59 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

Swing Time

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Symbols & Motifs


In this novel, dance is a motif used for several metaphorical purposes. Dance is a form of escape. Miss Isabel’s dance lessons provide a safe space for the narrator and for Tracey to begin their friendship. Dancing makes the narrator feel transcendent, separating her body from the stressful realities of the world whether through her own movement or when she watches others dance.

Dance is also a symbol of pride and equality. While most of the dancers the narrator idolizes in her movie musicals are white, the scant Black dancers demonstrate to her that it is possible for the narrator and Tracey to be as light on their feet and in touch with their bodies as white dancers. The narrator and Tracey are particularly entranced by Jeni LeGon, whose dance choreography celebrates the Black body. The narrator sees traces of her dance passion everywhere, even years after she stopped dancing, highlighting how important this motif has been to her character development.


Trains symbolize an uncertain future that is out of the narrator’s control. As an adolescent, the narrator feels that other people are making decisions for her, which she describes as being on a train with a pre-determined destination.