The War of the Wall

by Toni Cade Bambara

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What does the metaphor "the painter's eyes are full of sky" mean in "The War of the Wall"?

Quick answer:

When the narrator uses a metaphor in describing the painter's eyes as "full of sky," she means to imply that the painter is a dreamer.

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In the short story "The War of the Wall," the painter is represented as an ambitious, determined character. She arrives in the narrator's neighborhood to paint a mural on a wall there. At first, some of the people in the neighborhood are rude to her and dismiss her as an unwelcome interloper. Nonetheless, despite this frosty reception, the painter determinedly carries on painting her mural. At the end of the story we, and the people who have been rude to her, find out that the mural is to honor the neighborhood, specifically the painter's cousin who used to live in the neighborhood.

Toward the beginning of the story, the narrator describes the painter's eyes, metaphorically, as "full of sky." The implication here is that the painter is a dreamer, or, in other words, someone with ambition. The painter holds her head high, as if looking upward toward the heavens, rather than looking down at the ground. This implies that the painter is somebody who is concerned with greater, more important things than the humdrum concerns of everyday life. An equivalent, perhaps more common metaphor would be to describe somebody as having their head "in the clouds."

The narrator, when she hears her speak, also says that the painter sounds as if her mouth is "full of sky too." This compounds the impression already made by describing her eyes in the same way. The speaker's voice sounds like the voice of someone who has big dreams, just as her eyes look like the eyes of somebody who is always focused on those dreams.

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