What are some examples from the "Motorcycle Diaries" of symbolism- something verbal or nonverbal that arbitrarily and by convention stand for something else?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Motorcycle Diaries, in which Ernesto "Che" Guevara chronicles his travels through South America with his friend, Alberto Granado, the author often uses symbolism. He says at the outset of the book: "And so, the coin was thrown in the air, turning many times, landing sometimes heads and other times tails...It is likely that out of 10 possible heads I have seen only one true tail, or vice versa." In this conventional use of symbolism, Che compares his experiences to a coin being tossed in the air; in other words, he is subject to fate, and his experiences are subjective. He might experience 9 out of 10 tails or 9 out of 10 heads. His journey is not governed by logic, he is telling the reader, but by chance. 

Later, he writes the following: 

"The full moon is silhouetted against the sea, smothering the waves with silver reflections. Sitting on a dune, we watch the continuous ebb and flow, each with our own thoughts. For me, the sea has always been a confidant, a friend absorbing all it is told and never revealing those secrets; always giving the best advice — its meaningful noises can be interpreted any way you choose."

The ocean is a symbol of Che's mind and his innermost thoughts. The ocean seems to absorb his thoughts, yet it keeps his thoughts confidential. To Che, the sea is a kind of tabula rasa, or blank slate, on which he can project his feelings.

When Che comes to a crossroads, he thinks of it symbolically and writes, "High in the cordillera at a place called Casa Pangue there is a lookout that affords a beautiful view over Chile. It is a kind of crossroads; at least in that moment it was for me. I was looking to the future." He sees the crossroads as symbolic; it is not just a physical destination but a gateway to his future. 

durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Motorcycle Diaries relates the real-life situations that Ernesto Guevera de la Serna finds himself in on his journey of discovery with his friend Alberto Granado which starts out as an adventure, typical of many upper middle class young people, before the reality of responsibility and adult life set in.

There are several symbolic components that add to the depth of meaning in Motorcycle Diaries. A well-recognized symbol of discovery is the young men going off to find themselves by embarking on a marginally structured journey. This journey stands for everyone's right to self-realization. The fact that the motorbike is old, battles to even start and breaks down along the way represents all the stops and starts of life and the endless opportunities that present themselves. The "road trip" could have taken so many different "turns!"

The most pressing symbol is the river that separates the "clean" from the "unclean" effectively.  The audience is immediately affected by the enormity of the divide - the river - and the metaphorical divide between the classes, regardless of who is watching this, is unmistakable. This symbolism reaches everyone. It is not necessary to understand Guevera's politics, revolution, medicine, geography or any deeper meaning. The reality, on the world stage, cannot escape the audience. This has less to do with lepers and more to do with how most people ignore what is going on around them as they lead their comfortable lives.