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

The Fire Tower

The fire tower represents thwarted human attempts to dominate nature. The fire tower is a manmade landmark inside the marsh and the setting of two fateful (and one fatal) meetings between Kya and Chase. It is weathered and rotting, suggesting that nature is working to destroy it, to take it down. If Kya serves as an avatar for the marsh and if Chase, the golden boy, represents the town, then the fire tower represents the strained relationship between town and marsh. The fire tower sits high above the marsh and allows a beautiful view of it, but it also allows people to climb up and literally look down on the marsh, much in the way the townspeople look down on Kya. When Kya pushes Chase from the fire tower, she pushes him, too, from him place at the top of the social hierarchy and returns him to nature, to her domain.  

The Shell Necklace

The shell necklace represents the sexual love and connection Kya desires. Kya makes the necklace out of the shell Chase finds on their first date, just before he tries to push her into a sexual relationship too quickly. When she makes it, she thinks she’ll keep it for herself, but knows if she sees Chase she’ll give it to him. This parallels the way that Kya both wants to hold herself and her sexual intimacy back from Chase but also feels compelled by a force stronger than her resistance to give herself to him. Chase often touches the shell necklace when he’s being dishonest or pushing Kya to do something she doesn’t want to do. For example, he touches the necklace when he invites her to Asheville, where he intends to push her to have sex at the motel. He also touches the necklace when she meets Chase and his friends in public, where he has kept her a secret and is involved with Pearl. Chase is also wearing the necklace when he tries to rape Kya. By taking the shell necklace back from Chase after she kills him, Kya reclaims the piece of herself she gave away. 

The Gulls

The gulls represent the family Kya finds in nature after she is abandoned by her biological family. The first time Kya interacts with the gulls in the book is when her mother fails to come home for Kya’s seventh birthday. She celebrates instead with the gulls, who greet her with loud noises like a celebration and then settle into a companionable silence, as though keeping her company on her special day. Throughout her life, she takes care to feed them and is deeply concerned about them when she’s in jail. Jodie and Tate take care of the gulls, and in doing so, they show themselves to be part of Kya’s family, too. 

Sunday Justice

Sunday Justice represents the solace and companionship of nature. Kya forms a quick and intense bond with the cat. The only time she comes up against the depth of her loneliness in jail is when she fervently hopes that the cat will befriend her. Isolated from human contact, and more direly for her, from nature, the courthouse cat is her only solace. With Sunday Justice, in touch with the wordless companionship of an animal, Kya can finally relax enough to sleep. When the cat jumps into Kya’s lap during the court proceeding, the prosecutor absurdly wants to object to the cat’s “partiality,” which stands in contrast to the prejudice many of the townspeople have against Kya. In this way, Sunday Justice illustrates that Kya, though rejected often by human society, is embraced by nature.