Oranges Themes

The main themes in “Oranges” are coming of age, innocence and nostalgia, and learning the power of self.

  • Coming of age: The poem frames the central first-date narrative as an important moment of maturation.
  • Innocence and nostalgia: The poem is told in the past tense by an older version of the speaker, lending the poem a sense of retrospection and nostalgia.
  • Learning the power of self: During the poem’s narrative, the speaker overcomes his doubts and discovers his abilities.


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Last Updated on July 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 667

Coming of Age

“Oranges” involves the very first walk taken by the speaker and the girl. So, too, does the poem involve an emotional journey on behalf of the speaker. This first date is a milestone in the adolescent journey towards maturity. Through the physical act of journeying together, both the girl and the speaker embark upon a journey of maturity. 

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In particular, the speaker’s emotional development is emphasized. He is picking up the girl at her house by himself, paying for her candy and improvising when he does not have enough change to cover it, and boldly referring to her as “my girl” by the end of the poem. The speaker navigates these exciting and nerve-wracking situations with good intentions. He is just beginning to understand the twists and turns of the road to maturity. Therefore, Soto’s poem represents both a physical journey—the young couple’s walk together—and their metaphorical movement towards adulthood. The poem ends with a sense that this journey has only just begun.

Innocence and Nostalgia

The poem itself is retrospective, and this is most clearly indicated in the first line: “The first time I walked / With a girl, I was twelve.” This signals that the speaker is reflecting on an experience from the first-person point of view. Specifically, this is an experience that has already happened. Therefore, this poem is a recollection and remembrance of the speaker’s first date. There is a lens of nostalgia applied here since this is not a direct event but a retelling of it. There are several manifestations of innocence—such as the speaker’s partially paying with an orange—that invite a nostalgic reading. “Oranges” remains upbeat and inviting, despite the stresses described, such as not having enough money to pay for something in front of a romantic interest. The innocence of embarking on a first date with uncertainty and anticipation is communicated throughout the poem.

Homework Help

Latest answer posted November 7, 2015, 3:37 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Innocence is often appreciated in hindsight, as it is difficult to realize what you do not know before you know it. “Oranges” is all the more endearing because this young boy and girl have hardly any idea how innocent they are—they have no reference for this. Here is where nostalgia comes in again. As one gets older, one can only look back with the tools one has at that given point. 

One such truth that only emerges in retrospect is that youth is fleeting. This is not a bad thing; in fact, it is exciting, according to the poem. It is only a reminder that even though adolescence feels like it lasts forever, one can eventually look back on it with fondness and a sense of poignancy.

Learning the Power of Self

Soto’s speaker seems to learn a powerful lesson throughout the poem: each person has access to a latent inner power. The young boy goes about a relatively mundane and simple evening by walking and going to the drug store with the girl he likes. But by the end of the poem, he encounters an almost spiritual power in himself. This magic is found partially through the boy’s earnest attitude. He approaches this first date with the girl with excitement, wholeheartedness, and anticipation. He is eager to make her happy and to make the most out of a chilly December evening. There is no outside force responsible for the boy’s attitude; it seems as if it is all his own. From the first moments of the poem, the boy makes no complaints about the weather. Further on, he does not disappoint the girl by telling her he cannot afford the candy she picks. Later, his orange peelings look like he is starting a fire in his hands, doing so with magic and excitement. Although Soto does not explain this striking final image, it seems to represent the speaker’s joyful realization of his abilities and the confidence attained from having succeeded in providing the girl with the chocolate she desired.

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