A Dangerous Symbol
In his extremely short story, “The Paring Knife,” Michael Oppenheimer utilizes symbolism masterfully. In literature, authors typically use objects with which the readers are familiar in order to assist in plot development or to convey a key theme. They accomplish this by arranging the language so that the focus is continually shifted to the object throughout the selection. The reader is able to grasp new meaning because of either universal familiarity with the object or an immediate understanding of what the object represents within the context of the story. If an object is viewed by most or all readers in the same manner, the author is making use of conventional symbolism. However, if the meaning associated with the object is contingent upon its use within the context of the story, the author is making use of literary symbolism.
Clearly, by using the paring knife as a symbol of emotional pain, as opposed to physical utility, he makes it into a literary symbol. Individual readers are able to reflect on experiences and recall observations that help them to view the paring knife as more than a device use for cutting. Oppenheimer not only provides this double meaning for the reader, but also for the characters within the story. By the end, although they do not verbalize it, both the husband and the wife come to understand that the very sight of the knife conjures up unsavory feelings and is best left hidden. To emphasize the insight of the characters and power of the knife as a symbol, the author ends the brief piece of fiction by sampling saying, “I was about to ask the woman I love if she remembered that incident when she came in from the next room and without saying a word, picked up the knife from the table and slid it back under the refrigerator” (Meyer 293).