Importance of Symbols in “the Thing in the Forest”

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Brandon Doder

Importance of Symbols in “The Thing in the Forest”

In many fairytales, we are given characters who set out on an adventure to better themselves whether they know that they are on one or not. In A.S. Byatt’s “The Thing in the Forest” we are taken on such an adventure, but this is more than just a children’s fairytale. Through figurative language we are shown that the main characters, Penny and Primrose, are dealing with more than just a creature in the forest, and that with this use of symbols as a way to express a larger meaning to objects in the story, we better understand how Penny and Primrose are dealing with being away from their family during a time of war in England. In this story we are exposed to the horrors of war during World War II in rural England. The two main characters, Penny and Primrose, are sent away from their homes in London during the time when Germany was bombing the major metropolitan areas of England. We find out early that the girls do not know each other but quickly form a bond that will help them work though the experiences that that are thrown at them. They arrive at the safe house in the country before they are sent to another family’s homes. During this in between time, the girls venture into the forest near the house and believe that they come across a thing moving through the forest. This experience stays with both of them for the rest of their lives and both have their own way of dealing with what they think they saw. To get a better understanding of the girls experience away from home, Byatt uses many forms of figurative language to convey underlying messages or events that happen especially in the forest. The most prominent types of figurative language are the use of symbols. By making the “thing” have the smells and look of war mashed together, not only the visual we are left, but also what the “thing” means to the girls and to the story, makes it harder to figure out if the girls were actually seeing something. Each of the different characters and settings really do have more meanings than what can be seen at the surface. With the use of symbols, Byatt can make reference to problems with the girls or make a comment on the larger picture of war at the time. The three largest symbols that appear in the story are the mansion, the forest, and of course, the thing in the forest. Each symbol represents something bigger in the whole scheme of things. The mansion that the girls are first sent to is a cold and dreary place to the children. Byatt describes the mansion as cold and dark. This is because of war time in England and they are tying to not be obvious. This dreariness only helps the symbol of the mansion to represent what is going on at that time. The house is a representation of the “State.” That being the government and everything that is part of the security it provides. There is a sense of security in a way that the mansion is used. The government commandeered the mansion for use as a safe house, although there still is a feeling of doubt about it. To the girls and other children, the mansion is a place of security or home until they move on. This is most likely not what the girls had in mind when they arrived. For them to feel any sort of comfort in this time of tragedy, they will need to stick together and make the best of the situation. The girls seemed to be thinking the worst of every event but at the mansion, things were taken care of to the best of the ability of the adults there to care for them. Unlike the mansion, the forest in the story has a great deal of uncertainty associated with it. When the girls venture into the forest they discover a different world just on the other side of the fence next to the mansion. While the boys of the group were playing soccer not far from where the girls were, Penny and Primrose were having a much different experience. In Byatt’s use of language to describe the forest,...
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