Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Star of David Necklace (Symbol)

Elio likes looking at the Star of David on Oliver’s neck. For him, noticing Oliver's confidence wearing this symbol of his Jewish identity felt like staring at something “timeless, ancestral, immortal” in both of them. He admires how Oliver is usually “ok” with all aspects of his life and never hides his individuality as Elio does. This gesture holds a lot of gravity for Elio since his mother has raised him to be what she calls a "Jew of discretion": not repressing their Jewish identity, but not showing it either. This symbol is a significant connection to Aciman's own Jewish background as well, and his own experience growing up in Egypt as a religious minority, a central theme to his biographical work, Out of Egypt.

Shelley's Heart (Motif)

When Elio and Oliver are sitting at the piazetta overlooking the sea, he recalls the Latin phrase "Cor cordium," "heart of hearts." This is in reference to the death of the romantic poet Percy Shelley, who died at sea and whose body his wife, Mary Shelley, and friends found bloated on the shore near the piazetta. Before cremating the body, one of Shelley's friends tore out his heart as a keepsake. Mary Shelley kept the calcifying heart for years after his death.

When Elio thinks that Oliver may have drowned on a fishing trip with their gardener Anchise, he is determined to light a pyre on the shore, rip out Oliver's heart, and wrap it in his shirt, because “that heart and his shirt were all I’d (Elio) ever have to show for my life.” The heart and the shirt are symbols for Oliver's presence in Elio's life.

Years later, when Elio discovers that Oliver has kept the postcard of Monet's berm framed in his college office, Oliver tells him that he added an inscription to the back: Cor cordium.

The Bible Scene (Allegory)

Elio becomes happy and excited when Oliver remembers their previous conversation about the poet Paul Celan: before then, he never suspected that their talks were as important to Oliver as they are for him. The following scene from the Bible comes to his mind: “When Jacob asks Rachel for water and on hearing her speak the words that were prophesized for him, throws up his hands to heaven and kisses the ground by the well.” The allegory explains the way Elio feels in the moment when Oliver reinvokes words they shared earlier.

Heraclitus (Motif)

The novel references Heraclitus several times—at least once in every chapter of the book. The topic of pre-Socratic philosophy is one of the novel's central themes. Heraclitus's philosophical ideas on becoming—change as the fundamental nature of the universe—and the unity of opposites reflect Elio's development as a character and the nature of his attraction to Oliver, which is at once a desire to have him and to be him.

The Basilica of San Clemente (Symbol)

When Elio and Oliver dine with the poet's party in Rome, the poet recounts an experience in Thailand in which a gender-ambiguous night clerk attempted to woo him. All of his prior experiences with desire colored his experience with the night clerk, and this experience itself went on to color his future desires. He calls this "the San Clemente Syndrome," named after the three-tiered basilica in Rome built upon layers of ancient catacombs.