Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
We get two delightful interpretations of the myth of Pandora's Box in this story. The first time we hear about Pandora is when Ben Finney gives a presentation in Mr. Birkway's class about Prometheus. He tells the class that Prometheus stole fire from the sun and gave it to man. Zeus was super mad and sent Pandora (a woman) to man to punish him. Then Zeus tied Prometheus to a rock and had vultures eat his liver for all eternity. Um, ick?
Phoebe gives another presentation about Pandora and explains that in fact Pandora was not a punishment to man, but a reward. Oh, do tell, Phoebe. Apparently Zeus wanted to reward man by giving him a beautiful, sweet woman. After Zeus created her, he invited the gods to dinner and asked them to give her presents, which they did.
They gave her all kinds of beautiful things, including the gift of curiosity. Then they gave her a beautiful box and told her not to open it. But because Pandora had been given the gift of curiosity, she had to open it. Inside the box were all the evils of the world – death, destruction, cholesterol, etc. However, there was one good thing in the box, and that was hope.
Well that's a nice enough story, but why should we care? You'll have to read all the way to the end to find out.
At the end of her story, Sal tells us that she and Gramps are back in Bybanks, practicing her driving. They get to talking about Pandora and Gramps says, "those myths evolved because people needed a way to explain where fire came from and why there was evil in the world" (44.11). Stories like these are incredibly helpful and powerful sometimes, because they provide an easy explanation for something that's really not easily explained at all.
Plus, Pandora's story ends the same way as Sal's story: with hope. Sal even imagines another box, one filled with all the good things in the world. And at the end of the novel, she realizes something:
I decided that bravery is looking Pandora's box full in the eye as best you can, and then turning to the other box, the one with the smooth beautiful folds inside: Momma kissing trees, my Gram saying, "Huzza, huzza," Gramps and his marriage bed. (44.16)
Sal knows an awesome secret: it's okay to be sad sometimes, as long as you look that sadness in the eye, and then remember to be happy.