Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Even after learning his real name is Brian Cruise, Starr thinks of the police officer who shot Khalil as One-Fifteen. By referring to him only by badge number, Starr reduces One-Fifteen to a symbol of racism in the system of law enforcement. This word choice makes a larger point that Khalil did not die because of One-Fifteen, but because of the way law enforcement criminalizes black youth. As One-Fifteen’s colleagues protect him, comforting him in the aftermath of the shooting and trying to distort Starr’s testimony during her first interview, it becomes clear that One-Fifteen’s behavior is condoned, or at least considered normal. Although Uncle Carlos eventually condemns One-Fifteen, the police institution does not, and initially does not want to prosecute him. One-Fifteen as an individual may have committed this crime, but he could have been any police officer who perpetrates violence against black communities. One-Fifteen is a statistic, a part of a violent system, and his name and story do not change the fact that he wrongfully killed Khalil.
Maverick’s work in his rose garden represents his values as a parent and his devotion to Starr, Seven, and Sekani. Maverick mentions that gardens need conversation to grow, and we see conversation as an important part of his parenting style, such as when he talks to Starr about the meaning of Thug Life. The roses start drying during the initial riots in Garden Heights, which coincides with the height of Starr’s confusion and self-blame. Maverick’s observation that the roses are dying immediately precedes his conversation with Starr about the meaning of Thug Life, in which he shares his values and helps inspire Starr to decide to testify. At the end of The Hate U Give, when Maverick says his roses will survive the move to the suburbs, he also means that despite his fears, the values of black power he has given his children will survive the move as well.
The constant work and love Maverick puts into his roses offer a vision for a black childhood in which children flourish because of the caring attention from the adults around them. Thomas may have chosen roses for Maverick’s garden as a reference to Tupac’s poem “The Rose that Grew from Concrete,” which is widely interpreted as celebrating the success of poor black children who grow up with very few resources. Thomas references this poem in the acknowledgement section, where she encourages children from her neighborhood to be roses. Because roses are notoriously difficult to grow, a rose growing in concrete is a miraculous occurrence. The childhood provided by a parent like Maverick does not require miraculous self-reliance. When Maverick offers the same care and opportunity to DeVante as he gives his own children, DeVante forges a new path in his life that will lead to him finishing high school.
The name “Garden Heights” carries symbolic weight because it emphasizes the fact that children, like plants, need care and attention to grow and are the products of the place in which they grow up. While the streets all have names like “Carnation” and “Magnolia,” very little actual nature appears in Garden Heights outside of Maverick’s garden. The contrast between the pastoral name and the harshness and violence in the neighborhood emphasizes how unideal the conditions of Garden Heights are for children. Starr falling into Maverick’s rosebush and emerging bloodied from the thorns during Natasha's murder symbolizes the hidden dangers that children in Garden Heights must face while growing up. Garden Heights may represent a garden, but it is a garden filled with thorny dangers and difficult circumstances in which children, like plants, struggle to survive and grow.
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