How does imagery contribute to the developing theme in "The One Girl at the Boy's Party"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The controlling metaphor of "The One Girl at the Boy's Party" is mathematics as the speaker's girl (some interpret the subject of the poem as a mother taking her daughter to the pool) has "math scores" that unfold around her when she appears at the swimming pool and dives in, dividing the water into molecules:

...she'll subtract
her height from ten feet, divide it into 
hundreds of gallons of water, the numbers
bouncing in her mind like molecules of chorine

Mathematics also works for the boys who see her, although from the first they perceive her "indivisible as a prime number." This metaphor of mathematics, then, works to develop the emerging theme of eroticism as when the girl surfaces from the water she views the boys in numerical sequence and parts, and when she views certain curves upon their bodies, she, too, does some erotic calculating as well. 

Just as mathematical figuring leads to a determinant, both the boys and the girl reach a sensual determinant as the poem ends. It is this mathematical diction which develops the theme of sexual attraction. Interestingly, while the girl thinks deductively, beginning with her total "math scores" and arriving at the vision of the boys' "eyes, two each,/their legs, two each, and the curves of their sexes,/one each," the boys have begun with inductive thinking as they see her first as a whole, "her body hard and indivisible as a prime number." Even when she emerges, they are still thinking in concepts of a whole: "they will see her sweet face, solemn and/sealed, a factor of one." 

Contributing to the theme of emerging sexual interest in the girl are three images:

  1. The swimming pool in which the girl plunges and, in her mind, divides it into molecules of chlorine just as she will divide the boys into parts when she emerges from the water after her "baptism" of sexual awakening.
  2. Hamburgers and french fries, the pattern on her "narrow silk suit." While silk is a fabric that more mature women wear, and also a sensual fabric, the juvenile pattern contrasts with this material, perhaps, then, connoting the girl's nascent sensual development.
  3. The girl's ponytail, which "hang(s) its pencil lead/down her back"--an erotic image, connoting her sensual awakening, as well.
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The One Girl at the Boys Party

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