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What could be considered symbolic in the short story, "Killings"?

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Symbolism plays a role in the short story, "Killings." The symbolism is found in the cemetery overlooking the orchard, and in Frank's choice of burial site versus Strout's unceremonious dumping into an unmarked grave.

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The opening setting of the story offers symbolism: a cemetery overlooks a river and a symmetrically-planted apple orchard in the opposite direction. The cemetery symbolizes the formal observance of the death of a loved one, the river could be the unknown nature of life's journey, and the orchard, mankind's attempt to organize and quantify life.

The story unfolds to support the argument that these elements are symbolic. Frank's final resting place is dignified and chosen with care. His funeral is attended by people who loved him and who will miss him. The opposite is true of Strout's unceremonious dumping into an unmarked grave in the middle of the night. A chaotic stand of trees surround his resting place, symbolic of the chaotic way he lived his life.

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At first glance, the story "Killings" seems to be without any overt symbolism. The story is narrated in a realistic way; the third-person narrator seems very close to the characters, in that we are often left to figure out for ourselves the relationships between people and their significance, almost as if the narrator thinks these connections should be obvious. The narrator also tells the story in a roundabout way, beginning in the middle, at the funeral, and releasing critical bits of information only later in story in pivotal moments.

One of those moments that stays with me is the part, toward the end, where Matt takes Strout back to his house at gunpoint. Up to this point, our point of view had been limited to Matt and his grief, but there is something about Strout’s home, and specifically its orderliness, that personalizes him. Perhaps his meticulously kept home is “symbolic” of a kind of ordered life that Matt is no longer able to lead. At any rate, the neatness of the house suggests a certain clarity of purpose in Strout’s killing of Frank. As Strout explains, simply, “He was making it with my wife.”

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Keep in mind, symbols are objects in the story that are meant to represent a deeper meaning.  Often, when looking for symbolism, it is helpful to look for prominent objects, characters, or even places that recur more than once in the story.  It also helps to look for seemingly insignificant objects which the author seems to put undo attention on in a scene or scenes.

In this case, the guns in "Killings" should be looked at as symbolic.  Consider first that there are three guns of importance.  Strout's gun, which killed Frank, Fowler's gun, which killed Strout, and Willis' gun, which is not the impetus for any death in the story but is available to be one.  Predominantly, guns seem to be the symbol for revenge.  Strout killed Frank as revenge for sleeping with his wife.  Fowler killed Strout for the death of his son Frank.  If you go back and read the story again, you will also notice how much description is given to the guns.  Fowler, before killing Strout, frequently grips his gun in anticipation, as if it is the object of relief for his pain, the object which provides him courage, and finally, the object which finalizes his act of revenge.

The suitcase Fowler forces Strout to pack (and Strout's clean home) is symbolic of Strout's humanity and normalness outside of being a killer.

Willis' wife's pain pills could be considered symbolic of the fact that she and Ruth both go to sleep and ignore what their husbands are out doing late at night, despite the fact that though it goes unspoken, they likely know.

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