There There

There There Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Indian Head (Motif)

This motif is the central one in the Prologue of There There, a section that also functions as a standalone critical essay. Orange traces this motif throughout American history, beginning with its roots in colonial violence: the beheading of Native Americans and the preservation of their heads as war trophies was a recurrent practice throughout the American colonial frontier. He also shows how the Indian head makes appearances in visual culture: in a test pattern on 20th-century American television, in commercials, as logos, as mascots, in textbooks, on jerseys, and on flags.

Blood (Motif)

Blood is important in There There for a number of reasons. First, it dictates tribal identity in the eyes of the white supremacist state, which dictated Indian rights according to how much Indian blood each person had. Second, it is a motif that shows up every time violence occurs. Blood, Orange writes in the critical essays (Prologue and Interlude), was a common presence throughout colonial history. When blood shows up again on the powwow field, it calls to mind that long arc of history, reminding readers that the tragedy at the powwow is one of many tragedies that Native people have faced since colonial arrival.

Last Names (Motif)

Opal finds her last name onerous. It is too long and children at school mock her for it. In the Interlude, the narrator points out that last names were given to Indians by white men. Native last names are both "poems" and images that make "no sense at all." They represent legacy and family heritage, an important subject for many of the novel's characters. Blue, for example, travels to Oklahoma in search of family members, whom she identifies only by 'Red Feather', a shared last name. Thus, a motif that once stood for colonial subjugation now represents the connection Orange's characters seek.

Oakland and Public Transportation (Symbol)

The city of Oakland is a symbol for the concept of home. The process of change and gentrification in the city represents the Native community's historical loss of home. When the characters navigate around Oakland, they most often do so on a BART train or on the bus. These public spaces are sites of reflection and alienation for characters. As they experience the intersection of their private family sagas with the rest of the world—sometimes jarringly, through racist questions and stares—the trains themselves are personified. Dene, for example, notices that the train's motion aligns and differs from the motion of cars on the freeway and reflects that it signifies "something too big to feel, underneath, and inside, too familiar to recognize, right there in front of you at all times."

Spiders (Symbol)

Jacquie and Opal's mother taught them that spiders symbolize both home and traps. Throughout the novel, spiders symbolize both the good and the bad inherent to family and connection. Opal articulates the evil side of the spider: she sees Veho, the spider-trickster, in her "uncle," Ronald. Opal found spider legs in her body soon after escaping Ronald's house, which was both a home and a trap to her and her sister after their mother died. Orvil also finds spider legs in his own legs at a point in the novel when he is planning to enter the powwow competition—an act that will bring him more connection to his Native heritage than ever before, but also bring him closer to danger. Thus the spider symbolizes the connection, peace, and danger that can be found in home and community.