Symbols in David Updike’s ‘Summer’

The following is an e-mail message I sent to one of our tutorial group members, discussing whether the character Homer can be considered a symbol:

Thank you for bringing up your question to me. Indeed, the tutorial group that followed raised the same issue too, not on the character Homer, but Mrs Thymes.
 
If you refer to Professor Li’s lecture notes, the section on symbol includes the following:
 
“Symbol: a person, place, thing, or event that figuratively stands for something else”
 
So in theory, we can say ‘Homer is a symbol of the human desire to search for an eternal home where love is tangible, long-lasting and ideal’, for example. This can be backed up by evidence in the story, say, the line ‘he lived in a blessed realm between two worlds’, and argue that this ‘blessed realm’ is the eternal home to Homer.
 
But as you said, one can question the validity of an argument such as ‘Homer is a symbol because he is similar to the Homer in Odyssey’, one that is ONLY grounded on the fact that Homer in the short story ‘Summer’ and Homer in ‘Odyssey’ share the same name. If you look at K’s handout, she lists out 3 similarities that Homer in ‘Summer’ share with Homer in ‘Odyssey’, but that doesn’t say very clearly how he can be a symbol in the story.
 
However, we can still make use of the materials on the handout, and see how we can argue that he can actually be a symbol. For example, we can say ‘Homer is a symbol of a human desire for something unattainable (‘distant longing for something he had never had’ quoting from Karena’), and an example of is a ideal youthful kind of love’. And then we quote parts from the story that exhibit such desire in Homer. Then, how is Ks connection between the two Homers strengthen our argument here? Well, if we can find any moments in ‘The Odyssey’ that Homer is also desiring something unattainable, then we can in turn argue that the narrator of ‘Summer’ is drawing on a literary tradition of the name Homer. That gives meaning to ‘Homer’ as a symbol both inside and outside the story. By outside the story, I mean in another literary work.
 
Does that clarify things? I hope to post this e-mail onto WordPress (our new blog) too because it’s quite an interesting discussion.

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