Discussion Topic

The representation of characters as birds in "Okay for Now."


In Okay for Now, characters are often symbolized as birds to reflect their personalities and growth. For instance, Doug Swieteck is likened to a struggling bird, symbolizing his journey towards self-discovery and overcoming challenges. The bird imagery throughout the novel highlights themes of freedom, transformation, and the characters' struggles to find their place in the world.

Expert Answers

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

How do the characters in Okay for Now resemble birds?

Okay for Now is full of metaphorical comparisons between the characters and different types of birds found in the illustrated Birds of America.

The Arctic Tern represents Lucas, Doug's brother. In the illustration of the bird, Doug is fascinated by its eye—which looks terrified in the face of falling, and eventually crashing, into water. This is representative of Lucas's struggle to find stability after returning from war.

The Red-Throated Diver illustration shows a mother bird being protective of her children and looking far off into the distance. This is representative of Doug's mother and particularly her close relationship with Doug.

The Black-Backed Gull illustration shows a bird that is dying and is representative of Christopher after the incident at the deli. Christopher also seems to be dying inside from a miserable family situation, and no one seems to be able to help him.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Okay for Now," what characters do the birds represent?

In the book, a picture of a bird begins every chapter. One of the pictures shows an Arctic Tern, and this fascinates Doug because it depicts a swiftly falling bird, "heading down into the water, about to crash, his neck yanked back because he knows he's going to smack into it." Above all, Doug notices the "terrified eye" of the bird. In thinking of the eye, Doug suddenly remembers Lucas, his older brother, who is a soldier in Vietnam.

In the story, the falling Arctic tern represents Lucas, who is injured during his service in Vietnam. When he returns home, Lucas has to deal with the aftermath of war; as a wounded warrior, his injuries are both physical and mental.

Chapter Two begins with a picture of the Red-Throated Divers. In the picture, a mother bird is flanked by two junior birds, while a baby bird nestles under her wings. Neither the junior birds nor the mother bird is looking at each other; the gazes of both parties are turned in opposite directions. Meanwhile, the baby bird, sitting securely under his mother's wings, is looking with interest towards the junior birds. Doug thinks that the baby bird looks like "maybe it wanted to swim where the other two birds were" but may be afraid to try.

As for the mother bird, Doug observes that her "neck was turned all around about as far as it could possibly go, and she was looking far away, at something a long way out from the picture. She was looking at a place she wanted to go but couldn't, because she didn't know how to get away." The picture appears to represent Doug, his mother, and his two brothers, Christopher and Lucas. We get some indication how this may be the case during a family interaction.

At dinner one night, Christopher and Doug's father both laugh at Doug because he only gets paid every other Saturday. Doug tells us that, while the two are laughing at him, his mother "turned and looked out the window, at something far away." Both Christopher and Lucas are beyond her seeming influence, but she enjoys a close relationship with Doug; the baby bird in the picture perfectly represents Doug.

Chapter Four begins with a picture of the Black-Backed Gull. Doug tells us that, in the picture, the bird appears to be dying. A large wing takes up much of the picture. The bird is bleeding, and there is "thick red blood all over the dark feathers." Doug continues to describe the bird for us:

His beak was wide open and his tongue was stretched out into a point. He was screeching while his blood ran. His head was pulled far back, like he was taking one last look at the sky that he would never fly in again. And his round eye told you he knew that everything was ruined forever.

He tells us that he would gladly have given Joe Pepitone's jacket to save this bird. Prior to seeing this picture, Doug describes the moment Christopher fails to recognize Joe Pepitone's jacket on him, as he torments Doug about his bird drawings. Later, when the police question Christopher about his possible culpability in the Tools 'n' More Hardware store robbery, Christopher is devastated. After the police officers leave, Christopher tries to tell his mother that he wasn't the one who broke into the store, but his mother doesn't believe him either.

When Doug goes into his bedroom that night, he tells us that he knows Christopher had been crying.

The covers were drawn up over his head. You know, when someone has been crying, something gets left in the air. It's not something you can see, or smell, or feel. Or draw. But it's there. It's like the screech of the Black-Backed Gull, crying out into the empty white space around him. You can't hear it when you look at the picture. But that doesn't mean it isn't there.

From the text, it would appear that the Black-Backed Gull represents Christopher. Caught in the shadows of his older brother and his abusive father, Christopher is inwardly dying, and yet no one seems to be able to help him. Like the Black-Backed Gull, he seems to be plunging downward into ruin.

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
Last Updated on