“The One Girl at the Boys Party” is a poem by Sharon Olds. Whilst on the surface it seems to be merely a description of a girl, who is the only girl at a party attended by boys, the reader quickly develops a sense that there is more to the poem than just that. Through the use of symbols, the poet tries to convey a much deeper message. This makes these symbols universal, as they can be applied to many aspects of life, not just the scenario described in the poem.
The main symbol used throughout the poem is mathematics. The poet uses various mathematical terms in order to describe what is going on in the poem. Words like “prime number,” “subtract,” and “divide” are clearly references to the language of mathematics.
Many people in society are trying to manipulate others with their behavior, which is why they are often referred to as calculating people. The girl in the poem seems to calculate constantly, which is why mathematics could be seen as a universal symbol for this kind of behavior. Whilst the girl is currently innocently playing with the boys, she will soon grow up to learn that she can manipulate boys through the carefully calculated use of her body.
Another universal symbol used in this poem is the swimwear. The poet uses the swimwear as a symbol for growing up, as it is used to describe both elements of childhood and adulthood. The poet tells us that the girl’s swimsuit has “hamburgers and french fries printed on it.” Judging by this innocent choice of design, the poet wants to illustrate that this girl is still a young and relatively innocent girl. However, when observing the swimming gear of the boys, the narrator of the poem refers to “the curves of their sexes” being visible. This is a clear indication of the fact that soon these boys will grow up to be young men. This means they will ultimately lose their ability to see a girl as just a playmate, as their slowly developing sex drive will soon ruin their innocence.