There There by Tommy Orange Book Review
The recurring spider motif serves as a warning for significant events in Opal, Jacquie, and Orvil’s lives through its use as a reminder that almost anyone can violate safe spaces throughout the novel. Throughout their childhood, Jacquie and Opal’s mother would tell them that “the spider’s home is also a trap”, which their experiences later prove; however, this quote also suggests the dangers of “home” since violations of privacy or safety can still occur. Furthermore, the first mention of spiders occurs during Jacquie’s first chapter: she is trying not to drink in the hotel when she hears from Opal about the spider legs in Orvil’s leg. The mention of spiders reminds her of the saying her mother told her as a child, so she repeats it to herself to avoid succumbing to her alcoholism: “The spider’s web is a home and a trap. [... ] In this case Jacquie was the spider, and the minifridge was the web. Home was to drink. To drink was the trap”. (Orange 77) Although she interpreted this event as a sign to stop drinking, this mention of the spider motif also precedes Harvey’s reintroduction to her life at the AA meeting - an instance of home and trap. The meeting intends to be a safe space, but Harvey’s presence violates this space due to his past with Jacquie. After her conversation with him, she decides that she will return to Oakland and see her grandchildren for the first time. However, her sister Opal had a different experience with spider legs - it happened while she and Jacquie lived with Ronald, an “uncle” who is likely a predator. In her instance, she removed spider legs out of her leg less than a week prior to her confrontation with him: “Opal pulled three spider legs out of her leg the Sunday afternoon before she and Jacquie left the home” (165). After Ronald entered their bedroom and approached Jacquie one night (an invasion of privacy), Opal used the baseball bat next to her bed to knock him out before she and Jacquie ran off, successfully escaping his home and trap. A similar third appearance of the spider motif is the spider legs in Orvil’s leg (just like his grandaunt) that he pulls out prior to the powwow: “‘So I pulled, like, I just pulled one out, put it on some folded-up toilet paper, then went back in and got another one. Then one more after that. I’m pretty sure they’re spider legs’” (125). While we have not read far enough to know what happens at the powwow, it is likely that a robbery will occur - yet again a violation of a safe space even though the powwow is significant for Orvil as it will be his first time dancing publicly. With this in mind, the spider motif will likely continue to develop at the powwow as the foreshadowing of a life-changing but dangerous event.
The prologue sets a grim tone for the novel by connecting the history of violence against Native communities to various images of the Native American head and face. First, it establishes the cruel treatment of the colonists towards Native Americans, including Metacomet, a leader of the Wampanoag: “Metacomet’s head was sold to Plymouth Colony for thirty shillings - the going rate for an Indian head at the time. The head was put on a spike, carried through the streets of Plymouth, then displayed at Plymouth Fort for the next twenty-five years” (Orange 4). Orange emphasized this cruel and unnecessary act of violence to further express the injustices Native people faced in an effort to educate the reader on their unfair past. In addition to Metacomet’s Head, colonists used the symbol of “an Indian head” as a sign of triumph when, in reality, it is the result of a horrific act of violence. In addition to this form of direct violence, colonists tokenized these images of Native American faces while they ravaged their populations with disease and violence: “All the way from the top of Canada, the top of Alaska, down to the bottom of South America, Indians were removed, then reduced to a feathered image” (7). Moreover, colonists treated Native heads and faces as a sign of their own honor or triumph at the cost of dehumanization - reducing an entire race of individuals to stereotypes and misleading images. The usage of Native American heads and faces has a history of violence and dehumanization of indigenous people, and Tommy Orange introduces this history to establish a bleak tone.
Orange, Tommy. There There. Knopf, 2018.