The One Girl at the Boys Party Summary
by Sharon Olds

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The One Girl at the Boys Party Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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In the slender action of the twenty-one lines that make up “The One Girl at the Boys Party,” Olds combines three patterns of imagery that underscore the speaker’s recognition of her daughter’s approaching maturity. In the poem, the speaker (that this is the mother is never explicitly stated) takes the girl, a superior math student, to a swimming party where boys immediately surround her. The speaker sees the young people dive into the pool and imagines her daughter working math problems in her head to calculate her relationship to the diving board and the gallons of water in the pool. The girl’s suit has a pattern of hamburgers and french fries printed on it, and when she climbs from the pool, her ponytail will hang wet down her back. The speaker knows that as the girl looks at the boys, she will be recognizing the appeal of their masculinity.

One element of the poem’s language concerns the childishness of the young girl. The speaker calls her “my girl,” as if she is a small child, and places her at the pool party as if she were an infant. Although she will soon become a woman, her appearance is childish, too. The hamburger-and-fries pattern of her bathing suit, her ponytail, and the sweetness of her face all suggest a very young child.

This girl, however, is no fool, as her mother knows. Humorously, the speaker imagines the girl’s math scores unfolding around her in the air, and mathematics makes up the second significant element of the poem’s language. Not only do her math scores follow her to the party, but her quick mind can also make calculations about the pool at the same time she is diving into it. Moreover, she can calculate the interesting qualities of the young men around her. At this point, the poem’s mathematical diction merges with the sexual.

Early in the poem, the speaker compared the girl’s sleek, hard body to a prime number. Now she sees the girl’s face as a factor of one, as the girl evaluates the boys in numerical terms—eyes and legs, two each; the “curves of their sexes, one each.” The speaker knows that this recognition will lead the girl to more interesting calculations, “wild multiplying.”

The language of male and female has been present from the poem’s start. The boys are early described as “bristling”; the girl is “sleek.” So it is no surprise that the end of the poem reveals the...

(The entire section is 596 words.)