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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Did you notice all of the discussion of houses in the novel? From the very first page, when we read the line, "Here is the house," the novel seems to want to get us thinking about where and how people live.

One way to think about houses is as a symbol of economic advancement. Owning a house says something about one's income and social class status. Claudia notes that property ownership is important for African Americans, especially coming out of the age of slavery. In the 19th century, black slaves were considered property, so the opportunity to own property – an opportunity some middle-class blacks were able to afford – made a very strong political and personal statement.

Houses can often symbolize an ideal of domestic harmony, which we see in the first part of the Prologue. The Dick-and-Jane house seems safe and comfortable and the family that lives inside perfect, normal, happy...and presumably white. But the houses of the working-class African-American characters in this novel are not comfortable.

Often, the way that houses are described matches the emotions of the people inside. The Breedloves' abandoned storefront is described as assaulting passersby with its melancholy appearance. And although the MacTeer house is "old, cold and green," Claudia goes to great lengths to tell the reader that the love of her family provided warmth. If only the Breedloves were so lucky!

Houses also have a particularly loaded association for women in the novel, since women who didn't work were responsible for tending to the home. Geraldine and Pauline both have strong domestic ties: Geraldine views her home as an extension of herself, and Pauline uses the Fisher's home to fantasize about being of a higher social class.

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