17 pages 34 minutes read

Joy Harjo

Perhaps the World Ends Here

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1994

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Symbols & Motifs

Kitchen Table

The kitchen table is the poem’s central symbol and extended metaphor. In poetry, symbolism is a literary device in which an event, action, or object (such as a table) represents an idea (like ceremony and ritual). The table is a convenient symbol because, even on a literal level, it’s a place where people gather to eat, build community, and share important life moments. While the table begins in Lines 1-3 as a place to simply eat and prepare food, it quickly expands into a symbol beyond its literal function. The table’s symbolism extends into the ceremony of teaching the next generation (“It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human” [Line 4]). Throughout the poem, the table repeatedly becomes a place of ceremony and ritual, representing iconic life moments. More than a place to eat and drink, the table becomes a place of protection (“a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun” [Line 7]) and even a place of battle and resolution (“Wars have begun and ended at this table” [Line 8]).

Ultimately, the table grows and ages with the characters in the poem. By the latter half of “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” the table represents the cycles of life (“We make men at it, we make women” [Line 4]).