Gary Soto speaks to the romantic side of all of us with his poem “Oranges.” In the poem, Soto uses the innocence and simplicity of first love, combined with symbolism and imagery of colors and light to evoke the feelings we all had on our first date. While the poem reads simply as words about a walk with a girl, the use of light and color build into a reflection on the feelings and emotions associated with young love. Oranges” is written in the past tense, as the speaker examines in the first-person how he or she remembers the first time he or she “walked/With a girl.” Soto uses syntax, in the form of fragmented and run-on sentences as scattered, incomplete and rambling thoughts, to conjure the emotions of simple, childish love we feel before we all inevitably lose our innocence. The straightforward, direct and uncomplicated tone gives the poem the innocence of a child in love and the feel like that child is telling the story.
As the poem develops from something about a walk in the cold to a story of first love, Soto uses the “line/Of newly planted trees” as a perfect metaphor for the blossoming relationship of the two children as they walk together on their first date: the trees have not developed yet and neither have the children, but they both will soon. Soto seems to be getting ahead of himself a bit with the wedding metaphor, when the “tiny bell” rings and someone walks down the “narrow aisle.” Soto’s use of color in the poem works well as another symbol for the growing warmth of love against the winter cold.
Even though the poem takes place during what begins as a frosty December morning, the feeling quickly dissipates as the speakers’ crush is introduced. The girl (who is never given a name, which helps the reader easily compare her to their own first love) has a porch light that burns yellow, symbolizing the warmth she provides the speaker and the flicker of love that is ignited as the two young children meet for their winter walk. The only colors named the poem are the warm yellow and orange used as symbols for growing love.
At first, the girls’ yellow porch light is the only sign of warmth in the harsh winter. The girl comes out of her house with her “face bright/With rouge.” Rouge, the French color for red, was also a pink shaded makeup, used here to show the girl’s innocence and perhaps even nervousness. The speaker remembers touching the girl’s shoulder before leading her down the street, her shoulder being used as a synecdoche for her complete self, while the speaker is happy with the simple physical contact.
As the date unfolds, the oranges become another symbol for love. First the oranges weigh the speaker down, the burden of love he or she must carry alone. Later, when one is traded to gain the girl’s affection as the saleslady remembered what it was like to be young, “knowing/Very well what it was all/About”, the orange becomes the warmth of a nurturing love, showing in his selflessness the maturity that would be needed to maintain a relationship.
Finally, as the speaker peels the orange that was so bright it could have been mistaken for fire, it takes the form of the children’s burning love for each other. December is a winter month, with cracking ice and visible breaths and shades of gray and white. Soto describes the frost as turning into fog during the course of the children’s walk in “Oranges.” The most subtle yet effective use of light in the poem is the fog that develops. Advection fog develops during the day as a result of warm air moving over a cold ground surface.
The warmth of their love made the fog develop over the cold frosty December ground, but their love was still so bright that from a distance the flames could be easily recognized by someone as what they truly were. Soto uses light and the preconceived notions of warmth associated with the colors yellow and orange to better describe the growing affection between the children. The cold gray winter day is made better by the bright face of the girl, and the light in her eyes as she smiles at the thought of candy. Light is used again when the speaker’s orange is so bright against the fog.
As the colors develop and the day brightens, the mood of the poem changes noticeably. The speaker goes from nervous to confident with the girls’ acceptance of the chocolate. The second line of the poem refers to the speaker’s crush as “a girl,” but the pronoun becomes possessive when it changes to “my girl,” as things have warmed up and cars hiss past on the now melted ground. At first glance, this poem does not seem to have enough diversity of literary techniques to enable the use of all the analytical tools discussed in class.
After multiple readings, it is its simplicity that makes Gary Soto’s “Oranges” so remarkable. Although some parts of the poem leave the reader guessing (Is the speaker male or female? Does the speaker know about the yellow light being on because the speaker is stalking the girl or because her family is wealthy and can afford it, or does it symbolize something? Does the speaker think he or she can call the girl “my” girl because he or she just bought her something she really wanted, or is it actually because they like each other? The reader still feels the roller coaster of emotions associated with first love. Everyone writes and reflects about their first love. Here, the setting is essentially blank, along with the name and face of the girl, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks with the realities of their own lives; these are the best stories about love. Sometimes the most elementary wording or the most delicate gestures have the most profound impacts. I came for the oranges but all I got was this delicious chocolate.