Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea

by

Ruta Sepetys

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Shoes Symbol Icon

The Shoe Poet, a former shoemaker, often says that you can tell everything you need to know about a person from their shoes. One of his favorite phrases is “The shoes always tell the story.” Throughout Salt to the Sea, shoes become symbolic representations of the deeper characters of human beings. They act as indicators of individuals’ true thoughts, feelings, and motivations. They reveal the secrets that characters have meant to hide, or their secret histories. For example, the Poet can look at Joana’s boots and see that they used to belong to her mother. From this he infers that her mother loved her, and gave her the shoes in hopes that they would carry her to safety. Similarly, the Poet can tell that Florian has modified his boots to hide a key inside the heel—a secret Florian desperately wanted to keep to himself. 

Shoes Quotes in Salt to the Sea

The Salt to the Sea quotes below all refer to the symbol of Shoes. 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:
Agency, Willpower, and Fate Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Salt to the Sea published in 2016.
7. Joana Quotes

The old man spoke of nothing but shoes. He spoke of the with such love and emotion that a woman in our group had crowned him, “the shoe poet.” Them woman disappeared a day later but the nickname survived.

“The shoes always tell the story,” said the shoe poet.

“Not always,” I countered.
“Yes, always. Your boots, they are expensive, well made. That tells me that you come from a wealthy family. But the style is one made for an older woman. That tells me they probably belonged to your mother. A mother sacrificed her boots for her daughter. That tells me you are loved, my dear. And your mother is not here, so that tells me that you are sad, my dear. The shoes tell the story.”
I paused in the center of the frozen road and watched the stubby old cobbler shuffle ahead of me. When we fled from Lithuania she rushed me to Insterburg and, through a friend, arranged for me to work in the hospital. That was four years ago. Where was mother now?
I thought of the countless refugees trekking toward freedom. How many millions of people had lost their home and family during the war? I had agreed with Mother to look to the future, but secretly I dreamed of retuning to the past. Had anyone heard from my father or brother?

Related Characters: Joana Vilkas (speaker), Heinz, “The Shoe Poet”
Related Symbols: Shoes
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Salt to the Sea LitChart as a printable PDF.
Salt to the Sea PDF

Shoes Symbol Timeline in Salt to the Sea

The timeline below shows where the symbol Shoes appears in Salt to the Sea. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
7. Joana
Memory and Survival  Theme Icon
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
...that the dead woman frozen on the side of the road died because of her shoes. He believes “the shoes always tell the story.” Joana disagrees, but the Poet looks at... (full context)
14. Joana
Memory and Survival  Theme Icon
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
...rounds, tending to the wounded. The Poet encourages her to “Make sure to treat their feet or all is lost.” (full context)
39. Florian
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
...Poet has noticed Florian’s hollow left heel, which hides something secret. The Poet observes, “The shoes tell a story.”  (full context)