The Pact

The Pact Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Charlie (Symbol)

Charlie is the Harte's dog, who gets very sick when Chris is a child. James and Gus watch his health decline and while Gus wants to have Michael kill him humanely with an injection, James takes the decision upon himself, taking Charlie on a hunt in the woods and shooting him in the back of the head. This upsets Gus greatly—so greatly that it causes her to move into the Gold's guest bedroom for a while—but it must be examined how James's decision about Charlie, and others' reactions to it, parallel Chris and Emily's case later in the book.

James sees killing Charlie with a gun as more dignified, allowing him to die doing something he loves—being in nature—and not having to suffer through the fright of getting a shot in a scary unfamiliar environment. Michael agrees with this to some extent while comforting Gus, telling her that Charlie got to die with someone he loved. This parallels Chris realizing that he would want to be there with Emily when she kills herself, even if he's not able to stop her, since allowing her to pick the circumstances and have him with her would make her the most comfortable. Gus, on the other hand, draws a hard line between shooting the dog with a gun and putting him down with a shot—she clearly is not opposed by him being killed in some fashion, since she is not upset when Michael suggests that "it may be time" (p.52)—but she refuses to see anything redeeming in James shooting the dog, and even finds it difficult to lie to her son about it. Gus's reaction parallels the way Melanie reacts to Emily's death and the importance of truth and lies as themes in the novel, especially with regard to Emily's case.

Emily's Funeral Clothes (Symbol)

Soon after Emily is declared dead and identified at the hospital, Michael and Melanie go to the funeral parlor to make arrangements for her funeral. Because Melanie is so consumed by grief, Michael chooses the clothes for Emily to be buried in, but when Melanie sees what he has chosen they are clothes that are out of season, too small, and undergarments are missing. These clothes are symbolic of Michael's image of Emily as still a little girl, and certainly as a person he has not kept track of close enough. It also demonstrates the different relationship fathers have with their daughters versus mothers, since Melanie is the one who takes these clothes home and goes looking for others.

Chris Almost Drowning (Symbol)

Once, as when Chris and Emily were children, Melanie and Gus took them to a lake. As soon as they get there, the kids go rushing toward the water, and soon there is a commotion because Chris has almost drowned. After the lifeguard resuscitates him, he tells the mothers that Emily fell into the water but landed somewhere she could stand, while Chris, who jumped in to save her, did not. This could either be read as ironic or as a parallel to Chris and Emily's later situation. On one hand, Emily is the one who lands somewhere she can stand by dying and being generally seen as blameless, while Chris ends up in prison and subject to a lengthy, painful trial. On the other hand, at the end of the novel, it is Chris who gets to live the rest of his life, while Emily spent the end of hers feeling like she was drowning from secret sorrows.

Dreams (Motif)

Dreams are used to reveal elements of people's psyches and their pasts throughout The Pact. The most prominent characters with important dreams are Gus, Emily, and Chris. Gus's and Chris's dreams are similar in that they are clearly fantastical. While Chris is very young, Gus regularly dreams that her car is being stolen from her with her children inside; her attempts to save one or both children and the revelations she has at the end of these dreams reveal her mood and preoccupations. Chris, similarly, regularly has nightmares in jail where he calls out Emily's name, and in at least one of these nightmares, she turns into a baby and then he kills her. These dreams call out for interpretation on the part of the reader, especially since Chris literally asks his psychiatrist what he thinks they mean, and they point to Chris's conflicted feelings about Emily leaving him and lying to him. On the other hand, Emily's dreams have some fantastical elements, such as Chris eating her heart, but are used to reveal the reality of her past - that she was sexually assaulted at McDonald's by the worker called the Creep. These dreams build from sensory memories such as smell and touch and do not function symbolically but rather as another means of flashback to help the reader understand Emily's current feelings.