Echo – Literature – Themes


As the title Echo already implicates, sounds and hence the theme of music is omnipresent in the novel. It is mainly depicted by a magical harmonica which travels through the lives of the protagonists. The playing of the previously mentioned instrument seems to be a crucial factor in engaging the children in the theme of music. 

Music always seems to be related to the characters’ emotional state. The author describes the feelings and situations provoked by a certain song in detail. Consequently, she uses the medium of music to offer the reader a glimpse into the characters’ emotional world. When Friedrich hears the rhythm of Tchaikovsky’s waltz, the author describes his emotions as “a lightness – a weightlessness – as if, bit by bit, the dread and worry that always burdened him were taking flight.”  (Munoz Ryan 2015, 58). Music is referred to as “the best medicine possible” (ibid. 329) and furthermore described to be “the beauty and light […] especially during the worst of times.” (ibid. 466). This statement proves to be true, as music is presented as a way to escape everyday life. It is the window to another, safer world and a language, spoken by everyone: “[Ivy] closed her eyes and lets herself be carried away on the emotions of the song.” (ibid. 468).

Taking the previously mentioned characteristics of music into account, the author offers a possibility to cope with everyday challenges through the medium of music. As the novel Echo belongs to the genre of Young adult fiction, it has been written primarily for children and young adults. Muñoz Ryan draws the students’ attention to music in general and therefore, offers one way of coping with difficulties. While evaluating and thinking about the book’s content their awareness of the potential of music in their own lives might be awakened. They could then apply these coping strategies to their own challenges in life. 

Magic and a person’s future

Magic is closely linked to the theme of music in the novel. The theme is present, especially in the beginning during the fairytale section. Magical characters like a witch who curses three princesses are introduced. In addition, the author mentions a magical curse which traps the princesses into Otto’s harmonica. 

“A messenger brought you about. One-and-the-same must bring you out.

You may not leave in earthly form. Your spirits to a woodwind born.

You save a soul from death’s dark door, or here you’ll languish, evermore.” 

(ibid. 18). 

As the three princesses’ powers are within the instrument, the harmonica supports the protagonists while facing individual challenges through the power of music as well as a sparkle of magic. Therefore, the author attributes magical powers to the instrument and even personalizes it. The harmonica, and thus magic, is the “silken thread of destiny” (ibid. 585) that connects all three stories and also the lives of Friedrich, Mike and Ivy

Some people believe in the idea of a predetermined destiny, while others believe that every person oversees their own future. The protagonists of the book eventually discover that they are able to take matters into their own hands, empowered by the invisible force of music. Magic can thus be regarded to symbolize the act of believing in your own capacities and powers, although they might not be visible yet. Sometimes it takes courage to believe in something one cannot see immediately, but in the end turns visible. Muñoz Ryan uses the fairytale section to depict the previously mentioned situation: EinsZwei and Drei face an uncertain future, as they are abandoned at birth and cursed by a witch. Their story is written down in a book and the reader has to discover that there are blank pages at its end, not mentioning a solution to their desperate situation. These blank pages are symbolic for the fact that everybody is responsible for their own future; everyone can write their own ending. She supports this theory by repeating the following prophecy: “Your fate is not yet sealed. Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed.” (ibid. 8). The previously mentioned quote reflects her opinion that even if there seems to be no escape out of a bad situation, there is still a way out. One simply has to believe it. 

Prejudices and discrimination

Several characters of Muñoz Ryan’s novel face different levels of prejudices that have an impact on their lives. Especially the chapters focusing on Friedrichand Ivy show how prejudices and discrimination are constructed. 

As already described within the paragraphs of characterizations, Friedrichsface is covered by a birthmark.  His classmates stare at him, point with their fingers and call him names (ibid. 47). These actions of bullying deteriorate and take him to the point of no longer being able to stand it. Hence, his father takes over his education at home and the employees of the harmonica factory teach him basic subjects. 

Furthermore, Friedrich has to face discrimination on another level, as he grows up in Nazi-Germany with Adolf Hitler in power (ibid. 44). Friedrich’s birthmark and initial signs of epilepsy even make him a candidate for forced sterilization (ibid. 100). The previously mentioned prejudices make Friedrich questioning himself and feeling small and afraid (ibid. 101). He regards himself to be imperfect and he is plagued with the worry that “[they] could kill [him] under anesthesia because [he is] not perfect.” (ibid. 103). 

Ivy on the other hand, also has to face prejudices and discrimination in her new home Orange County, California. Resulting from her Hispanic background, she has to attend a different campus, receiving substandard education (ibid. 445-447). Besides, she is poorly treated by the students singing “Old MacDonald had a farm” (ibid. 446), as her campus is located on a dirt field, looking like “a warehouse for farm equipment” (ibid. 446). 

Ivy experiences a second form of discrimination, when she realizes the anti-Japanese feelings of her neighbor Mr. Ward. The circumstances which caused her family’s new job in Orange County, namely the Yamamotos’ imprisonment because of their Japanese heritage are a further hint of the theme of discrimination and prejudices. In general, the Yamamotos are called “Jap spies” (ibid. 500), although their son Kenny is serving America’s military and his father has been fighting for America in WWI.