Study Guide

Where Things Come Back The Lazarus Bird

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The Lazarus Bird

Hey, Shmoopers. Have you read John Barling's analysis over in the "Characters" section? Because Lazarus is a biblical reference, and if we do say so ourselves, we've done a pretty good job unpacking this component of the Lazarus bird as a symbol over there. So scoot on over, and then come right back here, okay? We'll wait.

Okay. You back? You ready? Let's go.

Here's the deal with this Lazarus bird and it's appearance in Lily:

There's this woodpecker that's been extinct for, like, sixty years. Only, this guy from Oregon or something was down here and he thinks he saw one. (3.78)

Pretty cool, right? That's the kind of thing towns throw annual festivals and fun runs for, luring in folks from out of town and putting Lily on the map. Alas, there's no such miracle in store for either the town of Lily or John Barling. The town dutifully waits for proof of the bird's arrival, but Barling can't produce anything other than grainy photos that could just be—and indeed, are—a normal woodpecker.

The bird, then, comes to represent failed hope. Barling will only be known for lies instead of an incredible discovery, and the town no longer expects any glory for itself. But insofar as this is true, the bird also represents a return to the status quo. Barling can return from whence he came, and nobody has to know about his failure, and life as usual resumes in Lily. With so many religious references—and here, we're thinking specifically of Cabot's fall (more on that in the "Characters" section)—this isn't so much a failure, as stasis winning out over change.

For the town of Lily, the only revelation is that there isn't any revelation coming their way at all.

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