Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 209

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.

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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.

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