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


Water is one of the most important symbols in the book. It is present in every chapter and serves different purposes at different points in the novel. Water because it can be both an unstable element as well as a dangerous one, is used by Bellow to show that his protagonist is seemingly drowning. Water is also unstable and, thus, all of the water imagery points to the fact that nothing is certain and that Wilhelm lives in this world of uncertainty. The "water" is present from the beginning when Tommy seems to be descending into an underwater world that suffocates him. However, in the end, the water turns into a beautiful symbol of rebirth. The tears Tommy cries are tears that, ironically, bring him out of his drowning state.


Clothes are pointed to throughout the novel in the descriptions of characters. It appears as a symbol from the beginning when Tommy is discussing clothing with Rubin, the newspaperman at the hotel, they talk about the clothes they are wearing. This is important because it points to the significance of appearances in the novel. Tommy is constantly putting on "layers," trying out roles and is constantly trying to conceal his true self.


Olive is the woman that Tommy loves. She is the woman he wants to marry but cannot because his wife will not grant him a divorce. His thoughts are constantly drifting toward he and his need for her is shown to the reader by the end of the novel. She signifies love, therefore. The importance of her name is what makes her a "symbol." The name Olive can refer to the symbolic Olive tree that signifies peace. Moreover, this would mean that it is "love," in the end is what brings "peace."