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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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"Olds’ Effective Use of Linking Devices in The Elder Sister." 123HelpMe.com. 19 May 2019
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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.”