The short story A Seat in the Garden by Thomas King is a historical story that tries to depict the cultural clash between the Native Americans and the non-native people. The story revolves around the two main characters: Joe and Red. The story shows the conflict between Indian culture and American culture; King tries to explain the common nature of the natives and the negative perception they have on other cultures. In this paper, we will examine the symbolic features in the short story: how characters, images, and setting of the text stand for something in the society.
What Does a Garden Symbolize
King has employed some symbolic features in his fiction short story A Seat in the Garden, for example, the two primary characters in the story are symbolic in the text. King uses two ignorant white men, Joe and Red, who have a negative attitude towards other cultures especially the Indian one. Joe realizes that the big Indian guy is standing on his farm, and he cannot take it anymore, therefore, he is ready to do anything to get the Indian guy out of his premise. King presents the character, Joe as ignorant and arrogant. He demands of the Indian man to move out of his property: “Get the hell out of the corn, will ya” (King 238). Joe symbolizes individualism in American culture: everyone with his/her property and no one else is to use the same property. King depicts the arrogance in the Americans towards other cultures: Joe dislikes Indians such that he hallucinates that there is a man in the middle of his cornfield farm. Red is not different from Joe; he also hates the Indians, and that is the reason why he also hallucinates that the big Indian guy is real and indeed is there standing in the middle of the farm. The two characters look down upon the Indians and think that they are righteous than other people. When the police officer arrives in the afternoon, and Joe and Red decide to explain what they saw, the officer informs them that there are no Indians in that place; as a confirmation from the two arrogant characters that there are Indians around, they refer to the Indians as drunks. Joe, on the other hand, calls the Indians the old winos (King, 1997: 240).
The fact that the big Indian guy is standing in the middle of the cornfield talks about two stereotypes, which Joe and Red do not understand, and this is also symbolic in the text; it symbolizes the difference and gap that exists between the two cultures. Red and Joe can only see the big Indian guy moving his mouth, but they cannot understand what he says. This makes them seek help from the same people they dislike and call them drunks to come and assist them to interpret what the big guy is saying: “Maybe we should ask the Indiansmaybe they could translate for us" (King, 1997: 240). The two characters have a stereotypical mind that they have set towards the Indians, and they fail to get the actual picture of what they think about the Indians when they come close to them. The two characters are not ready to change their perception of others, especially the Indians who they believe are ever drunk, and smelly, “They were older than Joe had thought, and they didn't smell as bad as he had expected" (King, 1997: 241). Through this, we can depict how King presents the wrong perception that the White had on the Indians. The two characters got it all wrong when they arrived where the Indians were, and they found that they were not drinking beer as they thought. The Indians were drinking lemon water - a different perception with what Joe and Red held before.
What Do Indians Symbolize
The Indians symbolizes the despised and discriminated people in the society. King presents his Indian characters as despised by the two white men who believe that Indians are not worth standing on their property. However, when they are desperate, and they cannot send him out of the farm, Joe and Red turn to the despised for assistance. The Indians also realize that the two white men are even more foolish than they are: they decide to play their game and claim that they can see the big Indian guy also. The act of the two white men turning to the Indians for help is symbolic in the sense that it shows the desperation that the two have towards the big Indian guy. Joe and Red are desperate in the sense that they cannot send the big Indian guy out of Joe's cornfield farm. They have called the police officers and still they have not received the assistance they need and therefore, they are left to turn to the same people they despise the most. The Indians upon realizing that the two are foolish and hallucinating, take the advantage and enjoy the fact that they can speak to the big Indian guy whom they refer to as a spirit: sort of like a spirit (King, 1997: 242). They inform Joe and Red that the Indian guy needed a bench built in the middle of the garden so that he could sit down.
The color of the white men symbolizes purity and righteousness. The two characters, Joe and Red, consider themselves righteous that they cannot be compared to the Indians who are drunk and smelly. Joe and Red decide that they can no longer drive the big Indian guy away from the garden, and they call for help from the police. The name Red as one of the characters symbolizes impurity to the righteousness of the white men. Red is a stain in the color white that contradicts the righteousness of the white.
In conclusion of this essay on symbolism in Thomas King A Seat in the Garden, the author has presented different situations in the text A Seat in the Garden that are symbolic. The author uses the symbolic features to describe the contradiction between different cultures, Indian and American. King has presented characters, images and settings that assist in interpreting the short fiction.
King, Thomas. A Seat in the Garden. Canadian Short Fiction. New York: Prentice Hall, 1997. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=GA6GFxcrDRIC&pg=PA238&lpg=PA238&dq=quotes+from+the+short+fiction+A+seat+in+the+garden+by+thomas+king&source=bl&ots=cO-7xAiGLe&sig=-DvgMliTfqrTIj7JOc8iByG6sI4&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=quotes%20from%20the%20short%20fiction%20A%20seat%20in%20the%20garden%20by%20thomas%20king&f=false.
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