There is something very different about this poem and the sort of protest poem of Hughes. IN Hughes I always get the feeling of the poet as an active force to be reckoned with whom is full of pride (self confidence). Here, however, I feel we get shame, and this is something Steinbeck wrote a lot about – about the identity of the immigrant / migrant who is always comparing himself to the rich man and not always measuring up in the eyes of society.
I feel there are also two distinct audiences for this poem – the people who identify with the people in the car judging the kid with the blue stained hands “Or thief’s before a police blotter”, or the with kid being painfully aware of the disparity here “Burning with thorns”. Those “thorns” are not just from the bushes but thorns of shame and embarrassment (and strangely not a religious connection to Jesus – I don’t feel there is a martyr connection here).
Blue is interesting because it’s a color of sadness – the berries he sells are a sad job, has hands are stained (like a criminal’s), “The big blue car made me sweat” is not just sadness but fear mixed in, too.
And it’s so sad we get this image of inequality because before “The big blue car” drives up we are living in an Eden or “limbo” – he’s blissfully unaware of being poor, of having to pick berries at only ten years old. He is full of life, he “too ripe to touch”, and he is in another world (“limbo”) of “mythology” and “pies & cobbler”, “almost”. This almost is interesting because at ten years old he’s just old enough to know what’s really going on – he knows he’s poor, he knows this isn’t a great way to live, but he’s young enough to imagine things in the best possible way – until the spell is broken. This is a heartbreaking poem.