Themes and symbols in Step 2, 3, 4

*spoilers*

Water – Vaughn has epiphanies twice when he is staring at himself in the mirror and the water is running. In the flashback sequences, it’s near the end of the book. He is looking at himself, the water is running, and he realizes how selfish he was being in not acknowledging his daughter’s pain. In the modern part of the story, he’s brushing his teeth, staring at himself in the mirror, the water is running and he realizes he’s in love with Sara.

Other parts when water is symbolic include the fountain scene. Him and Sara confess that they are in love while near the fountain at Norman Park.

The fountain is also turned on for the first time since the previous fall, when Vaughn sits down on the side of it and feels like an idiot for arguing with Sara. He comes to terms with himself then.

The family throws Sheila’s ashes into the water at their lake house. He also stares at the water and just feels complete with his family for the first time after he is helped with overcoming his loss through grief counseling.

Water is used as a symbol for epiphany, and newness – Vaughn is able to see things differently now.

Weather –

When Hector is driving home after Sheila’s death, the snow comes at him like a vortex. An example of a vortex is a whirlpool. The whole family is upset and their lives are thrown into a vortex emotionally.

When Vaughn is driving away from the funeral luncheon because he needs a break, he can’t see in front of him because of a whiteout. This symbolizes that he can’t see ahead of him in his own life as well; he can’t see past his trauma.

It’s freezing cold and raining, and the wind whips at them when Vaughn and Maggie go to the mall to return Christmas gifts; it’s reflective of their traumatic loss and inner turmoil.

Its dark outside after the funeral – they can’t see, and both don’t know what to do.

Vaughn sits outside on the front porch when he talks to Sheila and asks her to help him forgive the drunk driver. It is cold and snowing both times, but it gives him clarity, helps him see reality.

Sara can’t see in front of her when driving due to the sun gleaming so much. This symbolizes not having to know the future, in a positive fashion, as opposed to not being able to see due to a whiteout.

Lead/Follow –

Sara has to learn not to lead and to let Vaughn lead – like a dance partner and in life, too.

Make-up/Dress-up –

In the first flashback scene, Maggie is putting on her mother’s makeup. Who HASN’T done this, first of all? I still do it LOL. She’s just being a kid playing dress-up and is forced to grow up too fast.

When she is getting a makeover by her cousins, Vaughn uses his upset over his loss to make Maggie feel bad – he doesn’t let her be a kid.

Her desire to wear it makeup /shop at the mall lessens as she goes from focusing on her outer self to her inner self. This is evidenced by her fluctuating role between daughter and mother.

Flowers –

Lilies are an Easter flower which is symbolic of resurrection.

Names –

The name of the drunk driver is John Elizabeth. The name of the funeral directors’ son is Gabriel. The archangel Gabriel was the one who announced to Mary that she would bear Jesus, the Son of God. John was a forerunner of the faith who announced Jesus’ coming and Elizabeth is John’s mother and Mary’s cousin, who is also a forerunner of the faith. Gabriel was the one who said “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee” and Elizabeth said “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” These three names are used in the first days after Vaughn’s wife dies to symbolize his own faith being challenged with suffering and having to overcome it through faith.

Vaughn’s healing process –

Vaughn is treated harshly by everyone he expected NOT to treat him harshly, everyone he wanted answers from: Sheila’s best friend, the hospital staff, the police officer on the scene, the coroner, his relatives, her relatives, the funeral director, even the staff member at the mall. The focus isn’t on him, he’s not in charge, and he certainly doesn’t feel better after he gets answers he doesn’t want to hear. He feels he should have been there when his wife died, but couldn’t, and he wishes someone would make his grief less. Many of these characters symbolize all of us: the police officer, when caught in a bad day at work, is harsh with the last person who deserves it, the best friend who doesn’t know what to say.

When they are making burial arrangements, the funeral director comes into the scene at the end. It goes without saying that Vaughn’s scene is stolen by the young woman whose husband died in the war. The reader is made to feel bad for her; she’s younger, widowed, and she has a child too. Vaughn’s ‘thunder’ is stolen, his loss seems less in light of this young woman’s loss.

The few who are able to comfort him slightly are the priest and his parents, who point him to God to find purpose behind his suffering.

At a point of loss and grief that is severe, I believe sometimes no one can truly understand or know everything about another person. Vaughn was not comforted by these people, even though he greatly expected to be when he just wanted to find answers. No one can overcome a loss that severe in such a short amount of time. His parents point him to God, especially in their giving of their Pieta picture to him, and he breaks down. He realizes he can’t be comforted to the extent he needs to be by people and lets all of his emotions out. Vaughn only grieved by himself until the Pieta scene. He starts entrusting more of his painful situation to God at this point, but not entirely. Things like coping with loss through eyes of faith happen gradually. Vaughn eventually learns to have child-like faith and be dependent on God.

Clare is based on a real person I know, because doing something like helping someone out of their own sorrow, getting them to stop analyzing everything and just live their life, is something she would do. She is one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life, she will probably never see this blog ‘cause she’s a nun now, but it was an honor to put her character in my book.

Role confusion/switching – parent/child roles switching –

In many scenes, Maggie acts like the parent and Vaughn acts like the child. In the flashback scenes, Maggie is 12 and being unsure of her role, she takes on the role of mother; the strong one now. After Sheila dies, Maggie offers to skip school to stay with her dad. In the same 24 hours after Sheila dies, she gives him back the blanket Sheila made, and she makes him toast. She tries to go with him to the coroner and hospital but can’t make herself. A few days later, she goes with him to the funeral home and to the mall. She takes on the role of cleaning the house because Vaughn is so numb he lets the house go. She is upset when Vaughn tells her not to because she feels she has to be responsible.

Vaughn, in his crisis, doesn’t know how to help his daughter in hers. It’s hard for him to see past the end of his suffering, and he figures her suffering will all just play out normally. I do think a child Maggie’s age would need counseling if they lost their mom. Vaughn’s personality type is one where he will internalize things and not open up about it. He asks everyone who was involves in the scene of the crime to tell him his wife’s last moments, expecting to be comforted by them, but instead, without even meaning to, they all make it brutally worse.

Vaughn takes some ownership of his feelings, but not enough. He can’t deal with it and when he sees his daughter not listening to him when he sees her clean the house, he blows up at her.

Alanna is the voice of reason. She is the only one who is effectively beating into Vaughn’s head that he can’t handle his grief by the way he is trying to cope with it now. People who don’t like to open up to others have a difficult time and fear getting help and counseling. Alanna who knows him better than anyone tells him he has to go for his own good. Vaughn finally listens. Things with Maggie change for the better after Vaughn re-establishes boundaries after he started attending a grief counseling group. This is especially evident in the flashback scene when he and Maggie are sitting on the front porch in the winter in the middle of the night. He asks her to help him with laundry, etc. He explains to her what he went through the day she died, how horrible it was to talk to the police officer, the coroner, and her best friend. He wasn’t ready to tell his daughter before, but now he is no longer burying his pain.

In the modern scenes, it reveals Maggie was forced to grow up fast after she lost her mom. She is the mature one. Vaughn goes to teen Mass, Maggie goes to early Mass. He’s always coming home from somewhere fun to see Maggie cleaning or doing homework. She is very studious and barely strays from her morals one bit, like when she confesses to her dad she had a party when he wouldn’t have known otherwise.

From the funeral to the wedding with the Christmas concert in the middle, Maggie goes from not understanding her role to living it out in completion – getting it for the first time while she sings Ave Maria at the Christmas concert. She is picked to sing the song which is a different version to suit her voice better. This symbolizes her role; she is called to be the higher person here, as eventually she is the one to confirm her dad and Sara’s being together at a time when they doubt. She also learns to overcome something she didn’t want to happen… she learns to like Sara.

Temperaments –

This is why and how I wrote this book, because I studied temperaments so much. If something speaks to me, I will read every single thing on the topic. In this case, I didn’t have to.

In college there was a psychology class on temperaments and I wanted to take it so bad, but didn’t get to. Instead I bought the book ‘The Temperament God Gave You’ and took the test in the back of the book. It was spot-on for me. I really do believe it helped me to understand myself and others better, especially when most of my friends and family have extraverted personalities and mine is introverted. Because of that understanding, and also Myers/Briggs test results (another personality test), it was easier to write my characters.

Vaughn’s personality is my personality and Sara’s personality is my friends’ – I am phlegmatic/melancholic and some of my friends are sanguine/choleric. It made it easier to understand them, really – some people struggle with things that are seem so easy to me, yet then I don’t see things the same way they do. For example I’m not one to start talking to strangers at a party unless I’m literally forced to. I step back and analyze things, I don’t know why, I just do. Others at the party might think I’m shy or antisocial or whatnot but I am really just thinking everything over instead of jumping into the situation. It was extremely eye-opening for me to read this information; sometimes people act certain ways you would never act like, or have struggles with things you would never struggle with. It helps to read about their personalities, to step outside the box and see things their way, even if you don’t agree with it. When you care about a relationship with someone with the same or the opposite personality, you learn to deal with your similarities and differences. Sometimes two people with the same personality don’t get along. This is shown with Vaughn and Maggie – people who have very similar personalities and they crossed many times in the story, because that’s truly what it’s like to have conflict with someone with the same personality. You just find a way to deal with it.

When I read that book, or articles on the 4 temperaments, I thought of my other characters in other stories and made them have a combination of temperaments, then thought up how they react to each other based on their personalities.

I think people who go through counseling for whatever reason should take these tests and learn more about themselves and others. It helped me understand reasoning behind why people act the way they do.

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