On the Subway

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In the poem “On the Subway”, Sharon Olds is able to paint two uniquely contrasting pictures of life and well-being. Olds does this by masterfully applying distinct imagery and juxtaposition in her writing. The result is a complex and intricate work in which life is looked at from two opposing views. In “On the Subway”, Sharon Olds uses imagery to create two distinct and contrasting worlds in her poem. Olds characterizes the man in the subway car in the poem as having “huge feet”, “the casual cold look of a mugger, alert under hooded lids”, “raw face” and “black”. In these descriptions, Olds paints a very concrete and imaginable person. We can see this man, an African-American, looking very tired, raw, and almost animalistic. On the other side of the car, Olds also describes a seemingly affluent woman. This woman is “wearing dark fur, the whole skin of an animal”, and “white skinned”. From the descriptions in the writing, we can conclude that this a very well-to-do woman who probably has never struggled financially or been over worked in her life. By painting these images so distinctly, we are able to clearly see the contrast in the poem. In opposite sides of the subway car, are a tired and down-trodden black man and a weary and wealthy white woman. Olds’ imagery in her writing makes the contrast in the poem very obvious and we are able to see these complete opposites (lower class, black man and upper class, white woman) together, across from each other in the same subway car. As the narrator (the woman in the subway car) notices these differences apparent between the two of them, she begins to gain insight into the fragility of life: That this man, who she does not know, could attack her right now and take her possessions (or life) and that she metaphorically takes his life every day that she eats a meal and he does not, every time she has a warm place to stay and

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