All throughout literary history, symbolism has been an essential aspect to any good piece of literature. It is through symbolism that we can represent our complex nature, environment, and metaphysics. In the novel Salman the Solitary, Yashar Kemal uses several symbols to embody the reality and life of his characters. Throughout the story there are several references made to nature, and one particular motif in this pattern is the symbolic suggestion of birds. The symbol of birds plays a significant role in complementing Kemal’s characters.
For example, Salman’s interactions with these creatures have opened up windows into his emotional and violent nature. In contrast, Mustafa’s relationship with birds shows a softer and more compassionate quality, which can be seen in his adoration for kingfishers. Symbolism is subject to a myriad of interpretations, and it this attribute that fits ideologies, opinions, and thoughts of many different people. Salman is a very complex character who is slowly unraveled throughout the course of the novel.
He is introduced as a mysterious bodyguard covered in weaponry, and remains very aloof and silent; it is this silence that strikes fear in the local children’s hearts, especially Mustafa’s. However Salman was not always like this, his degradation towards this state began as joyful little boy filled with unlimited love for his step father Ismail Agha. Salman was the apple of Ismail Agha’s eye, and center of his love and affection, but after Mustafa’s birth, Salman began to endure the worst form of abuse a child can receive: neglect.
This abandonment of Salman can be seen in the following excerpt: For his newborn son Ismail Agha’s adoration knew no bounds. He could hardly take his eyes off him… Nobody paid attention to Salman any more. It was as though he did not exist. This was not all intentional, just that the family had eyes for no one but Mustafa (Kemal 110). As Salman was adjusting to his solitary and introverted position in the house his nature began to change as well. He was in a state of confusion and tried desperately to become a part of the family again.
His efforts to embrace Mustafa as a brother, and failed attempts to seek attention from his father isolated him even more, until he was completely reclusive from family life. One of the ways in which the reader may understand Salman’s emotional state during these stages is through his interaction with birds. Kemal does not write too much dialogue on Salman’s account, so the reader must use these interactions and Salman’s description from others, and decipher their symbolic connotations. One of Salman’s most notable relationships with birds occurred with the partridge chick he had found as a child.
Kemal explains that Salman had “lavished all his love on it” and that he taken great care of the chick (Kemal 110). It’s as if he was finding some sense of affection from the small creature, and he was seeing his relationship with the partridge parallel to that of Ismail Agha and himself. Soon he also tried to abandon this partridge which he had loved, and would constantly have dreams of its death to a large serpent. His dreams began to become more abstract, and one envisioned Mustafa as the partridge being devoured. In this dream Salman struggles to save Mustafa, but the snake is too powerful, and swallows him whole.
The snake seemed to have symbolized neglect and the partridge must have represented the innocence of a child. His attempt to save him from neglect fails, and he learns that it’s something out of his control. After a few more unsuccessful efforts of having the partridge eaten by snake, Salman decapitates its head in one motion as he gazes at Mustafa and Ismail Agha laughing and enjoying each others company. This violent act opens a window into Salman’s heart which is full of loneliness and despair, and reveals his hurt and emptiness.
Kemal describes these emotions in the following quote, which states, “… o be suddenly neglected , bereft of the love and attention he had been used to, was like being cast into a vacuum (Kemal 111). Salman’s sense of worthlessness becomes even more prevalent, until one day he decided to become Ismail’s bodyguard. He vowed to dedicate his life protecting his father, and took his new occupation very seriously. This created a resurgence of self-worth within Salman, and was a direct result of his successful hunt to rid the village of eagles, which were a constant threat to raising chickens. Salman first received praise from his mother Zero for killing an eagle single handedly as a child.
It seems that from that day on killing eagles symbolized a sense of accomplishment and importance in which Salman was able hold his head high, “with the air of a victorious general (Kemal 195). His father and other villagers complemented him on his bravery and steady aim, and Ismail gave him attention that he had not received in ages. So the eagles took on a symbol of a means to an end for acceptance, and a sense of worth that brought Salman slightly out if his solitary state. These examples have shown how birds have been used as symbols to complement Salman’s character.
Mustafa has also had some interaction with these creatures, but they portray his character in a much different light. Mustafa a young boy who embodies the innocence of childhood is first introduced to us in the beginning of the novel as a lively child playing a game of hidie-hole. However, he has experienced several events involving Salman that has psychologically traumatized him, and filled his heart with fright at the very utterance of his name. The chemistry between the two as children displays their two conflicting characters that do not mesh well together at all.
Mustafa is a passionate, modest, and loving young boy who has great appreciation for his family and nature. All these characteristics can be found in several instances in the novel, but one in particular is his admiration of kingfishers. Mustafa and the other village children spend their past time catching kingfishers, which nest in the local mountains. Mustafa is mystified by their beauty and grace, which displays his sense of compassion and enjoyment for these beautiful creatures. Kemal describes Mustafa’s astonishment with kingfishers as having lived in a “blue daydream” after almost catching one (Kemal 138).
These birds are used as a foil for Mustafa’s character, and complement his kindness and sympathy very well. An example of which the reader may observe a contrast between him and Salman is when Salman had captured several kingfishers for Mustafa, and Mustafa released them right away. The liberation of the kingfishers symbolized both Mustafa’s hate for Salman, and an insight to his principles. It’s as if the cage birds were tainted after being captured by Salman who could have not had the capacity to appreciate nor admire these creatures.
Symbolism is a literary device used to understand the complex aspects of our nature, environment, and reality; it is also subject to many different interpretations. Symbolism is similar to the optical illusion that depicts both an old woman and a young lady. What one sees depends upon ones perception, but neither choice is correct or incorrect. Yashar Kemal embodies several examples of symbolism in Salman the Solitary, and leaves his readers with an intimate understanding of each of the characters in his novel. We must truly attempt to appreciate good literature, for it will only open our minds to our own nature and understanding of others.