Montana 1948 Text Response Paper

Symbolism in Literature

A basic definition of a “symbol” is provided by teacherweb: Symbol: using an image to represent an idea. (Ex. Storms often symbolize impending disaster, red rose=love, dove=peace, black cat=bad luck, etc.). This is often accomplished in literature through metaphors and similes.

Wordnet defines the term “metaphor” as:
Metaphor – a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity. His heart was ripped from him by her cruelty and refusal to be his date at prom. His universe was collapsing around him, pieces thudding into his head and crushing all motive and happy thought.

Wordnet defines the term “simile” as:
(n) Simile a figure of speech that expresses a resemblance between things of different kinds, usually formed with `like’ or `as.’ He wept like a little girl who lost her favorite Barbie. He vowed, next time, to fight like a tiger to win her love or at least a date.
(a simile typically offers a comparison signal, i.e. “like” or “as.”)


The novel Montana, 1948 by Larry Watson is filled with powerful symbolism. Your assignment for this essay is to choose one of the Review questions (included here) and write 3 page response. Be sure to: explain the symbolism, using details from the novel to illustrate. Then, explain to the reader if and why this is still relevant today. You’ll assume the role of “teacher” in this essay, explaining to your reader how symbolism works in literature using Montana, 1948 to illustrate. Be careful and avoid simply summarizing the story. We know the story. We want the symbolic meaning.

Remember, if you use any passages from the novel, you must cite it in text and include a works cited page as your final page.

Rough Draft due: Monday, March 4

Format: MLA
Length: 3 pages (approx.. 750 words)



Essay Questions

1. Disappointment is a major aspect of Montana 1948. Discuss examples of disappointments faced by three different characters. Be sure to provide analytical “whys” in your response.

2. Explain why the narrator’s mother “feared for my soul.” What exactly was she afraid of?
3. What could the narrator’s mother’s fear of disease be a larger symbol of? How did she face it (p. 15)?
4. What do fences symbolize (p. 27)?
5. Considering the following passage about Ollie Young Bear, discuss reasons why he could not find humor in the world.

Mr. Young Bear, as my father insisted I call him, was a stern, censorious man. He was physically imposing– tall, barrel-chested, broad -shouldered, large-headed–and he never smiled. His lips were perpetually turned down in an expression both sad and disdainful. He seemed to find no humor in the world, and I have no memory of hearing him laugh (p. 49).

6. What does the wind symbolize? What does it mean when it blows on page 53 and 55? Be specific.

7. What did father and mother feel about grandfather’s house? How is the house symbolic of grandfather? What does it say about father’s true attitude toward grandfather?

8. On page 17, describing Marie, the author writes: Her eyes seemed darker than ever, all pupil, black water that swallowed light and gave nothing back. On page 78, describing Frank’s medical bag, he writes: His medical bag was on the table too, and seeing it there where we ate our special meals I realized how large it was, how if its black mouth opened, it could swallow all the light in the room. Is there a connection? Explain thoroughly.

9. On page 105, explain what the paint symbolizes.
10. On page 118, explain what the horse means to the boy. What is he crying for as he weeps?

11. What did the boy realize about the perception of small town life on page 121? Explain what and why his perception changed.

12. On page 136, the boy refers to the “sins of our fathers.” What does this term mean, and what are the sins of the fathers in the novel?

13. What does the following passage symbolize for women in terms of society: She [mother] was too tired to care anymore. This was the day she had fired a gun in the direction of four men. From her own kitchen. (page 140)

14. What is Frank’s smashing of the canning jars (p. 145) symbolic of? 15. Explain why the boy felt love for Frank on page 156?

16. Explain why the author adopted a new view of history on page 164. What does it say about how history is recorded and taught? 

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