Gathering the Tribes Critical Essays

Carolyn Forche


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Forché’s poetic technique incorporates recurrent patterns of symbols throughout the volume, and she uses repetition to establish consistency in Gathering the Tribes. Perhaps the most persistent symbol in the book is whiteness: White is represented by snow, baking flour, the color of the poet’s skin, and other images. Yet, whereas white has always been a symbol for women, particularly in regard to purity and virginity, Forché takes her symbolic use of white from other cultures. In countries such as Mexico, white traditionally symbolizes death. Therefore, in “Burning the Tomato Worms,” the line that states “Cake flour clung to her face” in reference to Anna can be read as a foreshadowing of her death. The “muslin snow” in “What It Cost” symbolizes the death of the land for refugees who must leave it. In “Mountain Abbey, Surrounded by Elk Horns,” white cattle slated for slaughter serve as symbols of faith for the abbey’s bread-maker. “Your eyes are snowy,” the poet writes in “Taproot,” indicating that the boy she had once known is now dead to her. Yet death is never a finality in Forché’s poetry; for example, even though Anna is dead, “Burning the Tomato Worms” indicates that she is “big under the ground,” allowing for the possibility of Anna’s rebirth.

Many of the symbolic purification and initiation rituals in Gathering the Tribes are spiritual ceremonies of connection and regeneration....

(The entire section is 534 words.)