What symbolizes the first chapter of Medicine River?

Quick answer:

The symbol of chapter 1 of Medicine River might be the letters between Will’s mom and dad. Much of the chapter is devoted to excerpts from the letters or scenes connected to the letters.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

If you have to choose only one symbol in the first chapter of Thomas King’s novel Medicine River, you might go with the letters. Remember, the book begins with an excerpt of a letter from Will’s dad to his mom. Will has never met his dad. The letters seem to symbolize Will’s desire to know more about his history, especially as it relates to his father. It also seems to symbolize the way in which his past has been covered up or hidden from him.

When his mom catches him reading the letters, she’s upset. She says that they don’t belong to him and that they’re private. She then slaps him. She doesn’t slap him lightly—she slaps him “hard.”

In the context of his mom’s reaction, the letters might also symbolize the general, historical violence that Indigenous people have suffered. It might symbolize the ways in which their past and history has been forcefully and violently taken from them. Rose’s assertion that the letters are private might be a symbolic way for her to reclaim her past and history, even if she does so at the expense of her son.

However you talk about the symbolism of the letters, it seems safe to argue that the letters are the primary symbol of chapter 1. As you might have noticed, much of chapter 1 is dominated by either excerpts from the letters or scenes based on the letters and their author.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial