Jul 27, 2011

Sharon Olds' "Victims": Again, Sympathy vs. Judgment


The Victims by Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds’ “The Victims” is another poem about the death of a character who is problematic for the speaker.

 (Here I confess I feel a little silly insisting on the distinction between author and speaker, since Sharon Olds created an entire book of poems about her troubled relationship with her father. However, if even one of a poem’s details is fictional or unverifiable, I think it justifies the convention of separating author from speaker or narrator.)

Sharon Olds call her speaker’s character into question much more than John Crowe Ransom did in “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter” (my last post). Olds is willing to speak ill of the dead. In fact, she might revel in it.  

Therefore, is sympathy vs. judgment (again, see the July 24 Banjo52) the main tension in which are we caught in “The Victims,” or are both the speaker and her father likely to elicit more judgment than sympathy?

Remember, “sympathy” is not pity, which is condescending. Sympathy is a feeling of connection to, identification with, even respect for that other character—whom we find appealing in some way, perhaps to our alarm.

The Victims by Sharon Olds



Anonymous said...

"and I wonder who took it and
took it from them in silence until they had
given it all away and had nothing
left but this."

At first I was confused by all the they's and who's. But I think I understand -- she's saying the street people are once vessels full of anger and once the anger is gone, now they're just vessels.

Well, I think this is powerfully told, but I don't think she is justifying the feelings of the narrator. Rather, making a statement that why, once you're raised inside the cycle of bitterness, it's almost impossible to leave.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I like this line " the underwater
fire of their eyes, ships gone down with the
lanterns lit" and the hikers comment.

About the images; the first green room photo you took without flash as opposed to the second. I spend a certain amount of time wondering why you choose to illustrate your ideas with photos that seem kind of unrelated to the text. Care to esplane Lucy?

Banjo52 said...

AH, we share similar questions. I feel as if the poem asks me to TRUST that the speaker's feelings are justified, and that's asking a lot.

PA, me too on that line, plus some others. I was going to talk about lines that make me WANT to trust the poem and its speaker, just because I find the imagery powerful. But I decided that opened the gate to another gassy Banjo epic.

PA, I'll take your word for it on flash vs. no flash--I just don't recall, and it does look that way. I don't know about photo-text connections in other posts, but these photos seemed to me to show something a little off. I can't decide whether that green is bright and charming or garish and sickening, especially in that quantity of that green. Ditto for the two kinds of asymmetry in the two pics. In those respects, I think I felt that that hotel's world might be tipsy, a little like the speaker's world, or her father's. And the cormorant simply reminded me of the poem's father--I'm not sure I have a clue as to why. Solitary and dark, for sure, but what's the attitude he's giving off?

Also, there's the simple fact that I was browsing for shots I had never posted, and that fits these, I believe. But I did want some kind of connection, however thin. You're an art person--does any of that make ANY sense?

Lovers' Lane