All the Bright Places | Study Guide

Jennifer Niven

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All the Bright Places | Symbols


Eleanor's Glasses

Throughout the early parts of the novel, Violet wears her dead sister's glasses. The symbolism here is created self-consciously by the character as much as by the author. Violet says, "Maybe, if I wear the glasses long enough, I can be like her." The character's desire to wear her sister's glasses is part of her inability to move beyond her sister's death. The glasses help Violet keep the memory of Eleanor near her by literally being on her eyes—even though they are not fit for Violet to wear. Early on Violet thinks, "I have a headache. Probably from the glasses. Eleanor's eyes were worse than mine." She goes on to note that they "were stylish" on Eleanor, but the glasses are "ugly" on her. Eventually as Violet's mental health grows increasingly stable, she takes the glasses to her sister's room. As she puts them on the dresser, she says, "Thanks for the loan." Then she adds, "But they make my head hurt. And they're ugly." She imagines her sister's laughter. Violet, who chose to wear these glasses as she held on to her sister's memory, is consciously letting them go, a sign of her emotional recovery.

The Cardinal

The cardinal is a symbol of Finch, abandoned and struggling. Finch's first depressive episode is triggered by, or simply associated in his mind with, the death of the bird. He recalls his mother talking about the cardinal, "The one that kept flying into the glass doors off the living room? Over and over, he knocked himself out." She goes on to add that "one day we came home and he was lying on the patio, and he'd flown into the door one too many times, and you called his grave a mud nest." Finch had wanted to let the bird inside, and at the time he blamed the bird's death on his mother. The parallels with his life are clear. His mother has chosen to deny the bird help, and it subsequently died. His mother, as is obvious over the course of the novel, is aware of Finch's "black" moods and his abuse at his father's hands, and she has done nothing.

This symbol asks readers to consider if help would have mattered to Finch. Maybe, he thinks, the "cardinal was dead either way, whether he came inside or not." The idea that the cardinal's death was inevitable is very much the way Finch feels about his own death. Later when Finch discovers that the "nest houses"—an Indiana attraction he tries to find—are gone, he thinks again about the cardinal flying into his door, and "his little bones in his little grave, and it is the saddest thought in the world." As he comes closer to his own death, Finch ponders the cardinal and the futility of its struggles more and more.

The Waves

The Waves, a 1931 novel by Virginia Woolf with six narrative voices, is a text through which the two main characters communicate. The reader may note that The Waves is a clue as well as a symbol, in that Woolf herself—after a long struggle with manic-depressive episodes—committed suicide by drowning at age 59. The choice of the book is reflective of Finch's own depression, his fixation on suicide, and his ultimate choice to die by drowning.

Finch and Violet send each other quotes from the book, as teens might more typically do with song lyrics. These quotes are part of the suicide notes Finch leaves. His clue to Violet is "The words are written in The Waves." Arguably the symbol of The Waves further romanticizes the horrific act of suicide by association with Woolf, literature, and a poetic end.

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