Winter’s Bone Symbols and Motifs

Daniel Woodrell

Winter’s Bone

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Winter’s Bone Symbols and Motifs


In the close-knit communities of the Ozarks, naming has a fatalistic quality. As Ree notes, “Some names could rise to walk many paths in many directions, but Jessups, Arthurs, Haslams and Miltons were born to walk only the Beaten Dolly path to the shadowed place, live and die in keeping with those blood-line customs fiercest held” (62). Although the repetitive names began as a tactic to create a cover for illegal deeds, they became a symbol of the Dolly way of life, dedicated to blood and brutality. These names symbolize the lack of possibility the Dolly family face, the predetermined life of dullness that awaits them all. For this reason, Ree and Connie fought Jessup for Harold’s name; they wanted Harold to avoid becoming another Milton and, instead, “he was named to expect choices” (62). For Ree and Connie, the name Harold itself signified hope and potential. Ree and her family are constantly fighting against fate—against becoming a Dolly in a world that expects certain things of Dollys. Ree’s argument for Harold’s name articulates her innate need to hope for a world of choice and freedom.

Television Shows and the Freedom They Represent

Harold, Sonny, and Connie often have the television on in their house. While there’s nothing unique about watching television, Woodrell takes care to indicate the types of shows the family is watching. Ree notes that the family only receives the Public Broadcasting Service due to poor service in the valley. Later, she states that her brothers are watching a show about a small dog that dresses up in costumes and acts out the scenes of different books—a description of the show Wishbone. On one level, it is significant that Harold and Sonny are fascinated by a show that brings literature to life—a form of liberation from reality and escapism. On another level, the name of the show itself is important, in that the term wishbone also alludes to the tradition of cracking a dried wishbone in hopes of having a wish fulfilled. The wishbone becomes a symbol of luck, of fortune and opportunity. The Dolly family is haunted…

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