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Alliteration from Sharon Olds

Alliteration from Sharon Olds

Author: Caitlin Ohlrogge

1. Thoroughly explain alliteration and show examples in Sharon Olds’ “The Victim.”

2. Show how her use of alliteration helps identify and define the meaning in her poem.

3.Offer an assignment to help the reader better understands how to identify alliteration on their own.

Explain alliteration, and apply the concept to "The Victim," a poem by Sharon Olds. Give a biography of Sharon Olds and "The Victim." Explain an assignment for the reader to identify alliteration using a poem of their choosing.

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What is Alliteration?

To understand poetry you must first understand the way a poem is written. This includes a variety of concepts varying from the types of sounds, to the method of lines, to the phrases, and to the specific words. One concept that can help to determine the meaning of a poem is alliteration. The alliteration can help determine where the author is making a point to emphasize important phrases. The Norton Introduction to Literature (2011) defines alliteration as "the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds through a sequence of words" (p. A1). This means that the author uses words with similar beginning sounds close together. An example of this would be big, black, bear, because the b sound is repeated.

Source: Booth, A., & Mays, K. J. (2011). Glossary. In The Norton Introduction to Literature (10th Edition ed., p. A1). New York: W. W. Norton & Company. (Original work published 2006)

Tongue Twisters

A tongue twister is a poem or song that is difficult to say because of the constant repeating sounds. These tongue twisters are perfect examples of alliteration. The beginning sound that is repeated is alliteration.

Source: Oden, B. (2009, September 11). Peter Piper [Video file]. Retrieved from Youtube

Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds is a modern poet who is known for her biographical poetry. She thrives on writing about what she knows. “The Victims” is no different. You can also see from the poem below that she uses figurative language in a refreshing manner including metaphors, imagery and alliteration. She is able to make the poem come alive for the reader.

For a biography of Sharon Olds you can read this article:


Source: Academy of American Poets. (2011). Sharon Olds. Retrieved from

"The Victims" by Sharon Olds

When Mother divorced you, we were glad. She took it and

took it, in silence, all those years and then

kicked you out, suddenly, and her

kids loved it. Then you were fired, and we

grinned inside, the way people grinned when

Nixon's helicopter lifted off the South

Lawn for the last time. We were tickled

to think of your office taken away,

your secretaries taken away,

your lunches with three double bourbons,

your pencils, your reams of paper. Would they take your

suits back, too, those dark

carcasses hung in your closet, and the black

noses of your shoes with their large pores?

She had taught us to take it, to hate you and take it

until we pricked with her for your

annihilation, Father. Now I

pass the bums in doorways, the white

slugs of their bodies gleaming through slits in their

suits of compressed silt, the stained

flippers of their hands, the underwater

fire of their eyes, ships gone down with the

lanterns lit, 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.

Source: Olds, S. (1984). The Victims. In A. Booth & K. J. Mays, The Norton Introduction to Literature (10th ed. p. (622-623)). (Original work published 2006)

Alliteration in "The Victims"

Sharon Olds uses alliteration often in her poem The Victims (1984). A few of the phrases she uses include “kicked you out… kids” (p. 622), “lifted off the South Lawn for the last time” (p. 622)  “tickled to think of your office taken away” (p. 623) “She had taught us to take it, to hate you and take it” (p. 622) “the white slugs of their bodies gleaming through slits in their suits of compressed silt(p. 623). These are all examples of using repeating sounds. Many of these phrases hold significant value to the meaning of The Victims. The phrasekicked you out… kids” (p. 622) is  the moment of triumph when the speaker’s mother kicks the father out and the kids are rejoicing with her. It must have felt like a huge moment. Dealing with a situation where you face abuse in your family has to be difficult for a person and finally feeling free of the tragedy would have been especially joyful for the speaker. Olds is able to show the importance of this moment by emphasizing the sounds she uses to describe it. The alliteration uses the hard k sound showing the toughness and difficulty of the situation. Later the speaker talks of when she felt pity for her father’s situation by speaking of the dreary conditions of the bums. Slugs, slits, suits, silt; all begin with the s sound. Four words with the same beginning would certainly catch a reader’s eye. You begin thinking the poem is about the speaker’s triumph over a difficult living situation and now she is saddened by the condition her father most likely shared. By using those same s sounds she puts a huge emphasis on the sentence which is the turning point for the speaker’s attitude. If you were to slide past the phrasing you would almost certainly miss the meaning of the poem. This use of language is one way to manipulate your reader’s attention to the thoughts you deem important. Olds use of alliteration at this point in the poem catches the reader's attention so they will focus and see the importance of this moment.

Source: Olds, S. (1984). The Victims. In A. Booth & K. J. Mays, The Norton Introduction to Literature (10th ed., p. (622-623)). (Original work published 2006)


Assignment Task:

Based on information provided in this packet, apply the poetic concept alliteration to a poem of your choosing from The Norton Introduction to Literature. To successfully complete this writing assignment, you must 1) write a paragraph that explains how the concept is used in the poem, and then 2) write a paragraph that explains, with specific textual examples, how this concept helps reinforce the meaning of the poem. The assignment must be in APA format with citations, and it should be approximately 1-2 pages in length.