Symbolism in the Road

Category: Courage, Hope, Novel, Symbolism
Last Updated: 18 Apr 2023
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In McCarthy’s book, The Road, McCarthy is able to illustrate not only the setting of the book, but feelings, expressions, and actions, by various literary devices. Although he brought into play several devices such as: imagery, tone, metaphors, and a couple of similes, the most significant would have to be symbolism. Symbolism is when the author uses an object or reference to add deeper meaning to a story. The author may constantly use the same object to express deeper meaning.

Symbolism is also often used to support a literary theme in a subtle manner, which in this case is what McCarthy did. An example of symbolism, and the most noteworthy would have to be the road. Just like that, the plain road. McCarthy refers to the road on several instances, thus making it imperative to the novel. The road symbolizes hope, as well as courage. The road means that for them it is the only hope of surviving. Hope that when they get to the end of that road they will be safe in a safe place.

It also represents courage because they have the bravery of going on without knowing anything about the road, courage of going into the unknown. Not knowing what awaits them. Another example of symbolism is when the man tells the boy that he they are the only ones carrying the fire. In this quote the man refers to fire as being a symbol of them being the only ones left who have feelings in the world, who have a conscience, who still hold true to things that make us human, like empathy, hope, love and the will to survive without sacrificing your beliefs, things other people in this new world have lost.

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Compared to the others, “the bad guys,” The man and his son don’t kill, they don’t steal from the living, they help where it’s possible to do so, and, most importantly in the novel’s symbolism, they don’t eat other people, which can differ you from “good” and “bad. ” Another example of symbolism is the mirror. The man and the boy went into a house and as they turned around a corner there was a mirror, and as the man saw his reflection he instantly reached for his gun, thinking it was someone else.

In this case the mirror symbolizes what the man has turned into. It represents and supports the theme of survival present trough out the novel, what they have to be in order to survive in this new world. In another scene the man and the boy come across a river, which symbolizes after death, or the gateway to the afterlife. This symbol goes in hand with the quote “the grass is greener on the other side,” it is like if they are on the wrong side of it, like if they go to the other side everything would be better, and prettier.

Therefore, the sea stands for the other life, the one you get when you’re dead, which in the case of the man and the boy would be best for them since the life they are “walking dead,” they are living a pitiable life. The boy himself is also a form of symbolism. The boy exemplifies innocence; he demonstrates that there still is purity in the world. He is always looking for the goodness of people. Throughout the novel they run into different people, he always wanted them to come along with his dad and him, and he was always willing to help them no matter if they are “good” or “bad. In a certain time the boy is willing to sacrifice himself to help the man they ran into. He was willing to give him his food and not eat himself so the man could eat. A further example that goes hand-in-hand with the boy’s innocence would be his kindness. In this case kindness stands for his vulnerability. Since in McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic world, the line between kindness and vulnerability is very fine. Thanks to his father though, the boy survives, and keeps focused. His father serves as a realistic intermediary between the boy and ideal goodness.

The boy’s hair being described as a “golden chalice,” stands for the boy sometimes being like a divine child who can inspire the man to goodness. The “golden chalice” makes the boy seem angelical. The boy's gentle nature provides us, readers, with hope for the future. Though he has only known this wild, post-apocalyptic world, he's still full of kindness and innocence. Speaking of the boy another symbol about him is the “yellow truck”. This “yellow truck” represented the boy’s youth, and his childhood, despite the fact that they live in a world where he could not be a child.

In this world he was not able to live his infancy like any other child, and when he played with this truck, it was like if one saw another side of him, like if we were able to see the child that lives within him. Cannibalism is another form of symbolism that represents what the world has come to, what mankind has turned into. It symbolizes the end of civilization, and that eventually there will be no human in this “new world” due to it. Cannibalism also forms a major part of the novel since it can differentiate the man, and the boy from the “good,” or “bad” guys.

However, when you are living in a world like the one in the novel, if you are a cannibal is it being a “bad guy,” or is it you’re survival instincts coming into play? Does it make you a bad person to want to live? Due to symbolism along with the help of other literary elements McCarthy brings to life a world that no one else could have ever imagined possible. There are so many books and films that try to portray the end of the world, but no other has done so as Cormac McCarthy has.

The Symbolism of House Plants

Literary devices are used by authors to unite a common theme within their work. The device providing the most unity within the play “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry is the houseplant Lena Younger, or “Mama”, so adamantly protects and nurtures throughout the play.

The symbolism associated with this plant provides insight into Mama’s attitudes toward her family and her belief that they can succeed in their dreams.

The plant’s continual appearance shows how necessary this symbol is to provide unity in the play. The symbolism behind the plant takes on many layers, but it always connects back to Mama and her love for her family.

In the first scene of the play, Mama is depicted as nurturing her house plant. Even in the opening scenes, she is drawn to care for the plant, much as she is drawn toward caring and protecting her family.

Mama is always the caregiver in the play. She is the powerful matriarch that gives strength to the family. Much like the plant is the unifying symbol of the play, Mama’s power often makes her the unifying force within her family. Mama’s power is established through a variety of sources. She is the family elder.

After the death of Mr. Younger, Mama is Walter and Beneatha’s lone surviving parent, but she is also the economic center of the family. After years of hard labor, Mr. Younger’s death has provided his family with an insurance settlement of ten thousand dollars, which the entire family wants, but Mama holds firmly in her hands.

Mama’s complaints that the plant would do so much better if it only had a little more light, echo her beliefs that her family would prosper if allowed to escape the suffocating environment of their cramped apartment. Mama never stops believing in the potential for the plant to grow and thrive, just as she never stops believing in her dream for her family.

Even when Walter does the unthinkable and loses Mama’s money in a financial gamble, Mama never stops believing. Her family has gone through too much, and she refuses to be forced into submission.

Leaving the apartment now becomes risky, the family does not have all the money to guarantee an easy transition, and Mama is forced on many occasions to reconsider to family’s move. Mama’s dreams are inevitably too strong, and the family eventually moves in to their new home regardless of the risk.

The theme of overcoming resistance in pursuit of a dream is continued when Mr. Lindner visit the family. Even though he suggests that their family may not be wanted in Clybourne Park because of its racial segregation, Mama is convinced that her family must escape the confines of their apartment in order to prosper.

Because of her belief in her family’s ability to grow, she leads the family in turning down Mr. Lindner’s monetary offer. Mama believes that the plant, like the family, simply needs a little more room to grow. Like the plant, Mama always encourages her family to grow.

She supports her family various dreams, and consistently empowers them so that they will be able to reach them. She even violently apposes the idea of Ruth having an abortion because, like the plant, killing one of the family’s members would, in essence, destroy the plant.

Mama’s plant is practice for her dream of a home with a garden and a yard. Even her moderate success with the houseplant is enough to convince Mama that she will be a successful gardener. Similarly, her success with her children encourages Mama that her family will continue to be a success, if given the right environment.

The plant itself becomes fuel for Mama’s passionate pursuit of her dream for herself and for her family. As the play closes, Mama symbolically returns to the apartment, rescuing the plant its imprisonment there. The play is left open-ended.

No precise details are given concerning the family’s decision or their pursuit of their goals.  The reader is, never the less, left believing that the plant and the family will thrive in their new home because of Mama’s belief in them.

Use of Symbolism in Cynthia Ozick's the Shawl:

In The Shawl, Cynthia Ozick uses descriptive details to engage the reader. The story describes the horror of Nazism. The setting of the story is a concentration camp. The three main characters are Rosa, who was a mother of two daughters, Stella who was fourteen and Magda who was fifteen months. The plot of the story surrounds a magic shawl. The shawl is a major part of the complication, climax and resolution of the story. The magic shawl is the only thing the three starving women have keeping them alive and eventually leads to their demise.

The plot of The Shawl ends with a camp guard tossing the infant Magda onto an electrified fence. Ozick's use of symbolism is very important to the story. The author uses symbolism abundantly to help the reader envision the setting. In the beginning of the story, Ozick refers to the baby Magda as, "someone who is already a floating angel" (Jacobs 299). Ozick refers to Magda as an angel throughout the story, "smooth feathers of hair nearly as yellow as the Star sewn into Rosa's coat" (Jacobs 300).

Other symbolism within the story, talks of the shawl as the "milk of linen" (Jacobs 300). Beyond the concentration camp, outside of the steel fence, "there were green meadows speckled with dandelions and deep-colored violets: beyond them even father, innocent tiger lilies, tall, lifting their orange bonnets" (Jacobs 301). Past the steel fence was beauty or maybe heaven. , but not the poor conditions of the death camp. Of the three characters in The Shawl, Stella is a flat character.

She is only part of the story to allow the author to get to the climax. The climax comes when Stella becomes cold, and takes the shawl for warmth. Again, the author uses symbolism, Stella is cold or cruel. Magda is the most dynamic character. She is presented to us first as a quite baby, who is hungry and does not cry. Magda simply sucks on the shawl. When her shawl is taken, she cries and walks wobbly into the yard. In the yard of the concentration camp, she is picked up and thrown by a guard to her death.

Rosa is a flat character, she does not change throughout the story. As the mother of the two girls, she tries to keep her family from their impending death. When Magda is killed, she does not run into the yard, knowing she will be shot. **** There are false statements in this article. Stella is NOT Rosa's daughter, she is her niece. - Megan "Use of Symbolism in Cynthia Ozick's The Shawl. " 123HelpMe. com. 03 Apr 2010 .

Related Questions

on Symbolism in the Road

How is symbolism used in The Road?
Symbolism is used throughout The Road to represent the characters' journey and the themes of hope and despair. For example, the fire symbolizes hope and the ash symbolizes despair. Additionally, the father and son's journey is symbolic of the human struggle to survive in a hostile world.
What are some symbols from the book The Road?
Some symbols from The Road include the fire, the ash, and the gun. The fire symbolizes hope and safety, while the ash symbolizes the destruction of the world. The gun symbolizes protection and the power of life and death.
What does the boy symbolize in The Road?
The boy in The Road symbolizes hope and resilience in the face of a bleak and dangerous world. He is a source of strength and optimism for his father, and a reminder of the importance of protecting and preserving life in the face of adversity.
What does the fire symbolize in The Road?
The fire in The Road symbolizes hope and safety in a world that is otherwise dark and dangerous. It is a source of warmth and light, and a reminder of the possibility of a better future. It also serves as a reminder of the power of human connection and the importance of family.

Cite this Page

Symbolism in the Road. (2017, Apr 21). Retrieved from

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