And the Mountains Echoed

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The Yellow Feather Symbol Analysis

The Yellow Feather Symbol Icon

At the beginning of And the Mountains Echoed, Abdullah finds a small yellow feather. Although his sister Pari (who collects feathers) has recently been adopted by another family, the Wahdatis, Abdullah still decides to keep the feather. In one sense, he does this because he loves his sister, and wants to give her the feather later. But in a more profound sense, Abdullah keeps the feather because he wants to remember his sister. Decades later, after Abdullah has succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease and can barely remember his own name, much less his sister’s identity, we learn that he has kept the feather for all these years—a reminder of his love for Pari that proves even stronger than his memory. Human memory is a powerful thing, but it’s ultimately weak and fallible. Abdullah’s yellow feather can be said to symbolize the “tools” we turn to in order to strengthen our imperfect memories: objects which are originally intended to strengthen our memories, but which ultimately become the only parts of the memory to survive.

The Yellow Feather Quotes in And the Mountains Echoed

The And the Mountains Echoed quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Yellow Feather. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Interconnectedness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Riverhead Books edition of And the Mountains Echoed published in 2014.
Chapter 2 Quotes

But there was no forgetting. Pari hovered, unbidden, at the edge of Abdullah’s vision everywhere he went. She was like the dust that clung to his shirt. She was in the silences that had become so frequent at the house, silences that welled up between their words, sometimes cold and hollow, sometimes pregnant with things that went unsaid, like a cloud filled with rain that never fell. Some nights he dreamed that he was in the desert again, alone, surrounded by the mountains, and in the distance a single tiny glint of light flickering on, off, on, off, like a message. He opened the tea box. They were all there, Pari’s feathers, shed from roosters, ducks, pigeons; the peacock feather too. He tossed the yellow feather into the box. One day, he thought.

Related Characters: Abdullah , Pari Wahdati
Related Symbols: The Yellow Feather
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, we're reminded of the connection between Abdullah and Pari, who has just been adopted by a wealthy family in nearby Kabul. Abdullah's love and closeness with Pari is symbolized by a small yellow feather, which Abdullah shared with Pari recently. Abdullah hangs onto the yellow feather as a way of remembering his vanished sister: by keeping the feather, he's preserving his preserving memories of his sister, and perhaps ensuring that one day they'll be reunited.

The passage shows how humans go about remembering other humans. Although our memories of our loved ones are powerful, they often fade over time. With the aid of concrete objects--books, photographs, and even feathers, we try to stave off the deterioration of memory, grounding our recollections in a literal, ageless object.

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Chapter 9 Quotes

I hold the note tightly against the blustering wind. I read for Pari the three scribbled sentences. They tell me I must wade into waters, where I will soon drown. Before I march in, I leave this on the shore for you. I pray you find it, sister, so you will know what was in my heart as I went under. There is a date too. August 2007.
“August of 2007,” I say. “That’s when he was first diagnosed.” Three years before I had even heard from Pari.

Related Characters: Pari II (daughter) (speaker), Abdullah , Pari Wahdati
Related Symbols: The Yellow Feather
Page Number: 418
Explanation and Analysis:

Pari II discovers a note that her father, Abdullah, left immediately after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Knowing that his disease would destroy his memory--and therefore his ability to remember his beloved sister, Pari--Abdullah wrote Pari a short letter, in which he bid her a touching goodbye. (As we'll see, the letter is attached to a box containing the one concrete reminder of Abdullah and Pari's love: the yellow feather).

The passage is important for a number of reasons. Above all, it reiterates that Abdullah continues to love his sister deeply, even after a long life spent apart. After decades of remembering his sister with nothing but love, Abdullah has finally hit against the finite limits of his own memory: his brain itself will soon deteriorate. And yet Abdullah doesn't give up hope entirely: he uses the power of writing and mnemonic aids (like the feather) to preserve some memory of his love for his sister. In a poignant irony, the memory of Pari will live on in Pari II and the yellow feather, even after Abdullah himself grows too old to remember Pari at all.

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The Yellow Feather Symbol Timeline in And the Mountains Echoed

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Yellow Feather appears in And the Mountains Echoed. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Time, Memory, Forgetting, and Art Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Power and Wealth Theme Icon
...his father move the trunk of the tree. As he works, he notices a small yellow feather , a wonderful gift for Pari, and picks it up. Abdullah thinks about the party... (full context)
Interconnectedness Theme Icon
Time, Memory, Forgetting, and Art Theme Icon
Compassion and Selfishness Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Abdullah returns to his home, carrying the yellow feather . He finds Pari’s collection of feathers, and adds the new one to it. Though... (full context)
Chapter 9
Interconnectedness Theme Icon
Time, Memory, Forgetting, and Art Theme Icon
Compassion and Selfishness Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Pari finds another item inside the package—a small yellow feather . Pari II asks her if she knows what this item means, and Pari confesses... (full context)