Gilead Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Boxes of Sermons (Symbol)

Ames's boxes of sermons are symbols of him. His writings, his musings, and his ideas on life and religion are a substitute for his entire mind and soul.

The Missing Eye (Symbol)

Ames's grandfather's missing eye is a symbol of his lack of nuanced perspective. Critic Christopher Leise says that the flaw in his outlook is that it requires "a singularity of perspective." Surety is comforting, but "it lacks the perception of depth that follows from the disparate images produced by a pair of eyes slightly offset when mapped onto one another."

Fire (Motif)

Fire is a common motif in the novel, and it indicates both destruction and purification. Fire is seen in the fire set at the Negro church, the tapestry with the words referring to God as a "Purifying Fire," the burned down church that Ames and his father visit, and the fireflies and their sparks.

Gilead (Symbol)

The name of Gilead symbolizes much more than it may initially seem to. Robinson herself says in an interview, "The biblical Gilead has a very complex history. It's a town that's criticized for being rich and hard-hearted; it's lamented because it's been destroyed; and it's also used as a symbol of what can be restored, what can be hoped for. I like the name because it has various histories and meanings."

Water (Symbol)

Water is a symbol of purification and new life in both Christianity and this novel. Lila's baptism, for example, is a symbol of her early life of sorrow being washed away.

The Ashy Biscuit (Symbol)

The ashy biscuit could symbolize many things: the sensory experience of mortal life, Communion, or the sustaining yet charred and complicated relationship between Ames and his father.