In “In the Village”, Bishop dedicates a bulk of her narrative to the description of broken and transformed objects. Though the scene in which the child walks Nelly punctuates this general trend with its lack of object description, it provides a contrast that actually re-emphasizes the impact of the broken and transformed objects. These objects represent the child, who struggles with the trauma of having a mentally unstable mother. Growing up without any reliable adult figure has left her with a broken identity that is reflected in the broken objects found in her mother’s trunks. As she struggles with filling in the gaps of her fragmented selfhood, the story starts to include objects that have been transformed into new ones. Even her short glimpses of happiness or, at the very least contentment, is reflected in the story’s utilization, or more specifically, lack of utilization, of objects. Thus, through the description of broken objects, transformed objects, and a sudden lack of objects, Bishop depicts a character struggling to reclaim her identity.
The broken objects represent the child’s fragmented identity. She says, “so many things in the village came from Boston, and even I had once come from there.” Here, the protagonist creates a parallel between her and her mother’s belongings, using them to represent herself. The child goes on to describe each object, the “bottle of perfume [that] leaked and made awful brown stains”, the “big bundle of postcards” and how the “the curdled elastic around them breaks,” the “two barrels of china. White with a gold band. Broken bits,” and so on. The objects, though diverse and miscellaneous, share the common characteristic of being broken. Some event has happened to them that has forced their structures to disassemble. This evokes the fractured state of the child’s identity. She, like these objects, has been broken. The postcards are further described. They have crystals that “outline the buildings on the cards in a way buildings…should be.” The child wishes “there were a way of making the crystals stick.” She admires the buildings in the post cards because they are clearly delineated and thus, defined. There is no question about the integrity of their structure, no question about their identity. She yearns for this same assuredness. Her ordeal has left her with an incomplete sense of self and she, like the postcards are “crumbling, dazzling, and crumbling.”
Much like the broken objects, the objects in the story that undergo a transformation represent the child’s struggle with the trauma she has faced. The child refers to “the horseshoe nail”, that is now a ring, with “a flat oblong head”, and the “five-cent piece” she swallows that will soon be converted into “precious metals.” Again, these objects, though wide in range, share a common characteristic. They are now permutations of their original selves. They have undergone a transformation that has made them new. There is a clear parallel between the metamorphosis these objects have undergone, and the change the child must go through herself to refurbish her identity. She describes the china cup and wonders if “you could poke the grains out? No, it seems they aren’t really there any more…what odd things people do with grains of rice, so innocent and small!” The grains of rice have lost their identity, much like she has, and have been transformed into the china cup. She, too, though innocent and small like the rice grains must find a way to transform herself, reclaim her identity so as to become whole again.
The lack of objects proves to have as much of an effect as the presence of objects. In the scene where the child walks with Nelly through the village, not much is described about the objects that surround her. She refers to them as she passes them by, the objects in the shop’s window, but claims she “can’t stop to examine them now.” She passes by Miss Gurley’s house “but again there is no time to examine anything.” When compared to the rest of the narrative, which is mostly preoccupied with describing the various objects present in the child’s surroundings, this particular scene is paradoxical. Instead of delving into exhaustive depictions of her surroundings, thereby ascribing to them significance and meaning, she disregards them. This contrast is puzzling. Why doesn’t she seem to be paying more attention to the items in the windows? This question is answered when one considers the nature of the scene. In this particular scene, the child is somewhat content. She has been set the task of walking Nelly and is filled with a sense of purpose. The setting is also equally cheerful, with a lovely meadow and blue sky. It seems that, at least for the moment, she is not oppressed with thoughts about her ordeal or the question of her identity. The lack of objects reflects this momentary freedom from the impact of her trauma.
In “In the Village”, the objects seem to tell the story.
*conclusion isn’t really fleshed out, but feel free to comment on it!