On the Subway

591 Words3 Pages
The observer and the observed with one having control over the other. In her poem, “On the Subway,” Sharon Olds asks her readers to enter the mind of a white woman who observes a young, black man as they travel together as strangers. She attempts to lay bare the similarities and difference between the lives of a Caucasian person and that of an African American person by contrasting two people of this description throughout the poem. This poem contrasts the lives of two separate individuals with relations to imagery and tone. “On the Subway” is patterned in one stanza having a free verse with 34 lines. The stanza is divided into three stages; a description, fear, and guilt. In the first stage, the author presents an exposition that contrast a white with a black. Following that, the speaker begins to develop the apparent disparities that lead to her fear of this young man. In the last stage, the narrator gains insight into how this scene is representative of the American culture at large. The title directly represents the distinction of the two people at a democratic place. In the first section, Olds sets the stage and prepares the reader s for the poem’s ensuing subject matter in the first few lines. The imagery Olds uses in the first section emphasizes the difference between the white woman who is the narrator and the observer and the black boy, who is the observed, as they ride the subway. The shoes he is wearing are black “laced with white” (line 3). The speaker describes the white zigzags as “intentional scars” (line 4). The scars allude to the discrimination against the black man by white society. The image contrasts whites with blacks as one being powerful and the other being subservient. Similarly, the two characters are described as being “stuck on/opposite sides” (line 4-5). The description of the clothing is another contrasting element. While as the
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