Loss of Innocence in Rite of Passage by Sharon Olds

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Loss of Innocence in Rite of Passage by Sharon Olds

A rite of passage is defined as a ceremony marking a significant transition or an important event or achievement, both regarded as having great meaning in lives of individuals. In Sharon Olds' moving poem "Rite of Passage", these definitions are illustrated in the lives of a mother and her seven-year-old son. The seriousness and significance of these events are represented in the author's tone, which undergoes many of its own changes as the poem progresses.

From its title, the tone of the poem is already set as serious, and we know there will be a significant event taking place in someone's life. As earlier stated, a rite of passage is an important ceremony or a life changing event. Thus, we can infer that the poem's meaning will be important and serious. In the first line, "As the guests arrive at my son's party" the use of the word "guests", as opposed to the use of words like kids or boys or children, represents a more mature and serious feeling, more so than one would expect at a child's birthday party. Though it is a party, we don't feel any of the lighthearted, rambunctious excitement we would expect to find. Olds has set the tone as serious from that moment on, and it only becomes increasing so as we read on.

Most of us can easily picture a typical child's party, loud and hyper boys running about, noise and fun and screaming kids and chaos, but this party seems to be viewed differently by the mother. It is a more serious and quiet event. She sees the boys as "short men" gathering in the living room, not as children having fun. The children seems subdued to us, with "hands in pockets". It is almost as if they are waiting, as the readers are, for something of imp...

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... the model boat. In fact, the mother even recollects how like an infant he still is as she reflects on his birth and "the day they guided him out of me", representing her denial at her son's pending adulthood.

The son's rite of passage to manhood, his acceptance as the role of host and peacemaker and unifier, is a shocking one to both speaker and reader. To unite his comrades, he comments "We could easily kill a two-year-old" and the tone of the poem changes finally to one of heartlessness at the blunt brutality of the statement. The mother realizes then that the young boys, the future "Generals" who will soon live as men do "playing war", are far from innocent. Her rite of passage is a complete and sad transition from the mother of a child that she has some control over to the parent of a independent man, who will make his own choices and fight his own battles.

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