In Thomas King's Medicine River, Will gives South Wing, Louise's daughter, a Christmas present and a birthday present. What are the presents and what symbolic meaning do they have?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Thomas King's Medicine River, the gift Will gives Louise's daughter, Wilma, whom he calls South Wing, on her first birthday is a handmade "real Indian rattle" (p. 139). Will and his best friend Harlen specifically go to Harlen's grandmother to request the rattle because she makes them herself. The rattle she gives them is carved out of willow and covered in deer hide; the deer hide is "painted blue and yellow" (p. 140). The rattle noise is made with stones and seeds, and the rattle is also decorated with "strands of horsehair" (p. 140). Since the rattle is an authentic Indian rattle, one thing it symbolizes is Will's heritage. But Will is one who is caught between his heritage and the modern-day world as a photographer. The rattle is also decorated with the two primary colors blue and yellow, and primary colors are an essential aspect of art. Hence, the two primary colors symbolize Will's artistic ties to the modern world.

The Christmas gift Will gives South Wing is also decorated with primary colors. It's a top that emits the sound of music as it spins, a "sweet, humming sound" that changes in pitch as the top spins in a "perfect circle" (p. 260 - 61). The top is also decorated with the primary colors: "red, yellow, blue" plus the color green (p. 261). As the top spins, you can see the colors shift. Again, the primary colors symbolize his artistic ties to the modern world since all colors are derived from the three primary colors. But also, the top itself and the one color "red" symbolizes Will's own past and his reconciliation with that past. Through a letter he once read, Will learned that his own father had tried to send Will and his brother a musical top for Christmas and that the top was red and decorated with a "cute little animal" on the side (p. 9). Hence, in being able to get South Wing a musical top, he is allowing himself to bond with his father and ease the pain of not having his own father in his life.

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