The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In “Oranges,” Gary Soto conveys an achingly accurate portrayal of adolescent angst involving a young boy’s first date and first love. As with many of his poems, such as “Home Course in Religion,” “Black Hair,” “The Plum’s Heart,” and “Walking with Jackie, Sitting with a Dog,” Soto relies more on images and the repetition of images—in this poem, oranges—and short, succinct phrases to unify his poem rather than a particular rhyme scheme.

This short narrative poem chronologically follows a twelve-year-old boy’s journey to meet his first date. By using first-person point of view, Soto personalizes this particular experience and establishes an immediate intimacy with his audience, as they recognize the inherent affinity with the subject. The audience experiences the young person’s timidity, apprehension, and sense of joy as he prepares to meet his first date.

With a tone that is more reflective and gentle than in many of his earlier poems, especially those in The Elements of San Joaquin (1977), Soto conveys the poignancy and frailty of first love, articulating this frailty by juxtaposing the warmth and temerity of the young boy’s feelings with the cold, external environment of December. This contrast between humans and nature begins as the boy sets out to meet his date: “frost cracking/ Beneath my steps, my breath/ Before me then gone.” Despite the cold and sometimes harsh environment, it does not...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Soto is at his best when he delves into particular events and universalizes them for the reader in language that is simple and direct rather than abstract and honest rather than pretentious, and it is this structural form that dominates and influences the success of “Oranges.” The language and the form of the poem—brief, succinct lines with very few dashes and commas and even fewer periods—emphasize the brevity of the experience: a moment in time, a brief slice of life. The structural technique that reinforces the brevity of the moment is called enjambment, the process of continuing a thought from one line to the next without stopping or pausing. The form also reinforces the young boy’s apprehension, excitement, and innocence and the purity of the situation. While Soto uses many images to portray the thrill and angst of a first date, the dominant images are those associated with cold and warmth.

From the very first line of the poem, Soto contrasts the pervasive power of the cold, external environment with the vulnerability and warmth of the twelve-year-old boy. It is a cold December day; frost cracks beneath his feet, and “dogs bark,” yet he carries something warm and bright within him as symbolized by the two oranges he secretly keeps hidden and protected from the cold, unfeeling environment.

Because the oranges are not in season, they, too, like the boy’s feelings, are vulnerable to the cold. If taken out and exposed too quickly to the elements, they would wither and lose their warmth. Just as his pocket protects the oranges, so, too, does he...

(The entire section is 647 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Blasingame, James. “Interview with Gary Soto.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 47 (November, 2003): 266-267.

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Patricide and Resurrection: Gary Soto.” In Chicano Poetry: A Response to Chaos. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.

Candelaria, Cordelia. Chicano Poetry. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Cooley, Peter. “I Can Hear You Now.” Parnassus 8, no. 1 (1979): 297-311.

De la Fuentes, Patricia. “Mutability and Stasis: Images of Time in Gary Soto’s Black Hair.” American Review 16 (1988): 188-197.

Murphy, Patricia. “Inventing Lunacy: An Interview with Gary Soto.” Hayden’s Ferry Review 18 (Spring/Summer, 1996): 29-37.

Olivares, Julián. “The Streets of Gary Soto.” Latin American Literary Review 18 (January-June, 1990): 32-49.

Soto, Gary. “The Childhood Worries: Or, Why I Became a Writer.” Iowa Review 25 (Spring/Summer, 1995): 104-115.

Williamson, Alan. “In a Middle Style.” Poetry 135 (March, 1980): 348-354.