of her thick, dark fur garment. These two symbols place the narrator and the boy on contrasting poles on the socioeconomic spectrum. Furthermore, in regards to the boy, the narrator also directly remarks, “And he is black and I am white.” By explicitly labelling the boy as black and herself as white, the narrator furthers the vast divide between herself and the boy—separating the two of them onto opposite extremes of the color spectrum. Lastly, the narrator also mentions that she and the boy “are stuck on opposite sides of the car.” The word “stuck” represents an immovable state; therefore, the word implies that the boy and the narrator are unable to change their socioeconomic conditions from the current status quo. However, although they are on opposite ends of the subway car, the narrator and the boy still are seated face to face—representing that despite being socioeconomically opposite individuals, both the narrator and the boy are still similar as they both belong to the group of human
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