Rite of Passage by Sharon Olds
Who is the birthday party a rite of passage for, the birthday boy or his mother?
In the poem, "Rite of Passage," by Sharon Olds, the speaker, who is a mother, goes into detail about her son's birthday party celebration. Let us first begin by analyzing the title of the poem, "Rite of Passage," Encyclopedia Britannica describes a rite of passage as a ceremonial event, existing in all historically known societies, that marks the passage from one social or religious status to another. Given the plot of the poem about a young boy having his peers over celebrate his birthday, one might be automatically compelled to say the rite of passage is for him, however with a closer analysis of the poem in its entirety, one can argue the title and the plot hold deeper meaning.
The first indication that this party is just as much for her, the mother of the birthday boy, as it is for her son comes in the opening line of the poem when she said, "...guests arrive at my son's party," rather then stating his name, she refers to him as, hers throughout the poem. This releases a very possessive tone over her presentation of how she is describing the play by play action of her son's birthday party. Another example to support the fact that she is celebrating her rite of passage also can be viewed in the first line when she calls the people arriving at the party as, "guests." Her son is six years old, and normally when talking about a young child's friends, one would describe them as his friends, or the children, or kids but she calls them guests, which is very much an adult term.
She is seeing her son, in her eyes, as growing-up and when she looks at him she envisions him as a man in his future. The speaker continues to describe all of her son's peers as, "Short men, men in the first grade." She is referring to these children as "men," men is a term used to describe adult males, key word being, adult. As she watches these "short men," and continues to describe them in her living room, "jostling," and "jockeying for a place," the reader begins to get a clear and quite funny image of jockeys or horse riders in her living room picking and poking at each other. Referring to her son as a jockey, is the beginning of many prestigious professions, she envisions her son becoming. Through out history, including the eighties when this poem was written, being a jockey was considered a noble and wealthy occupation. They would mingle with the rich and famous as well as be very popular. ...