Can someone fill me in?

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"Corvus saw owls falling.  This was how she felt it.  Her own soul witnessed it in this way; their great soft falling, the imago ignota of their alien faces" (93).
                The Quick and the Dead, Joy Williams

There are so many metaphors in this book.  I feel like I'm completely missing something as I read (but I have been enjoying the book nonetheless).  Therefore, this blog is an attempt to analyze the symbolism in this short paragraph, which occurs while Corvus burns herself and her house down.  I'm hoping some of my peers will try to provide some insight for this because I really think there must be some underlying meaning here.

Corvus is a Latin word for raven and it is also the name of the genus representing ravens and crows.  Owls are the number one predators of crows at night.  Is this significant somehow?  There must be some specific reason Williams chose Corvus as a name because really, how many people do you know named Corvus?  And the owl imagery on page 93 is so specific.  From what I've gathered, owls are not the victims of shootings so much as they are the assistants in capturing lesser birds in the sport of falconry.  Why does Williams describe the sound of Corvus's burning house as the sound of owls being shot?

Additionally, the fact that Williams uses a Latin phrase in this passage appears to represent something deeper to me.  Perhaps since Latin is technically a dead language, and death is the most prominent theme throughout this book, Williams chose to associate it with the girl who is surrounded the most by death (at least until this point).  Imago ignota means unknown image in Latin.  Why does Williams describe the owls' faces as being "alien?"  And why does she see "it," which I assume means her death, as the "great soft falling [of owls], the imago ignota of their alien faces" (93)?  I want to provide some speculation for all of this, but honestly, I'm baffled.  Any thoughts?  I think it would be great if we could get a real discussion about this, or any other part of the book that you thought had to mean something more that you were unsure about.



Carissa Altizer said:

I would love to start this discussion with you! It looks like you already did a lot of work to find out the symbolism and the references to owls throughout the book. Looking up Corvus' name was a smart idea. I didn't realize that there was a connection until you pointed it out. I did a little searching of my own and found plenty of sights that describe the symbolism of owls in different cultures. I was surprised to find out that owls often represent death. I have always subscribed to the Disney subscription: owls = smart/wisdom...perhaps telling you how many licks until you get to the center of the tootsie pop? Anyway, check out this site. It's interesting. I think the section about the Mojave Indians of Arizona is probably the most relevant. Who knows, maybe we'll get some serious symbolism descriptions of a water beetle next... ;)

To the Mojave Indians of Arizona, one would become an Owl after death, this being and interim stage before becoming a water beetle, and ultimately pure air.

Mexico: the Owl makes the cold North wind (the gentle South wind is made by the butterfly). The Little Owl was called "messenger of the lord of the land of the dead", and flew between the land of the living and the dead.

Josie Rush said:

Here I felt like the significance of Corvus meaning "raven" in the early chapters and the reference to owls being shot is that the memories the house was holding for Corvus were preying on her. When she burnt the house down, she disconnected herself from the memories, and freed herself from her predators, at least in her mind.
As long as we're talking about things that baffled us, how about the end of the book. I thought the completely random vigil may have represented the way people just ultimately end up waiting around to die, no matter how you look at it. And the boy told Alice she couldn't escape that, but Alice was looking for another way to live/die. But, really, I'm being general as possible because I have nooo idea. And I thought the inclusion of the vigil was sloppy, because it was almost too random. I realize the book is odd, but this bore no semblance to the thin reality Williams was abiding by.

Carissa: Thanks for the link! I typically just think of owls as wise creatures, as well. I think the owl symbolism from Mexico would be best suited for the owls in this passage. The harbinger of death would have an unknown image, or face, as these owls are described. I could definitely see them representing this for Tommy.

Josie: Thank you for saying that in class. The light bulb expression on your face was priceless. About the vigil, I have no idea. I like your idea about it representing the acceptance of and waiting for death. The book as a whole confused me. I'm sorry I couldn't be more insightful!

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Karyssa Blair on Can someone fill me in?: Carissa: Thanks for the link!
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Carissa Altizer on Can someone fill me in?: I would love to start this dis