Rites of Passage by Sharon Olds

It would be impossible to go through life without attending at least a single children’s party. In these special occasions one scarcely remembers the details, just the assessment at the end of the day whether the food was good or if it was fun. But for poet and writer extraordinaire, Sharon Olds, she did not only remember the minutest detail – for instance the shape and design of the dark chocolate cake – but also the intricacies of schoolboy behavior. While everyone was distracted with the bewildering whirl of childhood activity, the poet discovered that there is more than meets the eye.

In the opening part, the first two verses introduced the poem without fanfare. The author simply stated that she was hosting a party for her son. The visitors came and went straight to the living room. There was no additional information with regards to the demographics of the incoming guests. It is fair to assume therefore based on what was given that majority were boys, all first-graders and their age range, between six and seven. Before going any further it is interesting to note the amazing display of skills; the author was able to describe the setting and the major characters involved using only a few words.

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It is only in poetry, where the suggestion to read between the lines should be followed at all times. Heeding the aforementioned advice one can see how Olds skillfully chose words to create a double entendre. The first example of this technique can be seen as early as the third line of the poem when she when she used the term “short men” to describe her son’s guests. The intended effect was to make the reader to see the outward appearance first. They were short and since they were of normal height then they must be children.

But immediately afterwards the author offered another description, they were men. The adults inside the house could only see boys but the author saw something else. She saw a glimpse of their future. She realized that even at such a young age the boys are already showing off an inner fire, a competitive spirit that would later on help them in their life’s quest or bring them to ruin. After an uneventful introduction, the atmosphere began to get tense. The other adults inside the house were oblivious to the ensuing power play between little men.

They were jockeying for place, jostling to occupy a prime spot inside the house – near the toys or the TV set. Others saw children playing but Olds was certain that they were role playing practicing for the day when they will be asked to play the adult version characterized by an executive initiating a hostile takeover of a rival company, a general barking orders or a banker evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of a proposed deal. The children’s version of a power play does not require money or complicated paperwork but the effect is as intense.

One kid tried to appraise the pros and cons of challenging a playmate and demanded to know his age. The one being interviewed answered six and hoping to intimidate the boy in front of him, the interviewer confidently declared, “I’m seven. ” Sensing that the older fellow is ready to go for the kill the younger boy curtly retorted, “So? ” It was a verbal slugfest and at the same time, demonstrating their ability to initiate psychological warfare. Since they were still young and not yet fully matured they could not continue to act like adults and continue to pretend that everything is all right.

One of the “short men” had to express what he felt, he had to release the pressure building up inside him and approaching one boy he said, “I could beat you up. ” One can almost be sure that no is going to back down from such a challenge. After a while a new game is in progress. The author’s son mindful of his role as the host was up to the challenge of leading his men. But before going into the middle of the action, Olds had to first highlight the frailty of his son and yet with such small frame he declared, “We could easily kill a two-year old. ” Nothing to fear it was only a game but Olds knew there is something more than that.

Underneath the facade these “short men” are showing everyone what they are made of. But no one noticed this plea for attention everyone thought that they were simply acting out as boys. Conclusion In one Al Pachino movie where he played the role of a CIA counter-intelligence expert, he uttered a memorable line that goes something like this, “I am a scary judge of character. ” No one knows if Al Pachino in real life can substantiate his character’s boast but one can be sure that Sharon Olds is one scary judge of character. She seems to know more about human nature than the average person.

In a crowded house where children are playing she saw the meaning behind their actions. It has been said that for a child it is not simply a game. Their actions in a party, in the playground and in the classroom are done with purpose. They may not be fully aware of the extent of their actions but they are preparing for something. In fact by observing how children play one can tell if this one is a future leader or if this one will grow up to be an expert negotiator. When Olds used her power of observation she did not see mere children, she saw future bankers and generals.