State of Wonder Symbols and Motifs

Ann Patchett

State of Wonder

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  • Features 11 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
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State of Wonder Symbols and Motifs

The Martin Tree

The unique compound found in the bark of the Martin Tree has two groundbreaking medicinal properties. It allows women to extend their reproductive cycles indefinitely, and it inoculates against malaria. The former quality makes it invaluable in the first-world, where people will pay a high premium for fertility treatments, while the latter quality makes it invaluable in the third-world, where malaria kills nearly a million people a year across the equatorial regions of the world.  Unfortunately, only one of these qualities is highly profitable for corporate shareholders of Vogel, as Dr. Swenson reminds Marina in Chapter 9: “the people who need a malarial vaccine will never have the means to pay for it” (288). Thus, the Martin Tree’s properties symbolize the troubling global conflict between medical research that benefits human health, and research that mainly benefits corporate shareholders.

The Amazon River

The Amazon River, much like the Congo River in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, represents the link between modern civilization and the wilderness. It is, on one hand, what allows Marina to learn about the unique culture of the Lakashi, the wonder of the Martin ecosystem, and experience the deep interior of the otherwise impenetrable Amazon Rainforest; on the other hand, it allows similar access to the developer, the tourist, the agents of corporate exploitation like Vogel, and the other corrupting influences to permeate even the deepest reaches of this environment. Like many other characters and symbols in the novel, the Amazon River is ultimately ambiguous, simultaneously carrying water and life, and disease and exploitation in a single stream.

Birth, Death, Reproduction and Redemption

There are several scenes chronicling difficult and harrowing births. A horrible accident, in which Marina permanently blinded an infant during an emergency C-Section, shattered her career as an obstetrician and precipitated her switch to pharmacology. While this incident puts an end to Marina’s initial career path, it also provides her with a route to redemption. The emergency C-Section she performs on a Lakashi woman saves the life of both the mother and her baby, earning Marina the respect of the tribe. Later, her delivery of Dr. Swenson’s…

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