Blues Ain't No Mockingbird

by Toni Cade Bambara

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In "Blues Ain't No Mockingbird" what are the three symbols in the story and what do they stand for?

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Three significant symbols in “Blues Ain’t No Mockingbird” are Granddaddy Cain, Camera, and the hammer.

Granddaddy Cain: He symbolizes dignity, nobility, and leadership. While his co-workers were referred to as just waiters, he was held in esteem as “The Waiter.” As a leader, Granddaddy uses his hands both as a tool of comfort and protection. The narrator reminisces, “Then Granddaddy holds his hand out—this huge hand I used to sit in when I was a baby and he’d carry me through the house to my mother like I was a gift on a tray. Like he used to on the trains... And said he had engines in his feet and motors in his hands and couldn’t no train throw him off and couldn’t nobody turn him round. They were big enough for motors, his hands were. He held that one hand out all still and it gettin to be not at all a hand but a person in itself.”

Camera: Camera symbolizes invasion of privacy, exposure, and potential danger. All of Camera’s actions and words are exploitative, invasive, and threatening towards Granddaddy Cain, Granny, and their family. Camera wants to use the film to embarrass others for his own profit/gain.

The hammer: The hammer is a demonstration of strength, authority, protection, and intimidation. Granddaddy Cain uses the hammer to kill the hawks as a means of protecting his family, but he also makes sure that Camera and his associate witness it. So, when he confronts them about their taking pictures and he crushes the camera, Granddaddy’s wielding of the hammer is fresh in their mind and they retreat without much of a fight. At the end of the story, “Granddaddy picks up the hammer and jams it into the oilskin pocket” like a victorious king sheathing his sword as Granny hums in satisfied approval of her husband and Cathy dreams of someday authoring a tale “about the proper use of the hammer.”

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The three significant symbols in Toni Cade Bambara’s “Blues Ain’t No Mockingbird” are the ladle, the chicken hawks, and the hammer.

The author introduces Granny as she is ladling rum over her Christmas cakes. The author then proceeds to describe what Granny is ladling prior to each of the family’s moves. Granny ladled something special when they lived in Judson’s woods, at the Cooper place, and when they lived at the dairy. However, inevitably, they moved away from each place. Ladles can signify the need to seek happiness and that is exactly what Granny does each time she moves on.

Chicken hawks are birds known as pests who prey on barnyard fowl. In this story, the chicken hawks represent the two men from the county who come filming on the Cain’s land. They ask questions that Granny finds inappropriate. They film the farm and the family without permission. When Granddaddy returns he has one chicken hawk, who was stalking the Cain’s farm, over his shoulder. The chicken hawk suffers a slow death after Granddaddy uses the hammer to nail it violently it to the barn. When the second hawk comes looking for his mate, Granddaddy kills him with one swift throw of his hammer. He deals with the men swiftly when they come “buzzing” around him.

In literature, hammers often represent a strong, masculine force, which is an apt description for Granddaddy. The author describes him as tall, and king-like in mannerisms. He uses the hammer to nail the first hawk to the barn door and to kill the second one. He uses his imposing presence to get rid of the annoying reporters. He simply puts out his hand and the cameraman places the camera in it. Mr. Cain dismantles the camera before handing it back and telling the men they are in Mrs. Cain’s flower garden. They high tail it off the property.

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