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.)