Monday, February 12, 2007

White Irises

The most effective use of symbolism in The Interpreter is the use of Irises and the color white throughout the novel. From early on in the novel the Irises serve as a representation of Suzy’s relationship with her family, particularly her mother, and Suzy’s characteristics. Suzy says that her mother describes the flowers as sad and they symbolize perpetual mourning. Suzy is perpetually mourning her relationship with her parents and their deaths. Bill, the police officer tells Suzy that she has the face of a mourner (Kim 175). Another detail of the Irises is that they are white. The use of the color white in this novel symbolizes mourning, regret, and the longing for home.

Even though they are sad run-of-the-mill type of flowers, the Irises are her mother’s favorite flowers (Kim 33). If the flowers are a representation of Suzy, how does this speak to Suzy’s connection with her mother? Suzy is like her mother in many ways. Suzy even looks more like her mother, Kim Yong Su tells Suzy that she takes after her mother more than Grace does. It is almost as if Suzy represents her mother and her mother’s character develops through Suzy.
Suzy is passive and quiet like her mother. The text says that there was nothing her mother objected to, but Suzy doesn’t object to anything throughout the novel also (Kim 190). When their father chops off Grace’s hair, both Suzy and her mother stand there and can do nothing, Suzy’s mom even looks away. We see this passiveness in Suzy too with her relationships; she keeps her feelings in and never says what she really wants from the men in her life. When Suzy describes Korean culture she mentions that it is the Korean way to underplay the situation and declare one is fine even when suffering from pain, Suzy does this throughout the novel and it demonstrates her passiveness. Instead of confronting the problems in her life Suzy finds it easier to run away and isolate herself.

Suzy says the Irises are not glamorous and she doesn’t see herself as glamorous either. Throughout the novel Suzy compares herself to her sister Grace. When the gentleman at Montauk mistakes her for Grace, she is secretly amused since she never considers herself as beautiful as Grace. When Grace is defiant towards their father and her father punishes her, Grace seems to be the one in control, and Suzy is jealous of Grace’s ability to be an acting agent in her own life.

The color white in the novel symbolizes mourning and a longing for home. It is Korean tradition to wear white when mourning, Suzy and Grace wear white to their parents’ funeral, the Irises are white, and Suzy’s mom wears a white cloth pin to commemorate her own parents’ death. “White is the color of sadness, the color of remembering, of home” (Kim 72). White symbolizes their homeland of Korea. The parents are constantly trying to make sure that Suzy and Grace do not forget their language and their culture. The girls want nothing to do with anything Korean, but after her parents’ death, Suzy longs for her parents and her culture. Suzy reflects on Korean things and regrets leavings her parents and rejecting the things they always told her were important.

1 comment:

Priya Jha said...

I really like this sustained reading of the color white and how it symbolizes home. How might we then interpret Grace's actions of sending Suzie the flowers on the anniversaary of their parents death?
Is there a way that we can also read the color white through the lens of race?