Characters

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471

One might consider that there are two primary characters in Kinnell’s Blackberry Eating: The narrator who goes to pick and eat the blackberries and the blackberries themselves. The imagery that Kinnell uses to describe the blackberries is in many ways very similar to that of the narrator himself, and thus in Blackberry Eating, there is an unmistakable and direct association between the two characters. This connection helps to more firmly ground the narrator in the natural world and make direct comparisons between the bounty and robust nature of the blackberries and that of the person picking them.

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In one line, Kinnell describes the blackberries as being “fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries.” Each of these descriptors does much to convey a sense of both the natural imagery of autumn morning blackberries as well as to depict their longevity and healthiness. Fatness and overripeness are qualities that indicate a good life, both in plants as well as in humans.

That the blackberries are doubly described as “black” directly plays into a description of the narrator him/herself further down. Kinnell, when describing the narrator’s eating, says that he does so in a “silent, startled, icy, black language,” and that this is a language of “black-berry eating in late September.” Kinnell has deliberately used repetitive syntax here: the “icy, black language” of the narrator’s mastication parallels the “icy, black blackberries” themselves.

The reader might imagine that, in eating the blackberries, both they and the narrator become one. In the process, all of the life-giving and life-sustaining properties of being a blackberry in late September, which Kinnell earlier enumerated, have become infused in the person who eats them. It is a symbolic and beautiful depiction of one instance of fusion between man and nature.

If one takes this metaphor far enough, it is possible to imagine that the narrator and the blackberries are actually the same thing. Perhaps not in a physical sense, but in a spiritual and metaphysical sense, both the blackberries and the person eating them share in the ripened, salubrious, arcadian splendor of nature’s infinite reserve.

This symbolism is reinforced in the description of the blackberry stalks. They are prickly, a “penalty” for engaging in what Kinnell calls the “black art of blackberry-making.” By referencing the black arts, Kinnell is referencing the forbidden nature of the blackberries themselves. In other words, just like the apple that Even convinced Adam to eat in the Garden of Eden, the blackberries embody such purity, such goodness that it should actually be forbidden to eat them, and thus the stalks are punished for bringing such a perfect fruit into the world. By consuming them, the narrator has taken all of their goodness into himself, and, as was the case after Adam ate the apple, their enduring qualities will always be with him.

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