Symbols And Symbolism Of Chaim Potok's Promise

754 words - 3 pages

"Promise" by Paul Lawrence Dunbar is filled with symbolism.  The basic definition of the word "promise," the title of the poem, refers to something to be given, granted, or willingly kept for the future.  Yet no promise is fulfilled.  A study of the plot reveals there really was no promise or guarantee at all--only an assumption.  The "gardener" in this poem symbolizes a lover who, only to satisfy his (or her) own selfish desires, nurtures and cares for another.  The "rose" symbolizes a loved one, a loved one eventually lost because the lover tries to hold onto, earn, and force love.


Love is a feeling, emotion, or act which is freely given; it cannot be boxed or held as a possession.  The first view of the lover (gardener) is that of someone very attentive and well qualified.  But the lover seems to be excessively caring for (over watering) the loved one (the rose) since he is ". . . tending it with more than loving care, . . ." (2).  His actions reflect a smothering love, one that will often cause love to wither and die.  The first indication of trouble is when the rose ". . . [drank] freely in the summer sun to tinct its blood," (6) symbolizing a love in need of more than just one source of nourishment.  The gardener delighted and took pride in the rose, but managed to keep a close eye on it, ". . . watching, . . . to see  the  lusty  bud . . ." (5) ". . . taking on its ruddy flame . . ." (9).  Symbolizing a tunnel vision love, this gardener's love has one drive: to keep control of the object of love.  A true nurturing love knows when to let go, whereas selfishness is the motive behind love viewed as earned.


The gardener thinks he has earned the right to possess the rose, having grown it ". . . within a garden fair . . ." (1).  This is symbolic of a love that is purchased by means of gifts or material contentment.  Also revealing a selfish love, the gardener looks to the rose to fill his (or her) needs, thinking ". . . how, with the glory of its bloom, / [he] should the darkness of [his] life...

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