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Written by Jody Perry
Hair as a symbol of freedom
Both Sugar Hiddle and Norma Winterbottom chop off their long hair before changing their lives by leaving their families, as if their hair is shackling them to the life they have now. By cutting it, especially when their husbands do not want them to, they are doing something just for themselves and trying to see themselves as individuals, not as somebody's wife or somebody's mother. The mothers cutting their hair also symbolizes change and a new beginning.
Motif of missing mothers & loss
Three of the characters on the book have mothers who are missing. Sal's mother left suddenly because she needed to find out who she really was herself, not as a wife or a mother, but as a person in her own right. Phoebe's mother left because she knew who she really was as a person and it was not congruent with the life she was leading, in which she was largely unappreciated, and she left to try to reconcile her life before she was married with her life since. Ben's mother is missing from his life on an emotional way although she is physically present in it and he is able to visit with her; Ben knows where she is geographically but does not know where the essence of his mother as a person has gone. All of these women relate to the theme of loss as each character suffers a loss with their disappearance and all lose the way that their family used to be, even Phoebe whose family is changed forever once her mother comes home.
Motif of Road Accidents & Loss
Every time Sal is in the car she fears an accident. She prays during every journey that she will not die in a car wreck and has the feeling that she needs to hurry the journey in order to make it safely to the destination. Sal's mother was killed on an horrific bus crash in which Mrs Cadaver was the only survivor although she suffered loss as a result of a road accident too, losing her husband to a drunk driver. Sal's fear is of road accidents but also of losing the people she loves as a result. The motif of road accidents relates to the theme of loss throughout the book.
Motif of blackberries
Blackberries are a motif throughout the book and always seem to relate to the love between Sal's mother, her father and herself. Sugar was walking through the field whilst pregnant and popped a blackberry in her mouth. She wrapped her arms around a big maple tree and kissed it. Sal saw this and afterwards went to kiss the tree where her mother had left the smallest stain of blackberry. Sal believed the kiss tasted like blackberry and even when she kissed other trees of all different types the kisses still tasted the same. One morning she came down to breakfast to find a plump blackberry sitting at each plate; her mother had been out to pick them as a surprise. The memories of her mother are triggered when she eats blackberry pie at the Finley's house. When Sal and Ben kiss they maintain it also tastes like blackberries which illustrates their new love. Throughout the book blackberries are a motif that signifies love.
Whenever Sal hears birdsong she is brought back to the idyllic time on the farm when she heard a bird singing, not for communication but for the joy of singing. Often when she looks up into the tree she does not see a bird there which makes her believe that the tree is singing. The singing tree and the birdsong comes to represent the presence of her mother as she hears it both on the farm and in several places along the journey to Idaho. She also hears the birdsong at her mother's grave. When they receive word that her mother is not coming back, Sal's father goes to Idaho without her, and Sal tries to hear the birdsong again but the trees are silent, illustrating that her mother has gone from there. After they move back to the farm the trees begin to sing again. The motif relates to the happy days on the farm when Sal's family was together and she felt safe.
Motif of moccasins
Throughout the novel the motif of moccasins refers back to the title and the theme of everyone having their own path and not judging anyone until you have walked in their moccasins or experienced what they are experiencing. Two of the letters left by Mrs Partridge use this saying and Sal's father also uses it. When Sal sees the American Indians dancing in their moccasins she is immediately brought back to the saying herself. At the end of their trip she and her grandfather turn walking in somebody else's moccasins into a game as they say what they would do if they were someone else such as Phoebe or Mrs Cadaver.
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Sal's father chipped away at the plaster walls because his wife had left him. They'd been renovating the old farm house together, and he continued to chip away every night while he waited to hear from her.