What is the diction used in "Oranges" by Gary Soto?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Diction in literature refers to how a poet carefully chooses words for a specific tone.  Tone is the author’s attitude toward the subject.  For instance, look at the description of the boy being “weighted down” with oranges.  This is diction, because oranges do not really weigh much.  That word choice draws attention to the oranges, and their emotional meaning to the boy.  Consider this excerpt.

Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,

The words “cracking” and “before me” and “gone” are all highly emotionally charged words.  The word “cracking” is a sensory detail that enhances the tension in the scene, which is already felt by the boy, who is weighed down by his oranges.

Another excellent example of diction is the fact that he describes her face as “rouge.”  This is a color that means red, which her face is because of the weather.  However, it is one commonly used to describe makeup, and a more sophisticated color used by adults.  In doing it, he is showing his attraction to her, and elevating her as an object of desire.

Diction is incredibly important in poetry, because poets have very few words to use.  There is an economy to poetry.  In poetry, you are fitting words into syllables and lines.  You have to choose them for their emotional impact as well as where they fit into the structure of the syllabication, so that the sound of the poem is what you want it to be.  Soto is trying to sound like a teenage boy.  He wants a simple, subtle quality to this poem.  There are minute details of sophistication in certain words, like “rogue” and “tiered,” where an adult speaker seems to shine through.  However, it is definitely a teenager’s sentiments that we are experiencing and reliving.

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