Poetry Unpeeled: the Sweetness of Adolescence in Gary Soto’s ‘Oranges

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Updated: Nov 17, 2023
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Gary Soto’s “Oranges” is not merely a poem about a boy, a girl, and the fruit in his pocket; it’s a tender foray into the heart of adolescence, where every gesture is magnified and the simplest acts become meaningful. Soto, with his characteristic warmth and clarity, captures the innocence and earnestness of young love, using the bright citrus fruit as a symbol for burgeoning feelings and the sweetness of youth.

The poem unfolds on a cold December morning, as a twelve-year-old boy walks to his girl’s house, nervous and excited, with two oranges in his pocket.

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The simplicity of the setting—a gray day in a forgettable part of town—contrasts with the boy’s vivid inner life, which Soto brings to life with concise, evocative language. The oranges are bright spots of color against the dreariness, representing the boy’s hopeful feelings and his readiness to share something of himself with the girl.

As the narrative progresses, the boy and girl walk to a store where the boy intends to buy her candy, only to find that he doesn’t have enough money. Here, Soto deftly navigates the complexities of dignity and kindness without veering into sentimentality. The boy’s gesture with the orange, offering it in lieu of the money he lacks, is a moment of genuine connection. The saleslady’s acceptance of the orange as payment is more than an act of charity; it’s an acknowledgment of the significance of this exchange for the young couple.

This interaction is a rite of passage, a step into the complexities of adulthood while still within the safe harbor of childhood. The boy’s small act of bravery in offering the orange instead of admitting his shortage of money is a tender metaphor for the vulnerability of first love. Soto doesn’t just tell us a story about young love; he immerses us in the emotional landscape of adolescence, where the stakes are as high as they will ever be, and where a piece of fruit can carry the weight of a heartfelt emotion.

The language of “Oranges” is deceptively simple, with short lines and straightforward language that mimic the clarity of childhood. Soto’s use of imagery and metaphor is restrained yet powerful, creating a narrative that is accessible yet profound. The coldness of the day, the warmth of the girl’s touch, the weight of the oranges in the boy’s pocket—all these elements are woven together to create a tapestry of memory that feels both personal and universal.

The beauty of “Oranges” lies in its ability to capture the universality of human experience through a specific, personal moment. It’s a poem about growing up, about the tentative steps we take toward maturity, and about finding joy and connection in unexpected places. The oranges, which could have been an inconsequential detail, become a poignant symbol of innocence, generosity, and the bittersweet nature of growing up.

In closing, Gary Soto’s “Oranges” is more than a poem; it’s a resonant piece of literature that evokes the universal emotions associated with youth and love. It teaches us that the moments which might seem small can carry immense significance, and that the gestures we make toward one another are as vital and nourishing as the food we share. With its vivid imagery and tender narrative, “Oranges” continues to be a beloved poem for its gentle yet powerful depiction of a young boy’s first foray into the complexities of the heart.

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Poetry Unpeeled: The Sweetness of Adolescence in Gary Soto’s 'Oranges. (2023, Nov 17). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/poetry-unpeeled-the-sweetness-of-adolescence-in-gary-sotos-oranges/