An American Marriage

by

Tayari Jones

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Dolls/Poupées Symbol Analysis

Dolls/Poupées Symbol Icon

At first, the poupées, or baby dolls, that Celestial makes are a symbol of the way she tries to merge her artistic practice with her complicated feelings about motherhood. Initially, Celestial learns to make the dolls from Aunt Sylvia, who supports Celestial after she has an abortion during her first semester of college. Aunt Sylvia teaches Celestial to sew the dolls as a way of addressing her guilt around the terminated pregnancy and suggests they donate the dolls to needy babies at the hospital. As time passes, Celestial continues making the dolls and turns to Roy as her muse. Roy draws a direct comparison between the dolls and babies, saying, “The doll, swaddled in a soft blanket, looked like an actual infant. This was one of Celestial’s quirks. For a woman who was, shall we say, apprehensive about motherhood, she was rather protective of these cloth creations.” Celestial finds it difficult to part with the dolls on multiple occasions—first when sealing one up to send to the mayor of Atlanta, and later when a man attempts to buy one on Christmas Eve. This is in part because they are, in a sense, her children, and in part becomes she comes to closely associate the dolls with Roy’s fate. Indeed, the doll that really launches Celestial’s career is one she dresses in prison blues after having seen a young black boy on the street and catching herself thinking of him as a baby prisoner—someone destined to end up like Roy solely by nature of his skin color. This doll becomes a testament to the way in which the possibility of being caught up in a broken, prejudiced criminal justice system hangs over black communities, a cloud on the horizon of any child’s future. Through this doll, Jones is able to suggest the deeply harmful psychological effects of mass incarceration on marginalized communities.

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Dolls/Poupées Symbol Timeline in An American Marriage

The timeline below shows where the symbol Dolls/Poupées appears in An American Marriage. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
...goal is to work hard so that Celestial can stay home making her art, primarily dolls. Roy has a plan for making a wholesale business of the dolls, and he notes... (full context)
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...sent his mother a copy of Celestial’s college alumni bulletin featuring an article about her dolls. Olive asks if people really pay $5,000 for the dolls and Celestial demurs, but Roy... (full context)
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
Celestial brings in a doll swaddled like a baby, a commission for the mayor of Atlanta. Olive gasps when she... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...while to leave the house for the hotel. Olive tells Celestial she would accept another doll that Celestial might make especially for Olive and Big Roy notes that a live grandchild... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...to trial. Celestial remains in Louisiana for a month. When she sends the mayor the doll she made him, she is unable to seal the box to ship it to him.... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
Celestial throws herself into her work of making the dolls. They remind her of a baby doll shop she went to as a child, and... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...that she didn’t want the baby to begin with and taught her how to make dolls out of socks to donate to the “crack babies” in the hospital. For Celestial, the... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
...Roy that she’s put on some weight and secured a retail space to sell the dolls as high-end toys or low-end art, because she loves watching little brown girls receive the... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...now famous. Celestial writes that she was featured in an article in Ebony and her doll won a contest at the National Portrait Museum. She’d made this doll for Olive based... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...calmed Celestial down, but Celestial couldn’t shake the idea. She made prison clothing for the doll, transforming it from a toy into art. This was her prize-winning doll, but when interviewed... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...accuses her of being ashamed of him. He asks to see a picture of the doll, hoping he’ll like it more when he sees it. He tells her that her dolls... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
...follow, instead pouring himself some scotch and sitting under Old Hickey, thinking about all the dolls that look like Roy. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
Roy asks Celestial what she’s studying and she tells him about the dolls she makes. She says the company is called Babydolls and he tells her it sounds... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
...a movie version of herself, younger and more beautiful. Tamar makes miniature quilts for the poupées, but they don’t sell often because they’re so expensive. Tamar gave birth to a son... (full context)
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The dolls remaining in the store are some of the less conventionally beautiful ones, some purposefully flawed... (full context)
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...in looking for a gift for his daughter for her birthday. He complains that the dolls all seem a little off. Celestial says they’re all one of a kind, and the... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
At the last moment, Celestial reopens the box and holds the doll to her chest. The customer asks if she’s okay and she says she’s not. She... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 7
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...storms off to the futon in the sewing room. He is disturbed by all the poupées with his face on them. He can’t sleep and goes to Celestial’s room, but he... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
...in Atlanta,” when he imagines Andre sleeping at his father’s house and himself surrounded by dolls resembling him. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
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Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Roy wakes up the next morning, still with the dolls staring at him, though they seem less mocking now. Celestial asks if he’s hungry and... (full context)