An Uncommon Education Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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Teddy as the symbol of mourning
Naomi is lonely. She is completely isolated, and though for a season, she has her dear friend Teddy, he is taken from her by his parents moving to a new city. She is alone, but now with the memory of Teddy, the abstract pain of her loneliness becomes concrete—now she's not just lonely in general, she's lonely of a specific person's love that she cannot experience anymore. This is a kind of grief. Teddy symbolizes the full weight of Naomi's grief.
The depressed mother
The mother makes Naomi feel that she is unwanted, undeserving of attention, and not worth being happy about, but that's not the case at all, and if Naomi knew the secret about why her mother is so distant, she would also know how to make friends. The secret is that in Naomi's family, her mother and father were embarrassed about their mental health issues. Her father is an immigrant (more on that in a moment). Her mother struggles with extreme mood issues and depression, so if they can't talk openly about that in their marriage, given the stress of raising a child, the child could be left with the impression that they are the problem. The depressed mother is a symbol to Naomi of Naomi's fear of worthlessness.
The immigrant father
No story is more American than a family struggling to adjust to a new community after a painful and difficult life. That is the most American story, and it is the story that Naomi is in, but she doesn't know it. She doesn't know the horror of her father's orphanhood, so she is left to interpret his emotional stoicism in her own way. She just thinks he's cold, but the truth is that he is worn out from his life of sacrificing so much all the time. It's because of his love for her that he worked himself into a corner, but then he started to neglect her.
The symbolic title
So is this just a sad story about sad people? Absolutely not. The joke is in the title. With the title, we can learn that we're not supposed to pity Naomi Feinstein. She is not a pitiful, weak person. She is a person who has suffered and endured enormous emotional burdens at very young ages, without her parents support (it's hard to argue they aren't actually neglectful; they should have noticed their daughter was dying inside, but they were in a lot of pain, and they failed). In her adult life though, she calls it an Education, so it isn't a doomsday story. It's an enlightenment story. This is the story about how Naomi Feinstein learned what self-love and family are really about, through a painful, Uncommon Education.
The motif of longing
The book is languishing at times, and mournful throughout. Even Naomi's happiness is colored by her trauma and history of isolation, and it isn't like she is telling her friends about any of that, so although her body is suffering from less acute loneliness, her mind is still lonely, but she has to go through seasons and cycles to figure that out, and every time she learns something, it follows a season of frustration and longing. Then, when she bottoms out, she looks up and realizes that she has a new perspective and that she has grown through the experiences.
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