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The Blind Assassin

  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Symbols

Main Ideas Symbols

Bread

On the day that Iris’s mother experiences the miscarriage that leads to her death, she and Reenie are in the kitchen baking bread for the family. Iris and Laura are also playing in the kitchen and witness what happens. Bread thus becomes a symbol of death and the way that women’s fertility can be a source of danger for them. Bread is usually assumed to be life-giving, and the baking of bread is symbolically connected to women’s role as the creators and nurturers of new life. With two generations of women and young girls gathered together in a kitchen to bake bread, the experience should be a safe place for Iris and Laura to be introduced to their roles as future mothers who will also be responsible for caring for their households. However, what they end up witnessing scars them and foreshadows their own future unhappy experiences with fertility and motherhood. Iris will go on to have a number of miscarriages herself and eventually become estranged from her only child. Laura will experience an unplanned pregnancy as a result of sexual assault, and an abortion which she does not consent to. Bread symbolically inverts notions of creating new life into a source of death and pain.

The Water Nixie

The Water Nixie is the name of the sailboat that Richard inherits from the Chase family. It symbolizes masculine authority and patriarchal power. The Water Nixie is first purchased by Benjamin Chase, symbolizing the legacy of wealth, power, and influence which he hopes to pass on to his sons. Norval Chase also regularly uses the sailboat as a source of escapism, but after he loses control of the Chase fortune and business, Richard becomes the owner of the boat. By tricking Norval and gaining control of the Chase family possessions through his marriage to Iris, Richard inserts himself into the patriarchal lineage which Benjamin had established. Richard is also the figure who most strongly abuses the power and influence he wields: the first time he coerces Laura into having sex with him, the encounter takes place aboard The Water Nixie. When Richard eventually commits suicide to avoid the consequences of his actions, his body is found on the boat. The location of his death symbolizes the collapse of the patriarchal power that has dominated the lives of Laura and Iris.

Avilion

Avilion is the majestic mansion where several generations of the Chase family reside in Port Ticonderoga. It symbolizes how wealth and social status cannot ultimately ensure happiness. The mansion is built with the newly established fortune of Benjamin Chase and decorated by his wife in order to cultivate the impression of wealth and sophistication. Even the name invokes a mythological place and a sense that this house is more special than other homes. However, none of this grandeur and pretense can ultimately protect the happiness or legacy of the Chase family. Over the generations, the family is marked by many tragic deaths and economic collapse. By the time Iris is an elderly woman, Avilion has been purchased and transformed into an old age home. This change symbolizes how the values once held dear by the Chase family have become incompatible with the modern world and are gradually dying out.