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

The Goldfinch, the Painting

From the moment that Theo sees the painting hanging in the museum and learns that it was the first painting his mother loved, The Goldfinch becomes the novel’s central symbol. It represents many abstract ideas: genius, innocence, captivity, history, beauty, timelessness, resilience, dignity, and truth. Each time Theo holds and studies it, readers see more layers of both paint and symbolism. The painting’s history parallels Theo’s own, for it survives an explosion in the 1600s and another in the museum. While dying, Welty points to it and tells Theo to take it, which he does, an action that spurs the entire plot. The painting soon becomes a source of anxiety, for it must be hidden and protected. While Theo worries that others will find or take it, he never suspects Boris. When Theo thinks he’s lost the painting, he contemplates suicide. When he learns it has been returned to the art world, Theo’s salvation begins.

The Ring

The gold ring that Welty hands to Theo amid the post-explosion chaos is a symbol of connection. It connects Theo to Hobart and Blackwell, and like all enduring works of art, it connects the past to the present, the creator to the observer. In Chapter 3, Mrs. Barbour observes the ring’s Greco-Roman crest and a stone carved with a mythical beast. She deciphers the word Blackwell, which means nothing to Theo because he’s still repressing details of the bombing. She cautions Theo not to carry it with him because it is valuable, but he does anyway. He fingers it in class and keeps it in his pocket because it connects him to his mother and to the bombing. At the end of Chapter 3 when Theo hands Hobie the ring, it leads to their talk about Welty’s last moments. Hobie is grateful that Welty was not alone when he died. Immediately, the ring connects Welty, Hobie, and Theo, and they will remain closely connected for the rest of the narrative.

Las Vegas

Although Las Vegas is the setting for only Chapters 5 and 6, its symbolic weight is heavy. The city symbolizes inauthenticity, gambling, sprawl, emptiness, lust, and greed. The opposite of New York, Las Vegas is western, new, isolated, hot, dry, and seductive, the chosen base for gamblers such as Larry and Xandra. Las Vegas is full of carnival colors, X-rated shows, and long strips of cheesy businesses. Unlike the residents in New York, everyone drives a car. The remote development where Xandra lives is The Ranches at Canyon Shadows. Their house is big and empty, so unlike the cramped apartments in New York. Without Las Vegas, Theo would never meet Boris and Theo would not have known much about his father. Theo flees Las Vegas soon after his father’s death, fearing he’ll be taken by child services, taking his drug habits and his new cynicism about life with him. The aspect of Las Vegas Theo likes most is that it does not, in any way, remind him of his mother.