The Shack, a Discussion of Symbolism

2/16/09 The Shack: A Discussion of Symbolism The Shack, written by William P. Young, tackles one man’s quest for faith and reassurance in God through several metaphors, parables and symbols. These symbols are used to compare the story religion itself; and from this comparison it is easier to grasp a deeper understanding. However, with this underlying symbolism, it’s possible to over analyze and disregard the fictitious nature of the book. Despite this, there are many symbols within The Shack that are essential to the story and the deeper significance within it.
Symbols are used within The Shack to really enunciate the relationship transition that Mack experiences while visiting the shack and the new found relationship that he develops within the Trinity. Symbolism within The Shack is found almost everywhere, with symbolism it is possible to understand God through the analogies expressed. These analogies range from simple to complex and have many dimensions; the symbol itself and the reality it exposes. There are many different symbols hidden within the shack, some are obvious and some are vaguer.
One of the more obvious pieces of symbolism would be the story of the Indian Princess that Mack tells Missy. (Young, 30-31) The story is a clear representation of the death of Jesus Christ. Missy is unnerved by the death of the Indian Princess and Jesus and raises the essential question, as to why God is so mean? (31) Mack answers the question the best he can but it still unnerves him. He says that Jesus didn’t have to die, he chose to. He then tells Missy that God will never ask us to do something like that, as Jesus already covered it. He’s shaken though by the depth of his young daughter’s question.

However, not quite as shaken as he will be in the days ahead as he wonders the same thing himself. In the coming days ahead When Missy is abducted, Mack will think back to this, thus, creating distrust in God for Mack. Now that Mack has developed a type of disbelieve in God, he becomes immersed in another piece of symbolism that he has taken to calling “the Great Sadness”. …he [Mack] allowed himself to consider the range of horrendous possibilities, and once it started he couldn’t stop; the imaginations of good and evil all mixed up together in a soundless but terrifying parade. 53) This “Great Sadness” seems to be a lot like depression but there are some things here that seem to even go beyond such a simple definition. It appears to more than physical, more than psychological; it’s almost a spiritual type of thing that hits to the very core of his being to where his entire world is impacted by its presence. It haunts his dreams, and leaves him in a state of almost perpetual fatigue and anguish. It can be argued that this state was brought on solely because of his daughter’s disappearance; however that may just be one of the factors contributing to the “Great Sadness”.
Mack’s “Great Sadness” seems to come more from his loss of faith because of the loss of his daughters which could imply that both of these are the causes of his grief induced state. Whether it’s depression, or something else, Mack has a condition in which pain becomes so overwhelming that there are few options other than suppressing the pain, which is what Mack chooses to do. One of the contributing sources to Mack’s great sadness is the loss of his daughter, Missy. Missy can also be viewed as yet another symbol within The Shack.
She is innocent and unassuming; therefore she can be regarded as somewhat of an inner child or symbol of youthful innocence. And now Mack could clearly see the voice that had called his Missy. It was Jesus playing in the middle of his children. (168) However, with her disappearance she brings despair and sadness to her family, therefore she is also representative of great pain and loss. Missy, can also be compared to Jesus. She was innocent, but ended up dying for no reason.
Although her death was tragic and hurt her family, Mack manages to gain a new relationship with God from it. Much like Jesus, who died unjustly, but ended up saving humanity, Missy in a way saves her father. Another symbol found several times throughout the story would be the lady bug. Before the family leaves to go on a camping trip, Missy asks her mother and her father if she can bring her insects with her. Her father says yes, while her mother says no, because they will be safer at home. This is symbolic because it turns out that Missy would have been safer at home too.
Perhaps the most noted symbols in the entire story would be the physical human representations of the Trinity. God is represented by a large African American woman; however this is just the form that God chose to spoke to Mack through, because “Papa” (God) says that God is neither male nor female. (93) Jesus is portrayed as a clumsy Jewish man. While the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman, who behaves rather strangely and flits in and out of Mack’s vision and can appear in more than one place at once, (128) these are all metaphorical representations of the manifestation of the Trinity.
Mack in his first meeting with God following his cathartic regeneration of unloading his anger and rage sees God in a quite different manner than he expected, which is why God is portrayed this specific way. This materialization of God in this form is important because this isn’t a literal assembly with God. This is a parable or metaphor that represents Mack’s introduction to a God that isn’t the remote, presentiment, ominous, hypercritical figure that Mack has believed him to be, until now.
To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure with flowing beard, like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes, and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes. (93) God or Papa in The Shack isn’t revealing himself in all of his splendor and sanctity for a specific reason. This is because the general rationale of this weekend in the shack is focused upon constructing a relationship with God. Through this, Mack discovers the idea that God’s love extends so much that God has chosen to reveal himself in a manner that Mack can relate to and identify with.
God also wishes for Mack’s religious stereotypes to be abolished, so he can be closer with God. Mack’s religious stereotype of God in his head is similar to Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, like a sort of grandfatherly figure with a long white flowing beard. (73) So, Mack is shaken immensely when God appears to him in the way that he does, in order to try to bring himself down to Mack’s level. Through the symbolism in this story dealing with the trinity, Mack begins to start the road to restoration nd healing. The whole meeting in the shack is symbolic in itself because it is possible that it did not even occur in reality. Mack discovers that his accident was on Friday night, and also when he wakes up wakes up in the shack and it is cold (237) and also he appears to be in the same spot on the floor where he fell asleep (79) near the old blood stain. This leads to the conclusion that the manifestation of the trinity, may have occurred just not as a part of reality, more as in a visionary meeting.
These events are seemingly real as Mack experiences them and he is able to grasp that there is a truth being represented here through this weekend at the shack and from that he reaches the truth about his relationship with God. Even though it is possible to conclude that the actual meeting did not occur, there is a reality here in the truth of the concepts and life changes that occur because of this meeting. The purpose of this metaphorical vision was to save Mack, so he could forgive and mend his relationship with God. Parables, symbols and metaphors are all essential elements in The Shack.
They help to intertwine the pieces of the story together and allow for greater significance. Although some of the symbolism is blatant and quite obvious; there are other pieces of symbolism that are vaguer and harder to pick out. The Shack is a story about, healing and forgiveness, and within the tale of anguish and spiritual redemption there are symbols that act as signposts helping to lead Mack to conclusion and build a stronger relationship with the Trinity. Works Cited Young, William P. The Shack. Newbury Park, CA, 2007

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