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The Beet Queen, by Louise Erdrich, is not a particularly symbolic novel; however, it does contain a few symbolic elements which are seen consistently throughout the story.
One symbol is the fair. In the beginning, Adelaide takes her children to the orphan's fair. Things are bad for her and her family by then, but none of her children (or us) expect that Adelaide will just fly off with a perfect stranger and leave her children to fend for themselves--orphaned at an orphan's fair.
Near the end of the story, the orphans are (kind of) reunited. Father Jude Miller, the baby who was taken from the children, is here to find them. Dot, who feels as if she has been orphaned by her father, Karl, discovers she is well loved because of the fair.
One other consistent symbol in the novel is the train. The trains bring things in and take things away in this story, starting with the first pages of the book. In the first chapter, it brings “both an addition and a subtraction.” Karl and Mary leave Minnesota and arrive in North Dakota together, but the train takes Karl away. All major changes in characters happen because of the train, and in the end, Father Miller arrives at the fair in Argus in a train.
Finally, it is hard to overlook the most obvious symbol in the book, which is the plane. When Adelaide abandons her children, she does so by flying off with a stunt pilot at the fair; at the end of the story, her granddaughter Dot does the same thing, though it is not a permanent leave-taking. Dot feels this connection and kinship with the grandmother she has never met. She recognizes a "thread beginning with my grandmother Adelaide and travelling through my father and arriving at me. The thread is flight." Of course, her father's flight is figurative (he never uses a plane for his escapes), but the plane is a symbol which represents the multi-generational theme of flight.
Thanks so much!
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