And the Mountains Echoed Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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Written by Ruchika Thukral
The oak tree mentioned in the book is said to be so old that it had seen the army of Genghis Khan march past. The oak tree features regularly in Saboor’s stories, particularly the one about a jin who whn agreeing to to grant someone’s wishes drops ten oak leaves on that person. Saboor uses this element of the story to propose his love to Masooma, as she looks for confirmation of hers. After Masooma’s accident Saboor loses his jovial way. After he has to sell Pari off to rich Wahdatis, he cuts off the tree with a vengeance. To him, the tree is a symbol of his innocence that veiled him from the cruel real world.
The oak tree is also a landmark of Shadbagh. Abdullah and Pari associate the tree with their childhood. Pari gets a sense of déjà vu when she see the tree elsewhere even when she has no idea about her adoption. The oak tree is also used as a landmark for the lands of Saboor’s family as Golam states. The tree is older than Shadbagh and acts as a central point of the village. Abdullah cuts the tree for wood but his emotions are for the dreams it had spoilt, of Masooma and his. When Adel’s father mentions that whosoever had cut the tree had been foolish, it shows the gap between privileged and poor. For Adel’s father, the grandeur of the tree has some value, but for Saboor and the villagemen, it is a means to survive winter.
Tin of Feathers
The tin of feather is a tin of Indian tea with a bearded Sikh man on top holding a cup of tea. The tin contains a collection of feathers of different birds. Pari likes to collect fathers and Abdullah, a loving brother, goes to lengths to acquire new feathers. The tin, most likely given by Nabi who got it from Whadatis, is a piece Abdullah cherishes after Pari is sold off to Wahdatis. He keeps it buried in earth, possibly as a symbol for mourning or to protect it from others. His relationship with PAri is something he believes no one understands, which is the reason, he hides the token from everyone and later takes to US. He keeps making additions to it, hoping he will meet his sister someday. When he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he adds a note to it, so it’s purpose is clear in case he doesn’t remember it anymore. He means PAri to have the box even when he is physically or mentally unable to. The box is a symbol of their childhood and love. It’s quite ironic that when Pari gets the box back, she can’t comprehend its’ meaning. This is embedded take on Baba Ayub’s story. Abdullah can’t recognize Pari after she finds him and Pari can’t remember their shared token when it finally reaches her.
Blue Car with Tan Top
The Wahdatis owned an American car with a blur color exterior and upholstery and a tan top. It was an uncommon car in Kabul and thus, a symbol of their opulence. Nabi, even though, didn’t own it, was proud of driving it. In his native village of Shadbagh, his arrival by the car was treated with much appreciation and fanfare. It was a way by which Nabi could express his status of being a city driver to village folk.The car is mentioned multiple times in the novel. When Saboor and his kids reach Kabul, Nabi asks them to wipe their feet before getting in the car. This marks the financial superiority of the Wahdatis and the gap between the two families. Nabi, in particular, is the persom most associated with the car, he drives it, takes care of it, and worries about it as he grows old. As days go by, he is unable to take care of the car as he is unable to prevent the decline in Wahdati’s prosperity. When Nabi passes away, Markos wonders if he should sell the car to a junkyard, but is unable to do so. He feels that the car is an integral part of the house, and though, it is in a bad condition, there is an emotional value attached to it. In the face of war, it becomes a symbol of Wahdati’s yesteryear’s prosperity.
Thalia is made to wear a mask by her mother Madeline as they visit Odelia and Markos, not for the sake of Thalia but for herself. The mask is meant to cover Thalia’s deformity but also brings more attention and curiosity to her. It is Odelia who sees through the whole charade and understands that the mask is not to prevent Thalia from humiliation, but for Madeline. Madeline, a beautiful but ambitious woman, can’t associate herself with such deformity and so asks Thalia to wear the mask. It could also be so as not to distract attention from herself to Thalia, as Madeline is a woman who thrives for attention. Such is the shame and want to be distanced from a deformed daughter she deserts Thalia with Odelia and later denies her existence as Markos learns from her obituary. The mask fills Thalia with such apprehension of her deformity that, even though she is a genius, she refuses a university education for the humiliation she would face in public. Thalia’s shame for deformity is what motivated Markos to pursue a career in medicine.
Pari, Abdullah’s daughter, was conceived by her parents when they met in a refugee camp in Peshawar and when they were well past their forties. When they are unable to provide Pari a sibling, she begins to have an unjustified annoyance with her parents, from observing other children and their siblings in her neighborhood. Adding the restrictions made by her culture and financial condition, she is unable to mix with children of her own age. Abdullah, meanwhile gets into the habit of telling Pari the stories of his sister, Pari’s namesake. She becomes an idea they share along with bedtime stories. So, like kids often do, Pari imagines the figure of Abdullah’s sister as an imaginary friend, who looks just like her. As an ode to this friend, Pari would write a postcard to the imaginary friend. This communication implies the connection these two have. As Pari grew, the postcards begin to grow less frequent signifying her maturity and acceptance of the fact that she has no sibling. When she presents her aunt these postcards, they are to show the hold her aunt has created on Pari unknowingly even when Pari knows nothing of substance about her.
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