The Elder Sister
When people are the youngest child, they may hold disdain for their eldest siblings because they experience life first and are noticed more for what occurs in their life. Because the eldest child goes head-first into life, they are the ones who receive the most reactions and effects. Sharon Olds communicates this theme in the poem “The Elder Sister.” The speaker of the poem is the younger sibling sharing her feelings and thoughts toward her elder sister. She feels jealousy toward her, but also views her as the protector.
Figure of speech, rhyme, and irony is used to show how the elder sister is the first to bloom and receive a greater reaction than her younger sister. The figure of speech, simile, is used when the speaker is comparing the growth of hers and her sister's body. The speaker says, “I look at her / body and think how her breasts were the first to / rise, slowly, like swans on a pond” (11-13). The simile in this quote is the elder sister's breast being compared to swans. The speaker is explaining her sister's transformation from childhood to womanhood as beautiful, because swans are symbolic for beauty and transformation. However, she continues to say, "By the time mine came along, they were just / two more birds on the flock,” (14-15) revealing that the growth of her own breasts is not as special to, most likely, her parents, since they already witnessed her elder sister's growth first and know what to expect. The poem's rhyme scheme helps demonstrate this theme. In line 14, the speaker mentions entering puberty and uses the words “time” and “mine” as near rhymes, which suggest that her breasts forming isn't exactly astonishing, but the exact rhyme words “mound” and “ground” in lines 16-17 are perfect, matching sounds, which represents the elder sister's exciting transformation. Line 13 includes some internal rhymes, such as the alliteration of the “s” in “slowly” and “swans,” and the consonance of the letter “n” inside them, both...
Cited: Olds, Sharon. "The Elder Sister." Reading and Writing from Literature, 3rd ed. Ed. John Schwiebert. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. 381.
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