What are some symbols in Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers?

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

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Symbolism is a literary device in which an author uses objects, words, characters, places, and sometimes even the spoken word to mean something much deeper and more significant beyond its literal meaning. Common examples can be seen in the fact that a smile can be used to symbolize friendship; chains can symbolize "'union' as well as 'imprisonment'"; a dove can represent peace; and a red rose can represent romantic love (Literary Devices, "Symbolism").

We can see a couple of symbols in the very beginning of Walter Dean Myer's young adult novel Lockdown, especially in names. For example, the nursing home to which Reese is assigned for his work program is named Evergreen. Evergreen trees stay green forever and have therefore come to symbolize for Christians everlasting life, especially everlasting life found with God through the redemption of Christ. As a pagan symbol, evergreens also represent strength, determination, and revitalization.

Since doing well in performing his job at Evergreen becomes Reese's hope for being released from the juvenile correctional facility he is currently confined to, we can see how the name Evergreen reflects Reese's need to be revitalized and his determination. The connection between the facility Evergreen and Reese's strength and determination becomes even more evident when we learn Reese is determined to be released all for the sake of being able to help and protect his sister Icy once again.

More importantly, in Evergreen, Reese meets Mr. Hooft, a man of Dutch descent who had been imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp on Java during World War II. Mr. Hooft has a miraculous survival story and is able to empathize with Reese's feelings of entrapment and wanting to lash out violently. Mr. Hooft is able to give Reese many survival tips that help him control his violent urges and help him successfully be released from the prison. Since Mr. Hooft in Evergreen has a miraculous survival story and teaches Reese how to survive, we can see how Mr. Hooft helps underscore the author's use of the name Evergreen to symbolize Reese's new awakening. Mr. Hooft has helped Reese find redemption, which connects to both everlasting life and Reese's new-found inner strength to keep battling and overcoming the hardships of life.

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