Little Fires Everywhere

by

Celeste Ng

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Mia’s Photographs Symbol Analysis

Mia’s Photographs Symbol Icon

Mia Warren has, since childhood, been a devoted and talented photographer. Her skills brought her to New York City, where she worked closely with Pauline Hawthorne, a famous photographer who recognized in Mia the potential for great talent and true art. New York was also where, desperate to be able to afford tuition in order to continue her studies, Mia agreed to serve as a surrogate mother for a wealthy couple, the Ryans, who’d struggled to conceive for years. After changing her mind about giving up the baby she’d carried for nearly nine months, Mia fled in the night, changed her last name, and began her life of transience, bohemian art-making, and hiding from anyone who might be able to piece together her true identity.

Mia’s photographs are not simply prints. Mia manually edits the photographs she takes, often cutting out sections, pasting on pieces of paper or other small objects which accentuate the subject or cast them in a different light. Mrs. Richardson, on an early visit to check in on Mia and Pearl to see what they’ve done with the rental space, notes a print of a dancer modified to “ma[ke] her resemble an enormous spider.” Mia’s vision as a photographer shows not simply what exists through the lens, but also what the lens can’t reflect.

The photographs, too, represent Mia’s livelihood—as do the pictures that Pauline took of Mia and Pearl and then, after her death, left to Mia, in order to help Mia and Pearl get on their feet and hopefully stay there. With the help of gallerist Anita Rees, Mia allowed Pauline’s pictures to be sold, and then was the recipient of the profit; when Mia was ready, Anita began selling Mia’s own work. Mia takes odd jobs everywhere she goes, but the sale of a photograph, and the often large sum of money she receives for that sale, represents accomplishment and the hope for success and stability for both Mia and Pearl.

As a parting gift of sorts—or, perhaps, as a kind of curse—Mia, when she and Pearl depart Shaker Heights at the novel’s end, leaves behind emotionally revealing photographs she’s taken over the course of the past several months, unbeknownst to the Richardsons, of each one of them. They are “half portraits, half wishes, caught on paper,” and the Richardsons describe looking at the photographs of themselves as “like catching a glimpse of your own naked body in a mirror.” The photographs offer the Richardsons self-reflection, catharsis, and judgement. Lexie’s features a piece of her discharge slip from the clinic; Moody’s, the wrinkled pages of a notebook he gave to Pearl as a gift, which she never used. Mrs. Richardson—a journalist—finds that her photograph depicts “a paper cutout of a birdcage, made of newsprint [cut from] one of her own articles.” Mia, an outsider, was able to wind herself into the Richardsons’ lives, and the photographs she’s created symbolize her ability to see each member of the family more clearly than any one of them can see each other. She offers them the photographs as both a benediction and an indictment as her final act before leaving Shaker Heights forever.

Mia’s Photographs Quotes in Little Fires Everywhere

The Little Fires Everywhere quotes below all refer to the symbol of Mia’s Photographs. 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:
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of Little Fires Everywhere published in 2017.
Chapter 6 Quotes

[Mrs. Richardson] turned her attention to the largest print, which had been stuck up alone over the mantelpiece. It was a photograph of a woman, back to the camera, in mid-dance. The film caught her in blurred motion—arms everywhere, stretched high, to her sides, curved to her waist—a tangle of limbs that, Mrs. Richardson realized with a shock, made her resemble an enormous spider, surrounded by a haze of web. It perturbed and perplexed her, but she could not turn away.

Related Characters: Mrs. Richardson / Elena (speaker), Mia Warren
Related Symbols: Mia’s Photographs
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mia’s Photographs Symbol Timeline in Little Fires Everywhere

The timeline below shows where the symbol Mia’s Photographs appears in Little Fires Everywhere. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...a “thick braid straining to burst free.” Mia leans out of the second-story window and photographs Pearl lying playfully in the grass in the middle of the bed frame, and Moody... (full context)
Chapter 3
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...exist[s] only to make that art possible.” Mia works several hours a day on her photographs, or spends her time reading and gathering material for her “process.” Mia does not consider... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...in New York, even though Anita tells her that it would improve her sales. Her photographs can sell for “two or three thousand dollars [apiece,]” but sometimes they don’t sell at... (full context)
Chapter 6
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...a lot of furniture and what is there is mismatched and shabby. She inspects Mia’s photographs, which hang on the walls and, finding them alluring but disturbing, offers to buy a... (full context)
Chapter 7
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...the middle of the day is the best time for her to work on her photography, though truthfully wanting to “study the Richardsons both when they were there and when they... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...goes to the house on Winslow and begs Mia to allow her to become her photography assistant, offering to work for free. Something in Izzy “reache[s] out to [Mia] and [catches]... (full context)
Chapter 8
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
Izzy walks to the house on Winslow every day after school to work as Mia’s photography assistant. Meanwhile, Pearl does the “exact reverse,” accompanying Moody home to lounge in the living... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...Moody step into a special exhibit called “Madonna and Child.” There they encounter a black-and-white photograph which seems to feature Mia holding a newborn baby. Pearl wonders if the infant in... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...preparing the Richardsons’ dinner while Izzy watches. At Lexie’s nudging, Pearl confronts Mia about the photograph, but Mia is defensive and refuses to answer any of Pearl’s questions. Moody and Lexie... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
After stopping by the art museum to view the photograph and take down the name of the gallery that supplied it for the exhibit—the photo... (full context)
Chapter 13
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...her parents are not thrilled but also not surprised that she has chosen to pursue photography. (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...understood the way she saw the world. Just shy of her twelfth birthday, Mia discovered photography, just as Warren discovered sports. She purchased a camera from a junk shop in town,... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
Throughout high school, Mia continued to experiment with doctoring photographs, though her parents never fully understood what it was she was doing, and found no... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
In the esteemed photographer Pauline Hawthorne’s class, Mia finds herself enthralled with Pauline, and is surprised and delighted to... (full context)
Chapter 14
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...a raise, but is shot down. She dodges Pauline and Mal, unable to think of photography, or of anything but her tuition and the Ryans. She follows Joseph Ryan to work... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
Mia begins taking photographs again “with a fervor that felt like relief,” and slowly sends her work to Anita.... (full context)
Chapter 15
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...arrives home to check on Lexie. A few minutes later, Izzy arrives for her afternoon photography session with Mia. She sees Lexie inside, and, suspicious, asks what she’s doing at the... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...after Pearl leaves for school. In the afternoon, Mia comes home to work on her photos. Lexie overhears her speaking to Bebe on the phone, and when Lexie emerges from the... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...at Lucky Palace, despite Pearl having told him that they were working together on a photography project at home. Moody becomes suspicious, and rides his bike over to Pearl’s house. He... (full context)
Chapter 19
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...what’s inside, Mia tells her that it’s a good-bye to the Richardsons; a set of photographs. “Some pictures,” she says, “belong to the person inside them.” Together Pearl and Mia shut... (full context)
Chapter 20
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...around her to see what is inside. In the envelope there is a series of photographs, one meant for each of the Richardsons. Each member of the family knows which is... (full context)
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Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
Lexie’s photograph has been modified to feature part of the pink discharge slip from the abortion clinic.... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...“going to make [Mia] famous.” The narrator reveals that the Richardsons will never sell their photos; they will become “uneasy heirlooms” for future generations to find and wonder about. Mia puts... (full context)