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Obasan | Symbols

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Uncle's Stone Bread

Uncle first makes what Naomi calls his "stone bread" when the family is in Granton, forced to work on the beet farm. The bread he makes is hard as granite and nearly inedible, but he insists on continuing to bake it over the years, always believing he can make it better. The bread therefore serves as a symbol of Uncle's eternal optimism. Obasan eats it by breaking it into crumbs and dipping it in tea, showing that she shares Uncle's attitude, but the children refuse to eat it at all. With them, the bread serves as a symbol of their hard lives, which the children have never learned to accept.

The White Chicken

A white chicken appears in two significant scenes in the novel. The first is when Naomi puts some small yellow chicks into a cage with an adult white hen. The hen attacks them, killing many of them. This image works symbolically on two levels. First, it represents Gower's abuse of Naomi—an adult's destruction of a child's innocence. But it also can be seen as a metaphor for white Canada's destruction of the lives of its Japanese citizens. Later in the book, the image is reversed when the Japanese schoolboys catch and torture a white chicken, determined to make it suffer. Consciously or unconsciously, they are taking out their anger for how they have been treated.

The Yellow Butterflies

After the family moves to Slocan, Naomi is enchanted by a kaleidoscope of yellow butterflies. The creatures symbolize the beauty that can still be found in any situation. They may also symbolize the beauty of the Japanese people themselves. Naomi's brother Stephen, however, sees them as harmful insects that eat holes in clothing. He is unable to see the beauty, just as he is becoming increasingly unable to see what is lovely in his own heritage.

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