82 pages 2 hours read

Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on High

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2019

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Symbols & Motifs

Smell and Scent

Scent plays a big role in Emoni’s life. It is also a recurring motif in the novel. Emoni recognizes and identifies characters by it. She notices the “lemon verbena” perfume of Ms. Fuentes, the vanilla scent of her grandmother, and “the island scent” of Julio (377). Then there is the distinctive “baby smell” of Emma, which, she says, “I know better than my own name” (348). Smell signifies familiarity. Like someone’s cooking, it offers an immediate and intuitive connection to and understanding of another person. It appears to undercut and proceed both rational thought and linguistic expression. For that very reason, it can also be dangerous. As Emoni says, when Tyrone comes to pick up Emma, “Tyrone’s cologne drifts around me and I have to stop myself from inhaling too deeply” (47). Smell is linked to intuitive sexual attraction. For Emoni to “inhale too deeply” of Tyrone’s scent thus means to let sexual desire override the rational awareness that Tyrone is not a good partner for her. Indeed, this would be to repeat precisely the mistake that led her to have sex with him in the first place. Instead, maturity means reconciling these two aspects.