Study Guide

Beauty Queens The Totems and the Ruined Temple

By Libba Bray

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The Totems and the Ruined Temple

On one part of the island are the remains of a lost civilization. First Sosie and Jennifer see it when they find Tane's radio and rations, and Nicole and Shanti find it later on. We later learn from Tane, "This island used to belong to my people before The Corporation pushed them out and took it over." (15.10)

Think it's a coincidence that the pageant's only non-white beauty queens wind up there? Of course you don't. There are no coincidences in symbolism.

When Nicole first visits the area where totems guard a burned land from the top of a hill, she feels a presence there and speaks to it. Drawing from her Nigerian heritage, she makes a traditional drum. And maybe that helps her gain the favor of the presence, because later, when Shanti and Nicole are being chased by black shirts, Shanti prays to whatever spirits might still be there for help, and:

"A wind soft as a warm breath blew across their faces. It left them and turned fierce, stripping leaves from trees and pulling the dirt from ancient earthen walls. Like an angry fist, it pushed the black shirts from the temple, forcing them back into the jungle." (37.14)

Wind with a fist. Now that's how to answer a prayer.

Basically, the old temple and totems represent the people who were displaced by The Corporation. And, like the snake, the presence that exists there is very anti-corporate. How mystic.

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