As young girls, Lila and Elena each have dolls and frequently play together. These dolls symbolize their childhood, and also their friendship. While it is important for them to play together, they often create violent or horrifying storylines about the experiences of the dolls. This reflects the reality that, even as children, Lila and Elena are not particularly innocent due to the environment in which they live. As Sarah Begley explains, "Naples is consistently depicted as a place of violence, poverty and social unrest." When Lila drops the dolls into the cellar, this act symbolizes her bold and reckless spirit, foreshadowing the other risks she will go on to take as she matures. It also suggests the way in which the experiences and identities of the two are intertwined: what happens to one affects the fate of the other.
The shoes (Symbol)
The pair of men's dress shoes which Lila first designs and then works with her brother to make by hand symbolize different things at different moments. At first, they symbolize her ambitions and drive. Even after Lila can no longer attend school, she does not stop thinking about ways to attain a brighter future and does not give up on her dreams of doing something creative and meaningful. Later, as she becomes more invested in the shoes, they symbolize her autonomy and agency. When Marcello Solara first asks to see them, Lila hides them because she does not want him to have access to something private that might help him to gain control over her. Finally, when the shoes resurface at Lila's wedding reception, worn by Marcello, they symbolizes Stefano's betrayal and the bleak future of Lila's marriage. She thought that marrying him would protect her from the dominance of the Solaras, but the fact that Marcello has been able to obtain the shoes suggests that neither she nor Stefano are free from them.
The car owned by the Solaro brothers (Symbol)
When Lila and Elena are adolescents, the Solara brothers purchase a car. This is the first car to be owned by anyone in the neighborhood, and it therefore symbolizes their wealth and power. The car also comes to symbolize the sexual threat posed by the Solara brothers; when they try to coax young women into the car, it is clear that it is a possible site of sexual transgression. Even being seen in the car can severely damage a young woman's reputation. Finally, the car signals the rise of modernity and progress. While many in the neighborhood, especially members of the generation of Lila and Elena's parents, cling to old-fashioned ideals and values, the car symbolizes the way in which the new generation has both bigger dreams and also new potential threats.
The storm on the day Lila and Elena skip school (Symbol)
Shortly before Elena is supposed to begin middle school, Lila convinces her to skip school so that they can explore the city. Elena is at first afraid, but becomes thrilled by the adventure and is surprised that it is Lila who ends up wanting to return home. The storm symbolizes the turbulent nature of the friendship between the girls. Lila pressures Elena to do something she is not comfortable doing, ignoring her boundaries. Then she cuts short the adventure, showing a volatility not unlike the rapidly changing weather. After the return, when Elena is caught and punished, she has the worrisome realization that Lila may have been trying to set her up in hopes that Elena would no longer be permitted to attend middle school. This suggests a dark and potentially dangerous nature also symbolized by the storm.
Elena's silver bracelet (Symbol)
When Elena performs well at school, her mother allows her to wear a treasured silver bracelet. At this point, the bracelet symbolizes an often unspoken pride that Elena's mother secretly feels at her daughter's intelligence and accomplishments. Later, the Solara brothers try to force Elena into their car, and in the struggle, her bracelet is broken. This symbolizes the way in which male dominance and expectations about her role as a sexual object threaten her hopes and ambitions unless she remains very focused on her goals, and protective of herself.
My Brilliant Friend Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for My Brilliant Friend is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.