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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
A "mackintosh" is a British word for a raincoat. Jeanette's mother buys her a one after Jeanette rips hers. The raincoat is too large and a brilliant color pink. Jeanette hates it. This raincoat symbolizes a final attempt by Jeanette's mother to force her into something that she is not. Its pink color suggests the femininity or girliness that Jeanette's mother wants Jeanette to maintain. When Jeanette's mother forces it over Jeanette's head, Jeanette thinks of The Man in the Iron Mask. The main character in that story is confined in prison with a mask over his face for many years. For Jeanette, this pink raincoat symbolizes the ideological mask that her mother is trying to keep on her; it requires that Jeanette become a heterosexual and follow her mother's ideas. After Jeanette leaves the store, she feels nauseous because of the raincoat. Her physical distress arises because Jeanette knows on an unconscious level how little this coat matches who she truly is. Ironically, it is Jeanette's sickness that leads her to look around the marketplace and see Melanie, her first love. Apparently, Jeanette is still able to peer out through her iron mask of a pink raincoat to liberate herself. Her mother's final attempt at symbolic imprisonment no longer works.
The names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are used twice in the novel, once for the three white mice Elsie Norris places in the painted fiery box, once for the sorcerer's three ravens. The names come from the biblical book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego worked for King Nebuccanezzar during the period that the Jews were in exile. One day, the King ordered them to pay homage to a golden religious idol, but the three men refused because they were devout Jews. For their disobedience, the King cast them into a fiery furnace. The three men, however, did not die because God rewarded their faithfulness. When the King looked in the furnace, he saw them alive with a creature that appeared to be an angel. The King freed the men, promoted them, and praised the greatness of their God.
The martyrdom and eventual success of these three men mirror that of Jeanette. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jeanette refuses to pay homage to an idol, or actually an "ideal"—that of homosexuality. For her disobedience, her church members punish her in various ways. Despite these hardships, Jeanette does not die. It is her faith in her own interpretation of God that will save her. Jeanette's unwillingness to grovel beneath religious ideas that appear idolatrous to her, such as homophobic notions in the church, brings her final salvation. This metaphor contain a scathing commentary upon Jeanette's church by suggesting that through their misunderstanding of the word of God they are actually going against his ways. Nevertheless, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego testifies to the way that the faithful will be protected in the midst of persecution. Just as it worked for these three men, so too will it work for Jeanette. She too will become freed and promoted in society, with the greatness of her version religion recognized.
The stone pebble has a dual yet interconnected meaning in the novel. At first, the pebble appears to be a possible weapon. The orange demon throws it to Jeanette after her fantasy about the Forbidden City, a location in which a stone could kill a person. Because of the power of a stone in Jeanette's fantasy, the pebble initially appears to be a tool that could help Jeanette conquer her enemies, whether they be her mother, or her church members. When the pebble appears the second time, the raven Abednego coughs it up (it represents his heart) to keep Winnet Stonejar (Jeanette's mythical alter ego) safe. Here the pebble becomes a talisman that evokes the fable of Hansel and Gretel. Hansel and Gretel used pebbles when they went into the forest so that they could find their way home. The pebble from the raven also helps to guide Jeanette/Winnet toward her home— which ultimately is her true self. The pebble will stay with Winnet as she wanders through the forest and eventually makes it to the city. In the end, the pebble will become both a weapon and a way home. Jeanette finds her true self through her writing. In the act of creating her novel, she is liberating her self. In the act of writing a novel, Jeanette is also able to fight against the oppression that she suffered in her years. The pebble has both guided her home and allowed her to fight.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit!