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

The Red Sweater

When Rachel is forced to wear the sweater, the experience of putting it on is viscerally uncomfortable; it’s itchy, it “smells like cottage cheese,” and it’s “full of germs that aren’t [hers].” That she has such an averse reaction suggests the sweater symbolizes her powerlessness, and the fact that she is being forced to accept a truth she doesn’t believe. Even before Mrs. Price demands she put it on, Rachel attempts to distance herself from the object of her disgust. She shoves it to the end of her desk, using her ruler so she doesn’t actually have to touch it. She moves her own items as far away from the sweater as she can, and even moves her chair so she’s at the opposite end of the desk. Rachel’s obvious resistance sparks annoyance in Mrs. Price, who proceeds to impose her will on Rachel using her power as an authority figure. Rachel, cowed by Mrs. Price and feeling singled out, cries because the sweater is not hers, nor is the truth that it symbolizes, and the injustice of it is so great that she can hardly verbalize how it makes her feel; she can only react like she’s three years old again, sobbing openly in the classroom, humiliated on her birthday.