On the Subway

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Thesis: Sharon Olds in, On the Subway, organizes the poem in three parts to present the contrasting lives of a Caucasian woman and an African American boy, which displays the narrator’s realization of the bond they share because of their similar fear of each other.

In the first several lines, Olds presents the setting of the subway car, and the separation between its passengers. A notable simile illustrates the obvious differences between the white narrator and the boy, “His feet are huge, in black sneakers laced with white in a complex pattern like a set of international scars.” The stereotype of the boy’s “huge” feet helps the readers understand the ethnicity of the boy. The laces represent the whip strokes “black” slaves received on their backs in the time of slavery. The “white” laces also symbolize the white people’s control on the lives of black people. Shoes would be useless without the tightening of the laces. The “intentional” scars demonstrate the deliberate force white people manipulate for their own good. This visual imagery contributes in setting the oppressive mood between the travelers. Similar to society, the two are described as “stuck on opposite sides” of the car because of their racial differences. The narrator’s portrayal of the boy shows her fear of him, “He has the casual cold look of a mugger, alert under hooded lids.” She again categorizes him with a stereotype, based off of his “cold” and isolated features, of black people as more likely to perform misdemeanors. This defensive technique proves her fear of the boy because of his ethnicity. She calls him a “mugger”, a “hooded” thief, ready to steal what she owns. The negative visual imagery here displays the dark personality of the boy and the fearful tone.

The fearful tone shifts in the second section. She views the situation through introspective thinking, instead of typecasting the boy. She feels quite uncertain stating, “I don’t know if I am in his power- he could take my coat so...
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