many people can recreate what life was like in a Spanish speaking, neighborhood, barrio, like Gary Soto. Gary Soto was born in Fresno, California to working-class Mexican-American parents in 1952. Soto’s father died when he was 5 years old from a work accident. Soto used this tragedy to help him write later on in life. He grew up working in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley and in factories, so a lot of his poetry is based on everyday experiences for Mexican-Americans like racism, identity and poverty. Soto’s poetry has a narrative quality and usually feels like a story.
Many of Soto’s poems are a recreation f his own past that can transcend down to any generation. One characteristic of Soto’s poem’s is the use of Chicano words which is in his poem “Behind Grandma’s House”. He also uses a lot of enjambment in his poems because the speaker is usually a child or is someone speaking to a child. Additionally, many of Soto’s poems have a reflective tone because his poems are usually autobiographical. Typically Soto writes in free verse about past experiences and life milestones which is the case in his poem “Oranges”.
Gary Soto’s poem “Oranges” is about a man recounting the details of his first date when he was 12 years old. Oranges” represents the theme that innocence of young love allows for no external factors like poverty or expectations to affect them. The speaker of the poem goes through great lengths to ensure his girl is happy. The use of vivid imagery and symbolism of the weather, specifically the sun help support the theme of the poem. From the beginning of the poem the description of the weather appears as “Cold” (Soto In 3) which is different than what would be expected from a poem titled “Oranges”.
Typically a poem with a title like this would be set during the spring or summer but instead it is set in December. This dark and cold weather becomes a contrast to the warm and happy feelings of the speaker from this young love. The speaker continues to describe the frigid weather as “frost cracking,/ beneath my steps”(5) to paint the frosty landscape. When the speaker recalls walking to the girl’s house he remembers the porch light that burned yellow “night and day, in any weather” (11). The speaker’s description of the porch light is similar to how one would describe the sun.
The girl’s face is also described as “bright”(14) like the sun in the midst of this winter under the illuminating porch light. Since there is a comparison made to the girl’s porch light and the girl herself she symbolizes the sun to the speaker because for him all he needs is her to be happy. Later when the girl gets to pick her candy the boy sees the “light in her eyes” (28) this is when he knows he will do anything to keep that light in her eyes going because she provides all the happiness he needs. Even though the speaker may not have enough money for the chocolate he still tries to get it for her by giving up his orange.
He understands that for love sometimes you need to give something up to get something better, no matter the cost. Even the saleslady knew “very well what it was all/ about”(41-42) she had understood what young love was like and she did not want to ruin it for the young couple. Once the speaker and the girl leave the drugstore the description of the frigid weather appears again and there is a new stanza. They hear “cars hissing past” (44) which is an example of auditory imagery. This description of the cars makes the weather seem like it has gotten more extreme.
The simile of “fog hanging like old/ coats between the trees” (45-46) makes the image of the frigid landscape even more lonely. This winter setting amplifies he contrasting warmth of love from the new couple. The speaker’s orange is also described as “bright against/ the gray of December” (52-53). This orange now represents this burning love that overpowers the heavy December. Over the course of their first date their newfound love has in a way burst into flames so it looks like the speaker is making a “fire in my [his] hands”(56).
One prominent pattern of Soto’s poems is his use of enjambment. At the beginning of “Oranges” there is an example of enjambment “The first time I walked” (1) this makes the reader ponder on whether the poem is about a child’s first steps ut as one reads on they realize it is meant to emphasize how important this walk with the girl is. The speaker’s walk with the girl becomes a milestone in the speaker’s life. Another line with enjambment is line 3 where the speaker is talking about how he feels wei down.
At first the reader may think he is weighed down because of the weather which can be true because there is the contrast of the warmth of their love and the cold winter but then as you read on he explains that he has the 2 oranges in his pocket. Typically Soto uses enjambment to place emphasis on certain words and make the poem seem like it is from a ounger person’s perspective. Soto does use similar language in this poem compared to his others. He never uses over complicated words because most of his poems are for a teen and younger audience.
Additionally, Soto usually only has one long stanza but in “Oranges” he has two stanzas to emphasize the transition from the indoors back to the frigid outdoors. I believe “Oranges” is the most different from all of the other poems I read by Soto because it does not touch on the topic of race and has nothing relating to being a Chicano. This poem does however fit into the body of work by this poet stylistically ith the use of enjambment and similes and also thematically in that it is a coming of age poem about 2 kids in love.
Similar to how many of his poem’s are life lessons that Soto himself has gone through. Additionally, this poem is about young love and many of Gary Soto’s poems are about love whether it be about love of oneself and identity, love of family or love of culture. This poem also touches on poverty and the economy in a different light. In most of Soto’s other poems he talks about how the economy is global and connected to everyone, that one person can affect another. His poems also usually talk about how race s a determining factor in how much money one has.
The speaker in this poem does not talk about his struggles with money but instead he shows his troubles by taking out his nickel and orange and setting it on the counter to pay for the chocolate. He takes a chance on his money for his love and in the end it works out for him. The speaker’s poverty is overcome with kindness and love when the store clerk accepts the orange as payment for the candy. The saleslady recognizes that the boy is trying to do something nice for his girl and honors his effort. From the price of the chocolate it can be assumed the year was around the 1950s.