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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Bud’s Suitcase

Bud’s suitcase, which rarely leaves his side, is his lifeline to all he holds dear. The items in it connect him to his momma and to the family he searches for. The blanket, which he carefully folds the same way every time, wraps him in the comfort of his mother with its smell, and helps him feel connected to her. The picture of Bud’s momma that he carries is his link back to her and to his grandfather. The flyers and rocks are, he is sure, clues that will guide him to finding his own father. For Bud, the suitcase contains both the memory of his mother and hope for the future. He clings tightly to its hints and clues. Significantly, it isn’t until Bud finds the place where he belongs that he is able to let go of the suitcase. The old saxophone case takes its place, symbolic of a new beginning. Ironically, the suitcase’s contents end up carefully displayed in the room that used to be his mother’s but is now his.

Flyers

The word “flyer” has a double meaning in Bud’s story. The flyers Bud carries in his suitcase contain information about the man he is sure is his father, so in one sense they represent Bud’s search and his longing to belong to a family. They represent the hope that, somewhere out there, there are people and a place where he belongs. When he chooses to retrieve the flyer instead of hop on the train with Bugs, the reader knows that Bud’s hope for a family is the force driving him. Having missed the train, the flyers guide him to Grand Rapids. In addition, these flyers also symbolize the concept of freedom, and Bud’s desire to “fly,” to free himself from the abusive environments of the Home and foster care system and from his abject poverty and the constant struggle to survive. Bud’s goal is to fly, metaphorically, and the reader senses that by the end of the story, he will.

Hooverville Campfire

The Hooverville campfire symbolizes the far-reaching impact of the financial hardship wrought by the Great Depression. A diverse group gathers around the fire for warmth and mutual support, but in Bud’s telling, the campfire’s light made everyone look the same. The Great Depression didn’t discriminate based on one’s race or ethnicity; “We’re all in the same boat,” the mouth organ man explains to Bud and Bugs. Curtis’ point is that the financial pain and resulting suffering the Depression inflicted on people served as a unifying force. In the light of the campfire, racial barriers melted away.