49 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2012

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Symbols & Motifs


NW may be a thoroughly urban novel, fixated on London as a cosmopolitan city, but throughout the text, nature and natural imagery provide a subtle but key counterpoint. Characters are periodically drawn to the wildness of nature and the beauty, freedom, and authenticity it represents in contrast to the often grim, inescapable, and chaotic urban landscape.

The novel opens with Leah outdoors, lying in the sun. In “Visitation,” as she deals with the aftermath of Shar’s theft, her neighbor Ned—a relaxed stoner, one of the few characters in the novel who does not seem crippled by anxiety about his identity—encourages her to enjoy a beautiful sunset. Later, as Michel talks at length about his determination to get ahead in life, Leah finds herself distracted, “thinking of apples” and the blossoms on trees (33). Later, Natalie is also inexplicably attracted to an apple blossom, compelled to snap it off a tree and take it with her on the way to the train, wondering “What could she do with a branch?” (301). Natural imagery like the sunset and apple blossoms serve as islands of fleeting beauty and encapsulate the genuineness that so many of NW’s characters seek.