41 pages 1 hour read

Miriam Toews

A Complicated Kindness

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2004

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Symbols & Motifs

The Black Dresses Floating in the Wind

When she’s younger, Nomi encounters two traditional Mennonite dresses floating away in the wind, which she says looks like dancing. Since Mennonite culture forbids the act, seeing these traditional garments engaged in a display that has such life and vibrancy touches Nomi and comes to symbolize her belief that there is a way to compromise between her slipping faith and her desire for freedom from its constraints. It also represents her mother, Trudie, who could put on the traditional customs when the situation called for it but was filled with a rebelliousness rooted in her desire to be free. When Nomi tries to find the dress that landed on her grandmother’s barn, it’s no longer there—a middle way between the Mennonite faith and Nomi has slipped away, foreshadowing her need to entirely remove herself from the Mennonite community in order to thrive.

The Artificial Town

Right next to East Village is a recreation of the town modeled after its appearance when Mennonites first arrived; this town broadly represents the hypocrisy inherent in the modern Mennonite community of East Village, which is beholden to appearances and The Mouth’s strict authoritarian impulses, leading to what Nomi sees as a broken social structure that values punishment and control, not faith.