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

The Mother Cat

The mother cat that haunts Yolanda’s dreams symbolizes her home, the Dominican Republic, which reproaches her for leaving. The violation the cat suffers in losing its kitten represents the pain of a country that has lost its children, who cannot find their way home again. Yolanda is unable to find her roots when she returns home in the first chapter, representing the culmination of her search to reclaim what was lost when her family left the Dominican Republic.

The Black Bird

The black bird that emerges from Yolanda’s throat and attacks Dr. Payne symbolizes her fears that language, specifically her own words, could hurt the people she cares about. Her affection for and attraction to Dr. Payne is threatened by the aggressive and ugly words that could come out of her mouth. The bird freely moves from the room through the window screen, just as Yolanda might be able to freely speak her own mind if she were able to stop misquoting others and truly express her love and desires.


The guavas Yolanda craves when she arrives on the Island symbolize her desires to reconnect to the best memories of her childhood. She hopes the taste of the guavas will take her back to a vivid experience from the past. Instead, the outing highlights how culturally unprepared she is to pass as a Dominican woman, and how culturally American she has become as an adult.


Snow symbolizes hope for the future and the positive aspects of the American dream, as well as the terrifying potential of the unknown. Yolanda’s first experience of snow makes her think of atomic fallout, and she terrifies her class with a warning of imminent doom. Once she realizes her mistake, the snow comes to symbolize the culmination of her long-held hope to experience a mysterious and wondrous occurrence she has only heard about. The unique nature of each snowflake also symbolizes the possibilities that America offers Yolanda to explore her identity and express a new voice.