Study Guide

Blood Oranges

by Lisel Mueller

Blood Oranges Themes


In “Blood Oranges,” the poem’s narrator presents a time in her childhood when, living in Germany, she was unaware of events during the Spanish Civil War that led to the death of Federico García Lorca, a great poet. It describes how she sat eating an orange that had been imported from Spain, reading mediocre German poetry. She seems to regret having been ignorant. The phrase “ignorant” has come to have a negative meaning because it has been used as an insult in recent decades, but the true, basic meaning is that one is unaware. Twice, the speaker points out her childhood ignorance while using strong, defensive language. In line 3 she asks, rhetorically, “what did I know about the war in Spain?” Readers can tell from the way the question is put that she knew nothing about the war, but phrasing it this way implies that the speaker feels a need to point out her ignorance as a child and to make readers admit that her lack of knowledge was a natural thing, that there would be no reason to think that she would have any awareness of the political situation in a foreign land. The second time that her ignorance comes up, it is phrased in an even more self-conscious, defensive way. “No one told me about a poet” she says in line 7, as if to excuse her own ignorance by blaming someone else’s inefficiency. In line 10, the poem calms its defensive tone a little and sets out to explain exactly what it was that the child did know to give readers a sense of how ignorant she was. Though readers probably would not blame a child for failing to keep up with international politics, the tone that this poem takes when pointing out its speaker’s childhood ignorance implies that she regrets that ignorance, that she feels the need to be defensive about it because it bothers her.

As opposed to the speaker’s youthful ignorance, which she regrets, this poem makes use of the purity of childhood to contrast the horrors of the totalitarian Spanish and German governments. The detail that is given about the child’s process of eating the oranges, which were, for her, a rare treat, indicates that she really had no sense of the horrors that were being inflicted by either Hitler or Franco on their respective countries, that she was untouched by worldly evil. The images from the German poem that is...

(The entire section is 957 words.)