I vividly recall my first encounter with symbolism. I was in grade one, and my teacher read the class a poem about trees, ‘wearing dresses of white and dancing gracefully in the wind”. It had just snowed that day, and as I walked home after school, I took my time, looking at each tree with awe and wonder as I noticed that they did indeed seem to be dancing in beautiful white dresses: especially the fir trees. It would be a few more years before I would learn that this was a trick called ‘personification’, when the writer uses words to give an inanimate object the appearance of human life.
(That trees would forever be living beings for me after that day, was but a lovely bonus)
Symbolism has always been an effortless concept for me so it didn’t occur to me that for some people, things are just ‘things’. Never was this more apparent to me than when I and my daughter went to see one of my son’s plays. My son studied theatre; intends to devote his life to theatre. Because theatre direction is his specialty, symbolism is like a second language for him.
At the play in question, I noted with interest that the stage was arranged with nine separate little podiums, set up like a rubics cube, but with spaces between each square. As the play unfolded, each of the nine characters remained on their separate podium for the duration of the play, as they interacted – but never touched – in any way.
When the play was over, and we were able to go and congratulate my son, I asked, “I guess you had the characters on separate podiums to highlight the fact that each of us is an island unto himself?”
My son shot me a quizzical look. “Well, yeah,” was all he said, as if this was so self-evident that I hardly needed to pose the question at all.
My daughter – the most pragmatic, logical, straightforward person I have ever met with the exception of my sister, also shot me a quizzical look of her own but said nothing. Knowing her as I do, I didn’t say a word until the two of us were alone, on our way back to the car.
“I never understand what’s going on in E’_s plays. I never ‘get’ all that symbolic s_ _ t” said my delicate-as-a-rose daughter, to my hoots of laughter. “Why can’t they just spell it out? Why do you always have to guess at what’s going on?”
Her perplexity was hilarious. We laughed until we cried, even as she swore me to secrecy (*). And yet, as we continued to talk, I realised that despite the fact that her brother communicates using a language that is utterly foreign to her; despite the fact that she sits, bewildered, as the characters sometimes say one thing but do something different (known to the writer and the theatre director as ‘irony’); despite the fact that members of the audience – like me – sigh, laugh or shed tears – at moments that seem inexplicable to her; still she shows up. For so many of his plays.
Because he is her brother. Because she loves him and supports this life he has embraced. Even as she doesn’t quite ‘get’ it.
I can’t think of anything more symbolic than that…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com
(*) I did indeed get her permission – and her brother’s permission – before posting this piece : )