Olds’ Effective Use of Linking Devices in The Elder Sister

Olds’ Effective Use of Linking Devices in The Elder Sister

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When writing poetry, there are many descriptive methods an author may employ to communicate an idea or concept to their audience. One of the more effective methods that authors often use is linking devices, such as metaphors and similes. Throughout “The Elder Sister,” Olds uses linking devices effectively in many ways. An effective image Olds uses is that of “the pressure of Mother’s muscles on her brain,” (5) providing a link to the mother’s expectations for her children. She also uses images of water and fluidity to demonstrate the natural progression of a child into womanhood. Another image is that of the speaker’s elder sister as a metaphorical shield, the one who protected her from the mental strain inflicted by their mother.
Old’s metaphor of “the pressure of Mother’s muscles on her brain,” (5) compares the literal pressure of the mother’s muscles during childbirth to the mental strain that a child can endure from their parent’s expectations for their children. This is an effective metaphor in that both meanings can cause some form of strain, either physical of mental, on the daughter. Also, in both cases, this pain is caused by the speaker’s mother and inflicted on the eldest daughter. The third similarity between the two is that both are in some way lessening the effect on the younger sister. In the case of childbirth, the first birth is usually more difficult than each successive birth. In the sense of the Mother’s expectations for her daughters, the eldest child often receives the brunt of the parent’s vicarious aspirations, thus making it easier for the younger children to please them. Because these linked meanings share these characteristics, Olds’ metaphor is effective.
Another linking device that is used effectively is the simile linking a young woman coming of age and developing breasts to a swan rising out of a pond. These two entities are linked in that both rise slowly over time. When a swan awakens, it slowly raises its head from its body, in the same fashion that the breasts of a woman raise from her chest when she comes of age. The two are also similar in color, as a swan’s down is white or pale cream colored and skin that has not been darkened by the sun is often very pale. The third similarity in the two entities is the texture. Both the down feathers of a swan and the skin of a woman’s breast are soft and smooth to the touch.

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By comparing the two entities in this manner, we can see the effectiveness of the simile.
A well chosen metaphor in the poem is to compare the speaker’s elder sister to a shield like those used by the knights of old. Both the shield and the speaker’s sister come before whatever it is they protect. In the case of the sister, she came before the speaker in that she was the first born. A shield is literally held before the bearer to protect them from harm. On that note, each entity also protects someone from harm. In many families, the elder siblings do what they can to protect their siblings, and this seems especially true in the poem, as the elder sister ‘shields’ the speaker from the harm inflicted by their mother. The metaphor is also effective in that the shield is often damaged to protect the one who bears it. As previously stated, the speaker’s elder sister took the brunt of the Mother’s vicarious aspirations, much in the manner that a knight’s shield would take the blows of a sword to lessen the effect on the knight. Through these comparisons, we can see that Olds has used the metaphor effectively.
Throughout the poem, Olds has used the linking devices of metaphor and simile quite persuasively. In the metaphor of the “Mother’s muscles on her brain,” (5) Olds compares the physical pressure of childbirth to the strain of the Mother’s expectations for her children. She also effectively uses simile in the comparison of the development of a young woman’s breasts to the rising of a swan on a pond. The most effective linking device in the poem is the metaphorical image of the speaker’s elder sister as a shield for the speaker. Through the analysis of these three examples, we can see that Olds has effectively used linking devices in “The Elder Sister.”
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