Toth’s intent in writing the autobiography of the formative years of her life is neither to glorify life in a small Midwestern town nor to produce a journalistic report of facts and events of her maturation. It is, instead, more generic and more cosmic. The mere title of her book, Blooming, is indicative of both her metaphoric and her representational goals. The italicized introduction to the first chapter presents an important metaphor: Toth’s garden is compared with that of a friend, for both of them succeed in yielding flowers, even though the friend plants haphazardly and carelessly, while Toth gives great attention to the layout and care of her garden. She develops that idea into a useful analogy about her life: “When I look at the time, the town, the customs, the people who surrounded me when I was growing up, I cannot wish I had been nurtured in a different place. It was the only garden I knew.” The metaphor of growing up as a type of blooming recurs throughout the book and connotes potential, possibility, anticipation, and promise. For example, during a rare shopping excursion to a large department store in Des Moines, she is charmed to find “a new strain [of white blouse] blooming in an overlooked corner.” On a chilly May Saturday, her mother helps her gather blooms of wildflowers to fill May baskets. Describing preparations and events of an important holiday, Toth records donning gaily colored clothes on Easter Sunday even when the weather was inclement: “Mixing the colors of religion, nature, and vanity, we did our best to bloom.”
A second important motif in the book is water imagery. Although Toth was born and reared away from sources of natural water, many of her most vivid sensations are nevertheless associated with water. Psychologically, being near water brings soothing and healing to her. Community pools in and around Ames serve as hubs of adolescent social life, but the benefits to Toth are personal as well: “Once in the pool, doing my laps, I felt a kind of anesthetic set in. Cold water slithered over me, a numb caress, promising relief.” Family trips to an old house on a Minnesota lake for two or three weeks each summer give her peace: “I lapsed into the lake’s quiet life with an unconscious comfort that was like a sigh of relief.” There she goes fishing when it is possible to borrow a boat, more for the pleasure of dreaming and being beyond the reach of a human voice than for the prospect of actually bringing in a catch.
There are material images of lesser importance which are used in the novel to signify something more than themselves. Clothes, for example, may measure success or independence or self-sufficiency, as well as satisfaction with spending money honestly earned. They may also be indicative of a positive or negative attitude. Working as a receptionist for a college radio and television station, Toth notices the careless way a sophisticated female reporter treats expensive clothes. In the same chapter, Toth compares her attitude about an expensive yet seldom-worn wool suit she buys on the spur of the moment, when married and having access to a joint income, with her feelings about a cheaper orange print dress she had debated for two days about purchasing years earlier with...
(The entire section is 1332 words.)