Dicey's Song

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Main Ideas

Motifs

Main Ideas Motifs

Music

Voigt uses the motif of music to represent both the act of communal reaching out and being together as well as an act of individual reaching out, as the musician unveils some part of his or her personality to the listeners. When Mr. Lingerle first visits the Tillerman house, Dicey is equally awed by his musical proficiency and his obesity. Jeff's guitar playing and singing by the bike racks causes Dicey to stop and listen almost despite herself, and Maybeth's music serves as a constant reminder to Dicey of Maybeth's soundness of mind and heart. At the same time, music serves as an important locus of connection throughout the novel. Dicey and Jeff sing together, prompting further conversation and even an invitation to hear Maybeth sing, Jeff plays for and sings with the restless and belligerent Sammy in Millie's shop, and all of Dicey's friends and family sing happily together on the day after Thanksgiving. Music serves not only as a way to learn about and appreciate another, but a way simply to be with them as a friend.

Clothing

Clothing serves two major functions in Dicey's Song. First, clothing represents the ways in which Gram physically provides for the Tillerman children, and second, it serves as an index of Dicey's maturation and growing proximity to the adult world. Gram periodically ventures up to the attic, the repository for all the artifacts of her past as a wife and mother, and brings down warm clothes to protect the children from the coming Maryland winter. When this repository fails, Gram and Dicey shop for the children, loading themselves up with wool, jeans, shirts, and underwear even as they bring their ingenuity and insight to bear on the emotional challenges each child is facing. Gram even knits each child a sweater. As Gram is not a particularly warm individual, these clothes, which provide the children with physical warmth, stand in for and represent emotional warmth and care she provides for them by giving them a home and freedom. At the same time, clothes represent change and growing up to Dicey. Gram brusquely tells the girl she is too old to go around without a shirt in the novel's first chapter, she flinches when she sees the shirts Gram has altered for her emphasize her bosom, she reacts angrily when Gram has her buy a bra, and she looks at her increasingly womanly figure with surprise when she tries on the brown dress. To Dicey, clothes, which are part of the surfaces with which she is so unconcerned, remind her of the fact that she is growing up and drawing closer to the adult world.

Essays

Both James and Dicey suffer considerably over writing their assigned essays for school. These essays, as Gram points out, are a way of reaching out, as much as music. James and Dicey cannot express themselves and reach out in the form of music to the extent that the gifted Maybeth can, but they can express themselves well through the written word. Each essay incident illustrates an aspect of their personalities. James writes an unconventional essay about the Pilgrims, both unconventional in its excellence and in its subject matter, which consists of the varied and unexpected reasons for the Pilgrims' decisions to come to America. James, as is typical of his personality, decides to censor this unconventionality, and he turns in a less spectacular essay. Dicey composes an essay narrating Momma's story, unexpectedly reaching out to the essay's readers with this sad part of her past. Mina, the unconventional girl in the classroom, reacts well to the essay. However, Mr. Chappelle and Dicey's other classmates misperceive the work as a piece of plagiarism and remain mystified as to the identity of the essay's subject. Dicey's attempt at reaching out, veiled as it is, results largely in her being misperceived and misunderstood.