Study Guide

Dragonwings Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Laurence Yep

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Flying and Sky Imagery

All things to do with flying are integral to this book. A lot of our discussion about flying can be found in "Characterization" and "What's Up with the Title?", so be sure to check those out. But what we will say here is that wings, the stars and moon, airplanes, dragons, and kites are all within the realm of "Flying and Sky Imagery."

The theme of flying in Dragonwings is connected to everything, because the story is itself dependent on what flying stands for: believing in a dream and pursuing it. Uncle Bright Star might think Windrider's dream of flying is bunk, but that's because airplanes hadn't been invented yet. You can fly from Beijing to San Francisco now if you've got the money and documents, but a hundred years ago, that was hardly imagined to be a reality by most people. Since Windrider believes his true identity is as a dragon, to believe in his dream of flying is the same thing as believing in himself.

Moon Shadow understands that it is important for him to believe in his dad and to support him, even when other people push him away as a crazy. That's probably because one of Moon Shadow's dreams was to meet his father; once he meets him, he's going to do all he can to hold onto that dream of having his father as part of his life. And in order to show how much he cares about Father, Moon Shadow supports his dream of flight and does everything he can to make it happen.


In this book, dragons bring people together. Moon Shadow is immediately keen on Miss Whitlaw when he sees her fabulous stained glass window of a dragon. He bonds with the Whitlaws over the dragon stories he tells, showing them that not all dragons are evil, like the one in the St. George tale. Hey, that sounds kind of familiar – you know, the thing about not just generalizing that one group is all bad or all the same. Just like how the dragons are not all the same or all evil, not all Tang people are the same, and not all white Americans are the same. Dragons also serve the function of blurring the idea of reality. After all, why can't we believe in the dragon within everyone? Yep leaves it ambiguous whether or not Windrider really did speak with the Dragon King; it's up to us readers to consider. But, as Uncle Bright Star learns, what's the harm in believing in someone, in taking them at their word? Dragons remind us that a little faith goes a long way.

Golden Mountain

If Moon Shadow were Charlie Bucket, the Land of the Golden Mountain would be his chocolate factory. In other words, Moon Shadow has major hopes for America, and who can blame him? He's been told all kinds of fantastical things about America, like you can just scoop gold off the ground in buckets (1.16). But Moon Shadow mostly cares the Land of the Golden Mountain because that's where his dad is. When he arrives in America, he soon sees that the Land of the Golden Mountain isn't all that it's cracked up to be; but his dad is cool. He realizes that what he imagined America to be can be found in America; that is, the awesomeness that he was expecting the Golden Mountain to be can be found in the friends he's made:

I had found my mountain of gold, after all, and it had not been nuggets but people who had made it up: people like the Company and the Whitlaws. I had not realized until I had left it that I had been on the mountain of gold all that time. (11.46)