"The Victims" By Sharon Olds

Exploring gender issues with Shaorn Olds' "The Victims"

In Sharon Olds’ “The Victims”, the poem treats the speaker’s anger and accusation of her father but it reflects the human experience at its core. In the first part of the poem, the speaker addresses her father as “you”, which shows their distance and alienated relationship. From the child’s perspective, the father is presented as guilty and unsympathetic because the speaker’s mother put up with the father in silence and she teaches her children to “take it in silence” in the same way. In this sense, the mother shows an ideal female figure in a male-dominated society to her children who are most likely to be girls. She teaches them to take the abuse in silence rather than teaching them to raise their voice in the face of injustice. However, the mother “kicks [the father] out” and this leads the reader to think that she is not a passive character, indeed.

When they are divorced, the children are “glad” since she manipulates them to hate their father. Even his clothes are defined as “dark carcasses” by the speaker who interprets things about him negatively. By saying “bums in doorways”, the speaker stresses her father’s bad habits, which may be drinking. Along with “bums in doorways”, the use of such words as “ships” and “underwater” reflect the lack of communication and alienation between the father and others in the family because he is, in a sense, in another place for the speaker. In the second part of the poem, however, there is a shift that changes the speaker’s way of seeing as she directly addresses him as “father”. Therefore, the speaker shifts from the past tense to present in the second part. Unlike the first part, this part combines the speaker’s bitterness with her guilt toward her father. From this perspective, the father is not the only one to blame for the speaker who becomes a more contemplative and reflective adult. In the first part, she sees the mother and her siblings as the victims; however; as time passes, she understands that her father is also a victim.