Themes and Meanings
Using formal stylistics, Wilbur contrasts the reserved, controlled world of the stock-boy’s everyday life, a world over which he has little authority, with the highly imaginative, sensually charged world of the magazines he reads when he thinks no one sees him. The stock-boy believes that he can possess the woman, although he cannot. Her smile is studied, her skin is “strangely like a uniform.” The woman offers him nothing that she does not similarly offer anyone who has the money to purchase the magazine. Although Wilbur risks having a knowing laugh at the stock-boy’s expense, the poet does not ridicule him. Instead, Wilbur uses great tenderness in describing the helplessness of the young man.
Wilbur suggests that the world of the imagination contains lessons that each person must learn. The imagination is a safe place for the stock-boy, as no one is harmed by his self-absorbed musings. By contrasting the two worlds, Wilbur heightens the boy’s need to pass through one world in order to fully grasp whom he must become in the next. As a poet, Wilbur owns both sources of knowledge—that which youth is eager to find out through the energy-driven need to conquer the world, and that which age supplies through experience.