On the Subway

Topics: Black people, White people, United Kingdom Pages: 2 (590 words) Published: November 1, 2013

AP Poetry Essay Question: In “On the Subway,” Sharon Olds brings two worlds into close proximity. Identify the contrasts that develop both portraits in the poem and discuss the insights the narrator comes to as a result of the experience. Refer to such literary techniques as tone, poetic devices, imagery, and organization.

The three sections of “On the Subway” by Sharon Olds express the complicated relationship between Caucasians and African-Americans. In the first section the author presents an exposition that contrasts a white person with a black (lines 1-13). In the second, the speaker begins to develop the apparent disparities so that interrelationships emerge (lines 13-20). In the third, the narrator gains insight into how this scene is representative of American culture at large (lines 20-34). 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 adjectives “intentional” denotes that whites purposely harm blacks. The image contrasts whites with blacks: whites are powerful; blacks are subservient. Similarly, the two characters are described as being “stuck on opposite sides” of the subway car; they are separated permanently from each other (lines 4-5). The description of the clothing is a third contrasting element. Here, the black man is “exposed,” while the speaker is covered in fur (line 11). This image reinforces the opposition between the white woman and the black boy. The second section sees a shift in tone. Where the first section is composed of finite physical descriptions, the second is more philosophical and indicates the speaker’s apprehension. She is uncertain and writes that “I...
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