Sharon Olds: Poems

Simultaneous Rites of Passage for Mother and Son College

In "Rites of Passage" Sharon Olds honestly portrays her own struggles with understanding manhood and attempting to overcome her contempt for conventional modes of masculinity by alternating between visions of her son as a baby and the children at the party as men.

From associating her objective observations of her son’s male friends with the memory of giving birth to her son and observing that his hands are as “thin and cool as the day they guided him out of [her],” Olds displays the obstacle to come to terms with the images presented before her, which is the core of her poem. This struggle is prescribed by the time the poem was written, in the early 1980’s as a part of The Dead and the Living published in 1984. In the 1980’s, feminism had experienced an unprecedented degree of progress in terms of women’s sexual awareness and openness, and their openness about wifehood and motherhood (Yalom Chapter 10). At a time when peoples’ worst fears about the extent of the sexual revolution were being confirmed and women also felt freer to discuss their perspectives on motherhood, myth met with reality (Yalom 375). Responses to studies and polls showed that women were becoming less content with taking on traditional roles of...

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