Study Guide

The Orange Houses Freedom and Confinement

By Paul Griffin

Freedom and Confinement

She sounded twice as good as she thought she did, half as good as she thought she should. With her ears plugged her voice was a hollow echo trapped in her head. Stick your fingers in your ears and talk, you'll get the idea. (1.19) 

Notice the word <em>trapped </em>used here to show us what Mik's hearing impairment is like for her. We'd also like to point out how much the author tries to make us understand what Mik goes through so we get her perspective more. It's not about hearing or not hearing, specifically, it's more about the confinement that she feels as a result of it. 

At sixteen she was headed where all told her not to go: New York. She had to visit the Statue of Liberty. "A silly tourist trap," one of her sister travelers said. Fatima smiled. Trap or not, she was going to see Liberty up close. (2.6) 

Fatima loves the idea of the Statue of Liberty—even though everyone warns her against it—because it symbolizes the freedom and opportunity she gets in America that she didn't have before. For more on this, check out the "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" section.

"Please tell me how to get to the Statue of Liberty."

"Serious?" She called to the other waitress, "Carmen, how you get to the Statcha Lib'dy?"

"Never been. I think you got to take a boat." (7.4-6) 

When Fatima asks a waitress how to get to the Statue of Liberty, no one knows the way. It's not surprising, then, that no one she talks to has been to the Statue of Liberty. Everyone is trapped in one way or another by their world, unable to find their own freedom in life. 

The ferry was nearly empty, the fog thick, the water rough. They ate concession-stand pizza. It was hot and delicious. They bought tourist T-shirts and silly foam hats, Liberty's spiked crown. They took pictures of each other posing like Liberty with Mik's phone. A tourist took a shot of them together, twin Liberties. (21.24) 

Hmm… It's not just that the girls go on the boat to the Statue of Liberty together, it's that they think of <em>themselves </em>as Lady Liberty as well. To Fatima, and now Mik, she's not just a landmark or tourist trap—she signifies freedom that they want and try to get. 

An announcement came over the PA system: Due to the inclement weather, we will be forced to turn the boat around. This is as close as we get to Liberty today, folks. Take pictures while you can.

"What did he say?" Mik said. (21.36-37) 

We're bummed when the girls don't make it to the Statue of Liberty, because it shows us that they're still not as free as they would like. Whether or not they want to admit it, there are laws that govern their lives (immigration, hearing abilities) and that trap them. 

Mik and Fatima studied the Liberty brochure in the flashlight. The statue's official name was <em>Liberty Enlightening the World</em>. (22.17) 

This official name is important because it shows us that Lady Liberty's not a symbol for Americans, but for the world. The Statue of Liberty was intended—at least according to the brochure—to bring light and hope to the world, and in some ways, that's what she does for Fatima. 

In the dim light and over the gang graffiti they painted the statue, adding six ultraviolet wings to Liberty as she looked over an expressionist cityscape. Then in every color they painted part of what Fatima said she wished she had seen more than anything else: the plaque inside Liberty's pedestal, Emma Lazarus's poem. Fatima had memorized it long before she came to America. (22.31) 

The mural that the girls create signifies the friendship that they share with one another. Yet, it also features the Statue of Liberty to remind us that they are free enough with each other to become friends in the first place. While others call Fatima a terrorist, Mik sees her for the loving and caring girl she is. 

The walls were painted glossy yellow, the chipped floor tiles too. The room was too big for the small table and two chairs. The sun shined hard through big windows. She squinted south through the glare. Behind the office buildings was the Statue of Liberty. Fatima could see no more than the tip of the torch, washed out against the too blue sky. (42.2) 

In the detention center, Fatima can just <em>barely</em> make out the Statue's torch. It's significant that when she's trapped in prison she looks out the window and sees liberty. It reminds her—and us—that her freedom is just outside of the detention center's walls, that so long as she keeps her eyes on the prize, it just might be hers someday.

Fatima watched until the plane was closest to Liberty, and then she closed her eyes so her Mother of Exiles would never fade into the distance. (44.4) 

As Fatima flies away, the last thing she sees is the Statue of Liberty. It's not until she's leaving America that she gets her close-up, but even then, she's separated by an airplane. For Fatima, freedom is never really achieved, not in the way she wants it anyhow. 

She studied what she and Fatima had painted over the abandoned garage. Already the taggers had hit Liberty with a beard and turned the torch into a screw you salute. (45.2) 

The narrator makes a point to tell us what happened to the mural, perhaps to show us that everything fades and changes over time. Plus, it taints the liberty that the girls felt the day they painted it together. Now Fatima is gone and trapped again, and Mik has to get on without her. 

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