Loss of Innocence in Rite of Passage by Sharon Olds
A rite of passage is defined as a ceremony marking a significant transition or an important event or achievement, both regarded as having great meaning in lives of individuals. In Sharon Olds' moving poem "Rite of Passage", these definitions are illustrated in the lives of a mother and her seven-year-old son. The seriousness and significance of these events are represented in the author's tone, which undergoes many of its own changes as the poem progresses.
From its title, the tone of the poem is already set as serious, and we know there will be a significant event taking place in someone's life. As earlier stated, a rite of passage is an important ceremony or a life changing event. Thus, we can infer that the poem's meaning will be important and serious. In the first line, "As the guests arrive at my son's party" the use of the word "guests", as opposed to the use of words like kids or boys or children, represents a more mature and serious feeling, more so than one would expect at a child's birthday party. Though it is a party, we don't feel any of the lighthearted, rambunctious excitement we would expect to find. Olds has set the tone as serious from that moment on, and it only becomes increasing so as we read on.
Most of us can easily picture a typical child's party, loud and hyper boys running about, noise and fun and screaming kids and chaos, but this party seems to be viewed differently by the mother. It is a more serious and quiet event. She sees the boys as "short men" gathering in the living room, not as children having fun. The children seems subdued to us, with "hands in pockets". It is almost as if they are waiting, as the readers are, for something of importance to take place.
The tone of the poem begins to change as the boys become more and more aggressive. They "jockey for position" as if gearing up for a some imagined competition. The poem's tone becomes one of anticipation and nervousness. The boys are like horses in their racing gates, waiting for the run to start. We can almost hear the snorting noses and the pawing feet. This aggressive competitiveness is also shown by the "small fights breaking out and calming", again like horses in a pen, waiting for release.
There is an excitement that continues to build as the boys speak to each other, in tense words filled with simple masculine competitiveness, trying to one-up each other. Nervousness is implied in the line "they clear their throats a lot". We know that something is going to take place, something significant and important in the lives of the mother and the boy.