Oranges Summary

Oranges” is a 1983 poem by Gary Soto about a young boy and girl going on a first date.

  • It is a cold winter day when the speaker, a twelve-year-old boy, meets his date.
  • The boy and girl go to a drug store, where he attempts to buy her a chocolate. Lacking enough money, he barters one of his oranges.
  • Having given his date the chocolate, the boy takes her hand. When he unpeels his remaining orange, it looks like “a fire in his hands.”


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Last Updated on July 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 672


“Oranges” by Gary Soto was published in 1985 in a collection titled Black Hair. It was republished in a later collection, New and Selected Poems, in 1995. “Oranges” is a narrative poem that touches on youth, memory, and happiness. The poem centers around a twelve-year-old version of Soto himself.


“Oranges” begins with Soto’s speaker describing the first time he walked with a girl on a date. This first experience happened when the speaker was twelve; he is telling this story at an undisclosed older age. He recalls being cold and feeling weighed down, partly because of the presence of two oranges sitting in his jacket pocket. Soto’s speaker continues remembering the scene as if he has been transported back in time. The winter is in full swing; it is December when this first meaningful walk occurs. The frost “crackles” on the ground and the speaker’s breath disappears into the cold air. He does not seem to be bothered by the cold, though he certainly takes note of it. Through this chilly weather, the speaker is making his way toward the girl’s house.

He arrives at the girl’s house, recognizing it as the one with a porch light that burns yellow, regardless of the weather or time of day. The speaker steps onto the porch to pick up the girl. A dog begins barking. The girl comes outside to the porch, pulling on her gloves and halting the dog’s barking with her presence. Her face is bright with rouge, the speaker recalls, and he smiles at her. He touches her shoulder and leads her down the street.

On their walk, the pair passes a used car lot and a line of newly planted trees. They continue walking until they are “breathing” in front of a drug store. As they enter the drug store, a bell on the door dings and alerts the saleslady of their presence. She makes her way down an aisle of goods at the sound of the bell. The speaker turns to the candy aisle, which seems quite expansive to him. He compares the candy-lined shelves to bleachers in a stadium. He asks the girl what she would like and silently feels for the nickel he has in his pocket. This is his budget for the date. With light in her eyes, the girl smiles, and he watches as it starts at the corners of her mouth. She holds up a chocolate that costs a dime—more than he can afford—but the boy does not say anything about it. He has not given her a price range for her treat.

Up at the counter, the boy goes to pay for the chocolate. He pulls out his nickel and one of the oranges in his pocket and sets them quietly on the counter. Again, he does not say anything to the saleslady. The saleslady also does not say anything; she accepts the orange and nickel and seems to understand the boy’s situation. The two have not verbally communicated, yet have had an unspoken conversation. She does not seem bothered by the boy’s unique form of payment and does not scold the two of them. The quiet interaction within the drug store has ended in the boy’s favor: he has given the girl a gift as he intended.

The only break in the poem occurs in line forty-three, with an indentation that separates the final thirteen lines of the work. Now, the boy and the girl have left the drug store and are standing outside. He takes the girl’s hand for the next two blocks and refers to her as “my girl” as he tells this part of the story. He then releases her hand so she can unwrap her chocolate. The speaker begins to peel his one remaining orange. Compared to the dark December gloom, the orange is starkly bright and colorful. The orange is so bright, in fact, that the speaker likens it to a fire in his hands.

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