The oranges carry many different symbolic meanings throughout "Oranges." They stand out against the winter landscape, seemingly out-of-place. Not only are they bright and warm, but oranges only grow in warm weather, meaning that the boy's oranges were probably imported. This makes them more valuable than an orange found in a poem that is set in Florida, for example. As the boy walks towards the girl's house, the oranges symbolize his hope to impress and please her; these hopes are buried deep inside him in the same way that the oranges are buried in his pockets.
Later, in the drugstore, the oranges symbolize the boy's innocence and helplessness. He offers one of them to the saleslady in the hope that she will forgive the fact that he only has a nickel to pay for the chocolate. This moment is characterized by innocence—someone who has had trouble in the past with shopkeepers probably would not have endeavored to make this trade. Similarly, the saleslady sees the speaker's innocence, which might be what persuades her to agree to the trade.
Additionally, the oranges are a symbol for currency. This is not a literary symbol, but a 'literal' symbol in the world of the poem. The saleslady knows that when the boy places the orange on the counter, the fruit is standing in for the missing nickel. With the orange, the boy is wordlessly telling her, "I don't have enough money to pay for this." The saleslady accepts his offer.
Finally, the orange that the boy eats in the final lines of the poem symbolizes his success. He is happy that his date with the girl is going well. The orange glows against the cold, gray background so that it looks like he is holding a fire in his hands. He feels powerful and victorious.
The Candy (Symbol)
According to Julianne White in "Soto's Oranges," the candy is a symbol for "a seemingly unreachable goal, or material goods out of the financial reach of children." In this way, the candy is invested with greater worth within the poem than its economic value would suggest. The boy's ability to buy the candy with merely a nickel and an orange suggests that he can reach the goal and thus impress his date.
At its core, the moment in the drugstore demonstrates a financial transaction. In a sense, the boy buys the candy on credit, thus representing capitalism at its most essential. The chocolate is a luxury, and the boy extends himself further than he can in order to attain it. Most people cannot afford to buy the most expensive things they own; credit in one form or another becomes necessary for the procurement of those luxuries on an immediate timeframe.
Finally, the candy symbolizes the boy's desire to please his date as well as the financial undertones to traditional gender roles. Because the speaker is a boy, he is implicitly expected to be able to provide for the girl. He demonstrates this ability of his by buying her the chocolate bar, even though, in reality, he does not pay for it in full. Thus, the boy's financial success in this moment is merely an illusion. He is merely playing at the role of a man, which underscores his young age and naïveté in this moment.
As we have seen in the example above, the candy bar suggests the boy's naïveté as he tries (and ultimately fails) to take on the role of man-as-provider. In the same way, the girl's makeup symbolizes her naïveté as she tries to fulfill the expectations for women on this date. The fact that she merely brushes rouge on her cheeks suggests that the girl does not usually put on makeup in her daily life. Thus, the makeup is transformative: in a sense, she is putting on a costume in order to play the part in this scene. The application of makeup has transformed the girl into a young woman, and she is now an object of desire for the young boy. Eventually, this turns the girl into the speaker's girl ("my girl," line 46).
Additionally, the makeup on the girl's cheeks symbolizes her youth and vitality, which stands out against their dreary surroundings. Her cheeks exude warmth despite the coldness outside, bringing life into the scene and drawing the speaker's attention.
Oranges Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Oranges is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I think the line suggests that the boy knew the store clerk would understand that he did not have enough money for the chocolate that the girl picked. Indeed, the store clerk did understand and accepted the orange as partial payment for the candy....