Sharon Olds' The Possessive

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The Possessive

Teenage rebellion is typically portrayed in stories, films, and other genres as a testosterone-based phenomenon. There is an overplayed need for one to acknowledge a boy’s rebellion against his father, his life direction, the “system,” in an effort to become a man, or rather an adult. However, rarely is the female addressed in such a scenario. What happens when little girls grow up? Do they rebel? Do they, in a sudden overpowering rush of estrogen, deny what has been taught to them from birth and shed their former youthful façades? Do they turn on their mothers? In Sharon Olds’ poem, “The Possessive,” the reader is finally introduced to the female version of the popular coming-of-age theme as a simple haircut becomes a symbol for the growing breach between mother and daughter through the use of striking images and specific word choice.

Olds begins the correlation of the daughter’s haircut and the idea of war early on in the poem. The reader is first exposed to the comparison in the line, “that girl with the hair wispy as a frayed bellpull/ has been to the barber, that knife grinder/ and has had the edge of her hair sharpened.” Olds immediately conjures up a frightful image of a barber viciously attacking her little girl’s hair. The image is enforced with the words Olds has placed carefully within the line. Instead of cutting her daughter’s hair, the barber sharpens it like one would a weapon. This haircut is the daughter’s first weapon in the war between mother and daughter. The haircut will be the first detachment of the daughter from her youth, the former “wispy” haired girl has in essence been murdered by the barber. To further emphasize this horrible image, Olds sneaks ...

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...ther is losing her daughter to time and circumstance. The mother can no longer apply the word “my” when referring to the daughter for the daughter has become her own person. This realization is a frightening one to the mother who then quickly dives back into her surreal vision of the daughter now being a new enemy in a world already filled with evils. In this way it is easier for the mother to acknowledge the daughter as a threat rather than a loss. However, this is an issue that Olds has carefully layered beneath images of war, weapons, and haircuts.

Overall, “The Possessive” is a story of a mother coming to terms with the inevitable decay of a relationship with her daughter as her baby girl. The daughter will always have a mother, but the mother will some day be forced to lose her child. Youth and innocence are the only casualties in this war.

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