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 symbolism 
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Symbolism in literature has never been my strong suit, so I thought I'd ask for opinions and comments.

Do you think there was symbolic meaning in Leah having 4 sons? Do you take that as 4 sons to echo the 4 daughters - since none of the others had children? I thought it was interesting that the author painted them as each being a different shade of skin color. (Like the 4 very different personalities.)

Why do you think Leah and Anatole stayed in Africa, even though they barely subsisted, and they and their children continued to go hungry. I assume it had to do with "honesty" and courage - her husband's political activism, and due to racism in the US. I wonder if they would have been accepted anywhere, like London or Paris?

I thought it interesting that their physical abilities and health was flipped around after the escape. Leah, the tomboy and the archer, became the sickly one, battling malaria all her life. Ada, the crippled one, eventually conquered that outward physical infirmity, yet she shunned marriage - because it didn't mesh with her complex and still wounded self identity.
Rachel, the "dumb blonde", eventually became a successful businesswoman, even though she had to "sleep" her way to that station in life. (Yet, she turned her assets of her looks into financial assets - more than I expected out of her!) I was grateful for the comic relief of her malapropisms/mixed metaphors/Archie Bunkerisms - I wish I had written them all down!

I knew the mother would never remarry - who could look at a man after having the joy of life sapped away by Nathan Price? I enjoyed hearing about Orleanna's civil rights work, and her circle of friends raising money to help the Leah's family and work. I loved the images of her gardens and flowers - I can certainly understand the need to grow and nurture beauty after her losses!

At the very, very end - the four women journey back to Africa, looking for the original village, so they can visit the grave - but the village can no longer be found. How do you interpret this symbolically? Is it a "survival" in reverse - that part of Africa has returned to the wild, by swallowing up the village? Or is it just some cliche version of "you can't go home again"? (Even though that village was no real home to those women.)

Ada did so much work on diseases, and yet quit "doctoring" people. This view of humanity and the environment is so hopeless and fatalistic. It makes me wonder why some people just love this book. One friend of mine read all of the author's books after reading this one. To me, this book is like watching a very heartbreaking war movie. I may watch it once, but I won't sit through it a second time!

I imagine there are hundreds of other points that can be considered for their symbolism - so let's gather your ideas and theories!

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Joyce Jarrard


Mon Nov 17, 2003 9:33 pm
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Joyce, your post was very insightful and I admire your many points and ideas. I hope we use your posting as a catalyst for discussion on Tuesday night, the 18th.


Tue Nov 18, 2003 3:56 pm
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Joyce, the symbolism throughout this novel was amazing. I still find myself making connections that I didn't first go around.

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Amy E. Wilson


Fri Nov 21, 2003 5:09 pm
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