The Victims

A Complete Turnaround

Sharon Old?s poem, "The Victims," deals with an underlying theme of abuse. Old?s illustrates this theme through the tone of the poem, which is achieved by imagistic language, rhyme and rhythm. In this poem the speaker is illustrated through two points of view, first as a child then as an adult reflecting back on a troublesome childhood experience. As the speaker?s point of view changes so does the use of poetic devices.
The poem opens with the speaker remembering the behaviors of an abusive father when she was a child. The tone at this point was one of disgust, hatred, spite, and taking joy in her father?s failures. This was due to the fact that she was taught to feel this way by her mother. As a child she was not aware of this. It was not until adulthood that she realized her feeling of resentment towards her father were evoked by her mother. The speaker, herself, was not the victim of her father?s abusive behavior nonetheless she still hated him because that?s the only way she knew how to feel. These feelings are shown through the imagistic language used to reveal the acts of revenge on the father. When the mother finally divorced the father, "her kids loved it" (3-4). When the father was fired from his job, "we grinned inside" (5-6). The pleasure that the entire family took watching their father?s demise was quite vivid. "We were tickled to think of your office

taken away, you?re secretaries taken away" (7-9). The finality of the father?s loses was shown by the taking away of his pencils and reams of paper at his job (11). The images used in the first 16 lines are very dark and gloomy and are associated with death. This is as if to represent the family?s way of "killing him through his loses. The suits that belonged to the father were depicted as "dark carcasses that hung in your closet" (13) and Olds specifically pointed out that even the noses of his shoes were black (14). After the first 16 lines of the poem, the feelings of hated by the speaker towards her father begins to change.
This drastic change begins in line seventeen, but is preceded by clues in the previous lines when the speaker says, "She [the mother] had taught us to take it, to hate you and take it until we pricked for your annihilation" (15-17). The speaker has finally realized that she only hated her father because that?s what her mother taught her to do. The speaker understands that not only was her mother a victim, but her father was one as well. Her transition is seen most easily through her shift in tone. This tone is illustrated through her change in language. She starts first by addressing this man who she has despised her entire life as "father" (17) instead of using the word "you" (1). She begins to sympathize with her father, when she sees bums along the street that have been stripped of everything and feels sorry for them, "the white slugs of their bodies gleam through slits in their suits of compressed silk" (18-20). They had nothing. At this point the speaker realized that this same tragedy had happened to her father. He too, had nothing left and was a victim as well. Notice the speaker?s use of the word slugs, bodies,

slits, suits, compressed, and silk in lines 18-20. The harsh tone of the first half of the poem is now replaced by softer, soothing, "S" sounds.
Her shift in tone also illustrated her shift in images. The dark, gloomy images used in the first half of the poem have become colorful and bright. She uses references to fire, "the underwater fire if their [the bums] eyes" (22) and the brightness of, "ships gone down with lit lanterns." (23). While these lines describe the downfall of the bums, they emphasize light at the same time. The speaker has "seen the light" and realized the plight of her father. The color black (13) has been replaced with the color white (18). The color white stands for purity, rebirth, and peace. The speaker has undergone a rebirth in her attitude towards her father. She has finally made peace with him and their past.
The speaker?s change of attitude was also