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"Rites of Passage" by Sharon Olds.

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"Rites of Passage" by Sharon Olds.

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  • May 22, 2003
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Rites of Passage

A poem by Sharon Olds

Minor Generals - By Henning Thiel

Sharon Olds' "Rites of Passage" is about the hidden adults in the children that come to her son's birthday party. All the children are boys and display male adult personality traits that remind the speaker of small mighty Generals of war. The tone comes across sad, ironic and disillusioned about the future of the children, like they are doomed to follow in the war mongering footsteps of their forefathers. The imagery used complements the idea of war and the poetic form comes across somewhat unorganized, like the turmoil of a battle.

Olds' creates a persona in "Rites of Passage" that examines the character traits of the 6 to 7 year old party guests and seems to be sad about the loss of innocence she can already see in the children. She describes them young, small and fragile, yet they behave like fighting men, frowning bankers and aggressive generals. She seems to be emotionally torn between what she examines now and what she remembers about her son being born; realizing the difference of the innocence then and the loss of at least part of it, now.

She writes in a visually descriptive language. She describes the children, with their hands in their pockets, their smooth jaws and chins, their freckles, their shortness and she uses simile and connotations in her poetic language. She writes: "My son, [...] chest narrow as the balsa keel of a model boat [...] (765)," suggesting that while he pretends to have this tough adult exterior, he is still fragile underneath. She also compares the birthday cake to a weapon of war, a turret, maybe on top of a tank, like it is on top of the table.

Olds' poetic form [or lack thereof] can be viewed as the turmoil on a battlefield or the organized mess of a children's birthday party. Her sentence structure doesn't rhyme, varies in length and in meaning, sometimes examining the children, other times her own feelings. Some of her sentences are...