49 pages 1 hour read

Richard Powers

The Echo Maker

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2006

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Symbols & Motifs


The story opens with a view of cranes flying and dancing. In the novel, cranes represent a number of things: history, nature, and primitive instincts untainted by the doubts and complexities of human consciousness. The red bare spot on their heads represents Mark’s head injury. He too has a bald spot after the brain surgery, and his mind is metaphorically laid bare.

In the language of myth, cranes are the link between heaven and earth. They represent good fortune as well as death and renewal. In some traditions, they act as psychopomps, escorting souls to the afterlife. It is among the cranes that Mark experiences his symbolic death.

Metaphorically, the cranes represent memory, specifically Mark’s fractured mind. They are described as descendants of dinosaurs, living fossils, pieces of past and future. Their migration stitches past and present together just as Mark is struggling to stitch his fractured consciousness. For example, when he says, “There are magnetism waves in my skull” (59), he is comparing his recovering consciousness to the magnetic field of the earth that birds use to navigate in their migrations.