Symbolism

My all-time favorite novel is Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Early in the book, a turtle is making a slow journey down the road that Tom Joad will travel. One car swerves to avoid the turtle, and one car swerves to hit it and knocks the turtle end over end into a ditch. Tenaciously, the turtle climbs back onto the road and continues his journey. Joad comes along and picks him up to take home to his niece for a pet. After several subtle attempts, the turtle eventually escapes and again, continues his journey. It was whimsical, but somehow compelling, and in that the turtle’s scene was a thumbnail account of the Joad family’s journey. Some people were kind to them as they made their way to California to find work as fruit pickers, but more people tried to “knock them off the road.” Even their journey in the dilapidated truck was turtle-like in that they carried their home, or shell, with them on their journey. No matter what befell them, they continued to push on.

My novel, Bluestone Rondo, is an updated version of Cain and Abel, set to music—mostly jazz—a music which, like the Bailey brothers, was born in America. But while Bluestone Rondo follows the Cain and Abel story of the bible in theory, the twist is delivered via history. While Original Sin is usually presented with the usual sexual references, temptation by the serpent and the woman, using the tree of knowledge as the gauge for disobedience, Bluestone Rondo portrays Original Sin in more practical terms, using history as the gauge for disobedience. Symbolized by the Mississippi River, God flows peacefully, nurturing all people, and, after tolerating centuries of the people’s disobedience of separation by race, religion, ideology, and class, the River rises up in fury to reclaim his “Garden.” The two boys are born as the punishment occurs, and many people are cast out of the Garden. The scene is set for the boys to follow the example of the people before them, and their mutual hatred begins. When their pivotal battle occurs, Joe flees “east” to New Orleans (Nod), and then farther east to wander lost in New York. He delves into the world of jazz, which soothes his soul for a time, and he is given several choices, but his choices lead to self-destruction. Calvin remains in prison, plotting revenge for his hated brother. The fratricide in this story is symbolic as well as literal, so the reader is never sure which brother represents “Cain” and which brother represents “Abel” until the end.

More on symbolism later….

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