Sometimes a Great Notion Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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The symbolic strike
The strike symbolizes the shifting sands of time. As the town realizes that the need for labor is decreasing, they panic, trying to assemble some new economy that preserves them, but they fail. The technology is too fast and efficient, and they can't compete against machines. The strike comes to symbolize stubbornness, as opposed to adaptation.
The sons as a symptom of stubborn parenting
Although both sons understand their father with a quiet, sorrowful disappointment, he is still their main source of instruction when it comes to "being a man," or "being an adult." As adults, Hank Jr is incredibly repressed and predictable (with a temper), and Leland is hateful. Leland is so poorly adjusted that when his mother dies, he decides to take revenge on Henry, as if Henry is responsible for human mortality.
Henry as an allegory
This book features a subtle, yet undeniable allusion to the Bible, because it uses one of Jesus's parables as a metaphor. He says for his followers to be like those who build their house on strong foundations, and Henry's home is literally built on a decaying foundation. So, Henry's stubbornness is symbolically portrayed by the slow decay of the foundation of his home. In other words, without humility, he doesn't have what it takes to adapt to life's changes.
The symbolic slave wife
When Viv found Henry, she assumed he was a gentle man with a gruff exterior, and she was happy to help around the house, but slowly, she realized that the "gentle man" was nowhere to be found. Instead of a friendship like she wanted, she is essentially the slave of the house who keeps things as Henry pleases. Viv is a symbolic reminder that Henry is failing in his main roles: Husband and father. He is not much of a husband to say the least.
The interplay of nature and society
In Wakonda, men make their money by working in the logging industry, meaning that they make money by cutting down trees. But, by the end of the novel, nature has them all fighting to keep their jobs, and in Henry's case, nature literally erodes the foundation of his house with a river. So, although humans are clever enough to make their money by nature, nature seems to fight back. This symbolizes something remarkable: That we truly are animals, subject to our habitat and to nature, just the same as all other living beings.
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