Essay for Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera


  Trash to Treasure

Within the content of Yvonne Vera’s novel, Butterfly Burning, are passages dedicated to the depiction of the setting in a poetic manner. At times, the author provides specific and extensive details of items within the setting, which can be found within chapter three. Additionally, the author brilliantly decontextualizes pieces of trash and the children present in the chapter with the language she uses.

In chapter three, a group of children are found playing in an area close to a factory. Readers gain insight on the children’s playtime and witness the transformation of specific objects from trash to “treasure”(page 18). The list of rejected objects is: a broken record, an empty matchbox, a single leather shoe, a metal spoon, and a pot handle. At first, these items appear to have no more value or use. However, the descriptive language Vera uses to illustrate these items does not portray abandonment or reveal to the readers why the items lack value to the previous owners but instead depicts them as precious, beautiful items. Overall, Vera decontextualizes these items by almost breaking them away from the fact that they are pieces of rubbish. For example, the broken record is described to have, “Each concentric ring round and round till the tiniest one ripples towards the middle where a large opening waits, and where two whole fingers can be inserted, and the record swung over and over in suspension” (page 19). Such elucidation overpowers the indication of the record’s disuse, “its sides chipped, and its black surface plastered with dust” (page 19).

One could consider this as an eye-opener. Almost immediately after an item is thrown away, one is quick to forget or perhaps never even noticed such intricate details, as demonstrated in Vera’s writing, in the first place. In contrast, these children see beauty in these pieces of garbage where some do not.

The author decontextualizes the children by establishing their creativity instead of victimizing them. Musical instruments they built from gathered discarded objects exemplify their creativity. For example, guitars are constructed from empty cooking oil cases and their flutes are actually pawpaw stems. Additionally, The children restore a naked umbrella’s purpose by pretending that it shelters them from the imaginary rain. Civilians driving by stare, becoming the children’s audience for a brief moment, adding a theatric ambience to the chapter.

Yvonne Vera decontextualizes pieces of rubbish with the use of language, metamorphosing those pieces of trash into “treasure” (page 18). Also, by portraying these children as she does, she almost disconnects them from the stereotypical images of poverty. One could say that she depicts these children as any other group of children. Children who go outside to play and sometimes, in the process, construct a whole world with their imagination and discarded items that have been left to weather away.


What do you think?

-T.B.B.-