Gary Soto’s Oranges | Summary, Analysis, Themes, Structure and Literary Devices

Oranges by Gary Soto Poem: The poem named ‘Oranges’ by Gary Soto is a very charming poem about a boy who narrates his experience of his first date with a young girl. The poet has made appropriate use of imageries that appeal that the boy’s nerves are on full display, which is quite understandable throughout the poem.

Soto is known for this particular use of imageries as he can make the best and most memorable use. Imageries used in poetry are more than just paintings, which can appeal to the reader’s senses and keep them engaged in their imaginations.

In such poems, full of imageries, readers are exposed to certain substances like imagining a smell, taste, sound or even feel as used by the poet in this poem like the “Frost cracking / Beneath” his steps or “A few cars hissing past, / Fog hanging like old”.

Students can also check the English Summary to revise with them during exam preparation.

Oranges by Gary Soto Summary

This is a very thoughtful and narrative poem that depicts the experience of a young boy’s first date to a drugstore and his purchase of chocolate. The poem narrates the story of a young boy’s walk to the girl’s house, to the drugstore and outside again.

Soto has used diction and syntax wonderfully in this poem for the readers to follow every event easily. The poet has used imageries to describe the nerves, excitement and embarrassment over not being capable enough to pay the price of the chocolate for his young date.

The cashier woman was kind enough and accepted his nickel and orange instead of money as the price for the chocolate. The poem ends with a further emphasis on the warmth, hope, brightness and innocence that has been carried beautifully throughout the two stanzas.

Gary Soto's Oranges

Oranges by Gary Soto Themes

In this poem, Gary Soto engages with themes of youth, happiness, and memories to give a very joyful and charming experience to the readers. The speaker recalls his youth days, where he went on his first date. He was pretty young, only twelve, and was meeting up with a girl in the cold of December.

The poet has very beautifully conveyed the happiness and warmth in this poem by using symbols of hope, life and youth. The poet has emphasized the young girl’s smile, makeup, light at her home, and the oranges in the boy’s pocket.

The date’s memories are not entirely pleasurable and have embarrassing scenarios, yet the speaker recalls them very fondly. The poem ends on a positive and happy note where the two of them eat their chocolate and remaining oranges outside, despite the cold weather.

Structure and Form of Oranges by Gary Soto

The poem ‘Oranges’ by Gary Soto is short, consisting of two stanzas separated into a set of forty-two and fourteen lines, respectively. The stanza break occurs between the main action inside the store and then outside.

Soto has written the poem in the free verse style, and the lines do not have a rhythmic or metrical pattern, which is a common technique in contemporary poetry. This also benefits the narrative structure of the poem.

It became more manageable for the poet to narrate the experience without being weighed down by the requirements of rhyme and rhythm. The lines sound colloquial and have a sense of the speaker’s direct experience in his youth days.

Oranges by Gary Soto Literary Devices

The poet has taken the help of many literary devices in the poem ‘Oranges,’ not just examples of similes, enjambment, and alliteration. The use of a simile can be found twice in the poemThe first example is in the first stanza with the lines “I turned to the candies / Tiered like bleachers”, where the poet compares the candies stacked on the shelf to bleachers.

Enjambment is a formal technique associated with the way that one line moves into the next in continuation. Phrases that do not use end-punctuation and continue into the following line are enjambed, like, the transition used between lines one and two of the first stanza and three and four of the second stanza.

Alliteration is known as the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. This is a kind of repetition that is concerned with using and reusing the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “Beneath” and “breath” inline-six of the first stanza and “hissing” and “hanging” in lines two and three of the second stanza.

Summary of Oranges by Gary Soto

Oranges by Gary Soto Analysis

Stanza One

Lines 1-15

The first time I walked

With a girl, I was twelve,

(…)

At her gloves, face bright

With rouge. I smiled,

In the beginning lines of ‘Oranges,’ the speaker narrates the experience of his first date when he was young and only twelve years old. He recalls the events very beautifully from a future place, one that allows him to see these moments with a bit of distance but still accurately describe them.

The poet has used some exciting juxtapositions in these lines when the boy goes out, excited and nervous for his first date, on a winter day in December. He’s carrying two oranges in his jacket, a symbol of warmth and hope. He’s planning to walk with this unnamed girl.

Particular emphasis has been made on the phrase “then gone” in this stanza as the speaker seeks to draw the readers’ attention to the transient nature of these moments and even of love and relationships. The speaker remembers how he walked towards “Her house, the one whose / Porchlight burned yellow”.

The “yellow” colour of the light has been emphasized just like the oranges in his pocket, as a symbol of hope and brightness in the dull winter morning. Similarly, her face “bright / With rouge,” or red makeup are imageries to brighten up the picture of the gloomy winter morning.

Soto has used multiple examples of caesurae and enjambment in these lines to create a specific swiftness in the poem and breaks in the required portions of the poem.

Lines 16-31

Touched her shoulder and led

Her down the street, across

A used car lot and a line

(…)

Of her mouth. I fingered

A nickel in my pocket,

The young boy guides the girl to direct down the streets by her shoulders. He has used juxtaposition examples as he depicts their experience of crossing a used car lot and a line: “used car lot and a line / Of newly planted trees”.

Finally, they went to “a drugstore”. This might not be a very romantic date, but it was like a fun outing for two young children as they enjoyed spending time together. The speaker narrates his feelings of nervousness and excitement as he was breathing heavily before going on this date, and now they are breathing the cold air together outside the drugstore.

There is an example of a simile here when the boy looks at the candy as if they are “tiered like bleachers” on the shelf. He asks the girl to select something for her, and instantly her eyes brighten up, and there is a smile on her face. The speaker was mesmerized and noticed the small changes in her expressions. During the time of paying the price of the candy, the boy finds out that he has only nickel in his pocket.

Lines 32-42

And when she lifted a chocolate

That cost a dime,

(…)

Very well what it was all

About.

This is a moment of utter embarrassment for the young boy as his date picks a chocolate that costs a dime more than he has. He knows that he does not have enough money to pay for the chocolate as they proceed for checkout.

As partial payment, the young boy manages to give the lady at the counter two of his oranges in place of the money. He puts the nickel and the oranges on the counter table and is worried that these two things might not be accepted as a legit payment. The lady at the counter is considerate and kind enough to consider his circumstances and also allows him to have the chocolate for his date with whatever he has. This brightens up the young boy’s day.

Stanza Two

Outside

A few cars hissing past,

Fog hanging like old

(…)

Someone might have thought

I was making a fire in my hands.

The first stanza of forty-two lines ends with the onset of the second stanza of the poem as the young boy with his date finally leaves the drugstore. They find only a few cars “hissing” through the street outside.

The speaker has used imagery like “Fog hanging like old / Coats between the trees” to emphasize the shivering cold. This is the second simile in the poem, which is very suggestive and relevant. It helps to intensify the beauty and romanticism of the scene.

Now, the speaker has the girl’s heart and holds her hand “for two blocks” until she unwraps her chocolate, and he peels his orange. This has been the brightest and the most beautiful moment of the day in that young boy’s life, which felt against the “The grey of December”.

It was so bright and charming for the young speaker that he thinks from a distance it looks like he was making a fire in his hands. This gives an image of warmth and hope despite the cold chilling weather of December. This has been a very bright, merry and heart-warming date for the young boy as he recalls every moment of the day.

Similar Poetry

Suggestive readings for readers who enjoyed this poem are ‘To the Boys Who May One Day Date My Daughter’ by Jesse Parent and ‘1st Date She and 1st Date He’s by Wendy Cope. Both poems are about love and relationships and are filled with humour and relatable moments.

Parent’s poem is a declaration of a father’s love and his extents to protect his daughter. He is highly protective towards her, and any boy she dates does not stand a chance against him.

The second one, ‘1st Date She and 1st Date He,’ can be read as two interrelated poems. It imparts readers with a different perspective on one date from the girl’s and the boy’s side. Two viewpoints of the two individuals have been beautifully portrayed in this poem.