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

The Store

Momma’s store is a central gathering place in Stamps and the center of Maya’s childhood. There she witnesses the cycles of nature and labor, tending to workers in the cotton-picking season and canners during the killing season. Maya notes that until she left Arkansas for good at age thirteen, the Store was her favorite place to be. It symbolizes the rewards of hard work and loyalty and the importance of a strong and devout community.

Maya’s Easter Dress

The lavender taffeta dress that Momma alters for Maya on Easter symbolizes Maya’s lack of love for herself and her wish for acceptance through transformation. She believes that beauty means white beauty. Hanging by the sewing machine, the dress looks magical. Maya imagines that the dress will reveal her true self to people who will then be shocked by her beauty. Harsh reality strikes on Easter morning, however, when she realizes that the dress is only a white woman’s throwaway that cannot wake her from what she considers a nightmare. Maya learns that her transformation will have to take place from within.

The Train

The train is a symbol for transition throughout the book, and it represents Maya’s own feelings of displacement throughout most of her childhood. Maya and Bailey rode the train when they were just three and four years old in their original journey from St. Louis to Stamps. In a moment of crisis, Bailey attempts to jump on a moving freight train to travel to Vivian. Later, Maya and Bailey ride the train out west when Vivian sends for them to come live with her in California. Trains are also vehicles for Bailey’s transition away from Maya and Vivian when he leaves their house, with the promise of a job on the railroad. Throughout the story, trains are a literal and symbolic means of movement from one place to another, signifying transition and a deeply embedded sense of transience in Maya from an early age.