Symbolism in 'Compass and Torch'

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Symbolism in ‘Compass and Torch’

This story uses powerful symbols to reveal deep meanings within the relationship between the father and son, such as the title, ‘Compass and Torch’. The compasses in this story represent guidance in their relationship. By forgetting them, this shows that they both have no sense of direction, therefore are lost. The torch (which they both remember) uses the symbolism of light to show that they both hope to find their relationship, shown in the line, ‘two torches are for lighting a bigger space in the wilderness, for lighting it together. Two torches are for father and son to back each other up.’ Yet later on in the story, the man’s actions show that he gives up this hope.

The symbolism of the opening line is clear as we realise what this trip is revealing about their relationship. ‘The road ends with a gate,’ You see here that the writer is suggesting this trip will lead to an epiphany for the father, in particular as he realises that opening this ‘gate’ is simply too much for him. The gate represents the much needed turning point in their relationship that he will not cross- he cannot bear the pain of his son. This is seen at the end, in Line 171, ‘the man gently takes away the torch’, suggesting that he has given up, taking away the only hope the child had left.

The setting beyond the gate continues the suggestion of pain and old wounds, ‘bleached ... bruised ... age-old spills of purple...’ It implies that moving forward with their fragile relationship will be painful, and we are introduced to an omniscient narrator that reveals their feelings. ‘Watching Dad. Watching what Dad is. Drinking it in: the essence of Dadness.’ The writer makes us focus on this moment of the boy watching his father, which leads us to question why he is so desperate to take in ‘the essence’ – can it be because his dad seems almost like a stranger, because of his prolonged absences, and the boy feels the need to remind himself of his father?...
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