Symbolism

Remember those Literature classes where the teacher went on about Faulkner's use of the color yellow in Soldier's Pay? Did they call it symbolism?

The example I'm going to use is Richard Russo's superb book Nobody's Fool. It was also made into an excellent movie, from which Paul Newman was nominated for an Oscar.

The opening of the book is several pages spent on the old trees overlooking the main street in the town the story is set in. The trees were once the pride of main street but now they are old and diseased and the people who live there fear them, that an unexpected branch will collapse on their house. This foreshadows a large part of the story. The trees are a symbol for the way the entire town has become.

Then there is the symbol for conflict. The main character, Sully, has a running feud with a man he worked for, Carl. So

Sully steals Carl's new snowblower. And Carl steals it back. And Sully steals it once more. And in the process Sully poisons Carl's dog, which Carl gives to Sully at the end, a symbol of Sully having changed.

Some symbols are most blunt. Sully hates his departed father. Every time he drives by the cemetery where his father is buried, Sully gives the grave the finger.

Symbolism, to tie it in with the first part of this chapter, is how we show things to the reader, rather than tell them.

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