Old Wars


Old Wars Essay, Research Paper

novel, Old Wars, by David Helwig, the author uses symbolism to represent the characters and their lives. Some examples are Margaret s drawer, McAllister s wooden doll, and the weather and leaves that represent Malcolm.

When we first read about Malcolm Fraiser it is an overcast November morning. (Helwig, 1989) . This weather is a symbol of Malcolm s life. His wife died a few years back and his only remaining family lived miles away and they barely keep in touch. The only person that is even remotely close to being Malcolm s friend is Margaret, a woman who comes to the church he works at on a regular basis and occasionally talks to him. The sun represents the happiness that Malcolm could have had in life; the clouds represent the barrier of sadness that keeps him from it. Another symbol of Malcolm is the leaves that Margaret sees on the ground where Malcolm is working. A few leaves lay singly where Malcolm worked, as if they had been dropped there carefully as decoration or to communicate some obscure message (Helwig, 1989) The leaves are few and scattered far apart; just like Malcolm and his family. They are also dead, just like Malcolm s connection with his family. The obscure message that is mentioned is one to

Margaret. They were telling her that Malcolm needed something to live for, or else he would die like the leaves. Dead, cold, and alone.

Another symbol is the German doll. It is owned by McAllister, or rather, It owns him. Throughout the book the author refers to a small, wooden doll that was given to McAllister by a Russian KGB man. Now and then, he thought how it might have been if he married, if he d got over the break with Jean. But the wide wooden eyes of the doll stared him out of countenance and revealed that thought for what it was, a sentimental dream. The wooden doll was his wife. (Helwig 1984) after McAllister s girlfriend left him for another man he never had another relationship. He thinks of the doll as his wife because of many things. It is always in the house with him, watching his every move. It is the first thing he sees when he wakes up and the last thing he sees before he goes to sleep. The doll is not only a symbol of his wife, though. It also represents the mistakes he has made in life. Not trying to find another relationship, backing away from relationships that found him, and loosing trust in every one in the world, just because one person betrayed him. Because of these mistakes McAllister will be stuck without love for the rest of his life. With only the doll to keep him company.

Margaret has lived a long and unpleasant life. Here parents were mentally unstable and when she was old enough to cook and clean they became completely dependent on her. Margaret has never been in love or had any friends. She lives in a small house and has few things. Because of her harsh life Margaret has developed mental problems of her own. She does thing for certain reason and then forgets why. This is how she ended up with the drawer. Halfway open, it was jammed by a large piece of wood that she d put in for a reason that she could no longer remember. (Helwig, 1989) . The drawer is full of things that she had brought out to use and then forgotten why she got them. The drawer represents Margaret s chaotic life. Her mother and father never even slept in the same room together and her mother was clinically insane. She has lived in the same house since she was born and it is in awful condition.

She looked at the jar of nails, many of them bent, most of them rusted, and knew that she should throw it out, but instead she laid it back where she had found it. If she were to get rid of the jar of nails then she might dispose of the pieces of wood, the tin of cat food, the curtain rod, the three ancient mason jars, and if she did that she might throw out the albums of photographs, the notes for her father s sermons, her mothers old hats, and if once she began she would end by setting the house on fire and tearing off her clothes and dancing naked on the lawn of the church as she watched it burn. (Helwig, 1989). .

As much as Margaret wants to change she can not, because she knows that once she starts she will never be able to stop. Margaret, like the drawer, will never change.

David Helwig uses symbolism in order to gives us a better understanding of the characters and their lives. The leaves and the sky lets the reader see how lonely Malcolm is, the drawer helps readers realize how chaotic Margaret s life has been, and the doll shows the reader the mistakes that McAllister has made in his life. Through symbolism the reader gets a special insight into the characters, making Old Wars even more interesting that it already is.

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