4 Where the Crawdads Sing Themes & Their Meanings

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What are some Where the Crawdads Sing themes? What can these themes tell us about the book and the nature of life?

The Where the Crawdads Sing themes cover ideas like survival, human connection, education, and prejudice. As a girl who grows up without parents or a formal education, main character Kya manages to create a live lived on her own terms. Explore theses four fascinating Where the Crawdads Sing themes.

Themes in Where the Crawdads Sing

These Where the Crawdads Sing themes go over several events that showcase the themes in action. As you read the themes, try to think of other places in the book where you’ve noticed it happening.

1. Survival

This is one of the Where the Crawdads Sing themes that’s present early on in the story, from the time Kya is abandoned by her mother. She has to learn how to take care of herself early on.

The only income the family had was Pa’s disability checks from the Army. He took most of the money for himself, but he gave Kya a dollar and some change to buy food in exchange for her taking on the role of woman-of-the-house: cleaning, doing the laundry, stockpiling wood for the stove, and cooking all the meals. 

For the first time in her life, Kya walked the four miles to Barkley Cove. The town was small and surrounded by everglades. Along the waterfront was Main Street, which held a handful of shops, such as the Piggly Wiggly, a Western Auto parts store, a diner, a bakery, and the Dog-Gone beer hall. All the buildings were weathered from years of salt spray and wind off the ocean. 

Pa Disappears

The only saving grace was that Pa had disappeared on foot, leaving the boat behind. Kya survived by digging for mussels in the sand and smashing them into a spread on crackers for each meal. But she had no more supplies. The house was dark at night without kerosene for the lamps, and she only had a few matches left. She had to find a way to get some money.

Early one morning, Kya awoke before the sun and went mussel hunting up and down the coastline. After several hours, she’d collected two large sacks full. She motored to Jumpin’s and offered him the bags of mussels in exchange for money and gas for the boat. He gave her fifty cents and a full tank. She’d never felt so proud. Since survival is one of the themes in Where the Crawdads Sing, it makes sense that Kya was proud she was able to survive on her own.

2. Human Connection

This is one of the Where the Crawdads Sing themes that is consistently in the book. It’s also something Kya struggles with, as well as how to trust. Heree are examples of Kya’s positive interactions.

One morning, when Kya pulled into Jumpin’s, she was surprised to see the usually upbeat and kind expression on his face twisted with concern. Jumpin’ told her some men had been asking after her, questioning whether Pa was still around and if Kya went to school. He said he thought they were from social services. Kya panicked, but Jumpin’ told her not to worry. He’d send them on their way if they came around again. Distrust of authority is also a theme in Where the Crawdads Sing.

At this point, Tate also helps Kya learn to read. You might remember that later in the book, Kya leans on the poetry by Amanda Hamilton for support. Getting lost in beauty and art is another one of the themes of Where the Crawdads Sing that you can explore.

Tate also brought Kya more difficult books and educational materials from school. Tate never acted like the books were too advanced for her, so Kya didn’t know to think of them as such. She slowly made her way through each, picking up more and more every time. She especially loved the biology textbook.

Reading kept Kya company on all the days and nights Tate couldn’t come. Loneliness was something she’d grown used to before Tate, but now she felt his absence palpably. One night, she picked up a novel from Ma’s books. It was a love story: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. When she finished reading for the night, she put on the one dress of Ma’s she still had and swished in front of the mirror. She imagined she was the character from the book and Tate was her handsome love interest asking her to dance. 

3. Education

One of the more subtle Where the Crawdads Sing themes is the idea of education, and who has access to it. Kya is afraid of school, and later becomes self educated. Think about what this means, and if she could’ve had more opportunities in life, or if someone like Tate hadn’t taken it upon himself to teach her how to read.

In the book, a woman comes to take Kya to school. A woman called through the screen door, announcing she was there to take Kya to school. Kya was desperate to learn to read and find out what came after twenty-nine, but she was afraid of other kids. But when the woman, Mrs. Culpepper, yelled that Kya could get a hot lunch, Kya’s hunger won out. She stepped forward and allowed herself to be taken to school. 

Kya was placed in the second grade despite never attending a day of school in her life because they couldn’t find her birth certificate. The classroom held twelve other students, most of them dressed in clean clothes and shoes, and Kya had never seen so many people in one room before. She took a seat in the back of the class, barefoot and in a soiled dress. 

When the teacher asked Kya to spell “dog,” she searched her mind for the lessons Ma and Jodie had given her about letters. She wavered and blurted out “G-O-D,” causing the rest of the class to howl with laughter. 

Shortly after Kya learned to read, she asked Tate what came after twenty-nine. She was finally going to get her answer. Tate helped her learn to count higher, showing her all the different numbers and groupings. He never made her feel stupid during any of those lessons. 

As an adult, Kya learned more and more about science, studying college level science on her own. She eventually published 7 books on marine life and was an expert on Marsh wildlife.

4. Prejudice

Prejudice is another one of the themes in Where the Crawdads Sing that takes different shapes in the book. These are some examples of prejudices Kya faced, since she lived in the marsh and people thought she was “trash.”

Pa started to take her places, too. On one occasion, he took her to Jumpin’s Gas and Bait, a filling station and fishing shop that sat along the shore between the marsh and Barkley Cove. The shop was a shack on a floating wharf held in place by a cable tied around a tree. Jumpin’ was an old black man with gray hair. He lived in Colored Town, a small Black community located outside of town. He was kind to Kya, as he was with everyone who came to fill up their boats. 

On another night, Pa took Kya into town for supper at the local diner. Kya had never been to a restaurant before. Before they went inside, she tried to clean the mud off her dingy clothes and smooth her wild black mane down. Pa ignored the snide looks and comments from the other patrons and ordered them a feast for dinner, including blackberry cobbler for dessert. 

Kya waited outside the diner while Pa paid the bill. A small voice said hello, and she turned to find a four-year-old girl in a snazzy dress and blonde ringlets holding her small hand out. Kya was afraid to touch the little girl because of how clean she was, but she extended her hand anyway. Before they could shake, however, Teresa White, the preacher’s wife, burst from a store and shooed Kya away. Mrs. White warned her little daughter not to go near the Marsh Girl because she was dirty. Kya didn’t have time to be offended, preoccupied as she was watching a mother show love to her child. This prejudice against Kya, who was just a child, is a major theme of Where the Crawdads Sing.

There’s not one theme in Where the Crawdads Sing, there are many. You may have noticed. other themes just by reading and thinking about the themes!

These Where the Crawdads Sing themes are present throughout the book. You can read with these Where the Crawdads Sing themes in mind, or think about other themes you might notice.

4 Where the Crawdads Sing Themes & Their Meanings

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Delia Owens's "Where the Crawdads Sing" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Where the Crawdads Sing summary :

  • How Kya Clark's abandonment as a child affected her through her entire life
  • How Kya discovered love despite steep obstacles
  • The murder trial that embroiled Kya's town, and the ultimate truth behind the murder

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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