A Death in the Family

by: James Agee

Symbols

The Butterfly

The butterfly that lands on Jay's coffin at the funeral, which Andrew mentions at the end of the novel, is symbolic of the hope to which all the characters must cling in order to cope with the devastation of Jay's death. For Mary and Hannah, hope takes the form of religion. It is significant that Andrew says the butterfly tempts him to believe in God, whereas religious figures like Father Jackson do not. Each character must find his or her own way of coping—an individual struggle with grief that Agee explores throughout the novel.