The Possessive - Empty Nest

The Possessive - Empty Nest

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The Possessive - Empty Nest  

A nest lies empty on top a forked branch of an old oak tree. Last spring children play, young lovers whisper into each others ear, and the elderly relax under that tree. When they do, they can hear the quiet chirps of little hungry baby blue-jays. The little blue-jays chirp until the mother blue-jay returns with food . Afterwards, one attempts to fly and fall out of the nest. The mother blue-jay then quickly swoops down and catches the little one before he hits the ground. The baby jay can always depend on his mother when he needs her, but she knows that one day he will no longer rely on her. On that day, instead of plummeting to his death, the young blue-jay will spread his wings and fly away. He will fly straight into the setting sun never looking back. Slowly all of the young will fly away and leave the mother alone in the nest. However, mothers do not always handle this situation calmly. In "The Possessive," Sharon Olds conjures intense images of betrayal and utilizes war as a metaphor to express a mother's emotion as her daughter leaves the nest. The poem reflects the separation anxiety the mother undergoes as she witnesses her daughter mature and distance herself.


To set the mood of the poem, Olds relies heavily on imagery to create the effect. The mother feels betrayed as she watches her daughter slip away from her. Small trivial acts like a simple haircut evoke strong images of discomfort. The barber is described as a "knife grinder" (4) sharpening the edges of her daughter's hair as if they are weapons. Olds slips words such as "slice" and "blade", which thrust images of separation into the mind of the reader. She follows these images with sharp edges and cold steel, and then she tops it off with a blazing, red fire The strong intense color red spills over the lines of the poem as blood of soldiers in a heated battle. The vibrant nature of the color red attracts the human eye creating intense emotions. The intense images express the intensity of the mother's emotions. The imagery in this poem aches the pain and discomfort the mother experiences as mother and daughter prepare for a battle.


The images create the war metaphor presence in the poem.

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Traditionally, military soldiers shave off their hair before they enter the armed services. The daughter evidently undergoes the same tradition when she gets a haircut. Her haircut reflects a preparation for an inevitable conflict between mother and daughter. The daughter stands "in her bright helmet" (15) looking back at her mother from a distance with fire in her eyes. The metaphor amplifies the strong feelings the mother experiences during this phase of her daughter's childhood. The daughter begins to see the world through her own eyes, and she no longer needs the guide of her mother. However, this presents a problem for the mother, which sparks many arguments and confrontations. The war metaphor drafts the frustrations and conflicts that arise during the situation. The mother trapped at bay as she witnesses "the watch fires of an enemy, a while before / the war starts" (19-20).


The mother confuses her feelings, and her feelings come forth in the worst possible scenario. She is more or less at war with herself. When her daughter leaves the nest, the emotions that consequently occur from the change provokes the conflicts. The betrayal that the mother feels broils frustration, which then instigates conflict with the natural feelings her daughter undergoes as she becomes an adult. The problem resolves itself when the mother accepts the change in the mother-daughter relationship and goes on with life. Both sides have a new frontier to explore, but fighting amongst each other will slow down the exploration. The mother must realize that her baby bird leaving the nest, and she just has to accept it as a part of life.


 Works Cited

Olds, Sharon. "The Possessive." Discovering Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays. Ed. Hans P. Guth and Gabrielle L. Rico. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997. 506.


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