Choose two images from "Oranges" and give a close reading of them. How do these images enrich the poem? Are they different or similar? Does contrasting them teach you something new about the poem?
The opening and closing images of "Oranges" show the speaker's emotional progression through his first walk with a girl. When the poem opens, we see the speaker walking towards the girl's house, "Frost cracking / Beneath my steps, my breath / Before me, then gone" (5-7). Here, the speaker is enveloped in an oppressively cold environment. As his body moves through the winter scene, he causes the frost to "crack" and his breath is visible in the air. Nevertheless, the cold prevails, and his breath is merely fleeting—gone in the same line that it appears. In the final lines of the poem, the speaker begins to eat his orange, and the brightness of the fruit fights back against the prevailing gray: "I peeled my orange / That was so bright against / The gray of December / That, from a distance, / Someone might have thought / I was making a fire in my hands" (50-5). These images, which contrast each other sharply, provide us insight into the emotional world of the speaker, who begins the poem feeling nervous and awkward but finishes the poem with a feeling of confidence and success.
Gary Soto makes some interesting choices with perspective in this poem. Read "Oranges" again, taking note of the perspective through which we view the speaker. Are we close to the speaker, or very far away? How does this change the meaning of the poem?
Even though this poem is about two young lovers, the perspective of the poem comes from far away: the speaker is a grown man looking back on his youth. This distance from the speaker extends throughout the poem, as we are given little exposure to his emotions and instead only witness his external interactions with others and the outside world. Throughout the poem, the characters say no words aloud and instead, their body language speaks for them. This distances readers from the events of the poem, as we are unable to fully place ourselves in the speaker's or the girl's shoes. The speaker enacts this distant perspective again in the final scene of the poem, as he describes what someone from a distance might see when looking at his hands. The overall effect of this distanced perspective, paired with the sparse language of the poem, creates a reflective and almost somber tone within the world of the poem, evoking the fleeting nature of adolescence.
The theme of gender roles stretches throughout Soto's "Oranges." How do the characters in the poem reinforce traditional gender roles? How do they complicate them?
Gender roles are reinforced through the poem's language as well as the characters' actions in "Orange." When the boy and the girl first meet, he sets the direction of their walk, thus taking a position of control: "I smiled, / Touched her shoulder, and led / Her down the street," (15-7). Later, he takes her to a drugstore, where he offers to buy her a treat (thus fulfilling the traditional male role of provider). However, the speaker's fulfillment of this role is complicated when it is revealed that he does not have enough money to pay for the girl's chocolate. The saleslady takes the speaker's payment, which allows him to continue on his walk as if nothing had happened. This moment shows us the boy's innocence, as it suggests that he is playing the role of an adult and merely playing at what a man should be.