REPOST: The symbolism of everyday objects

I first posted this in February, 2012, and it got a very positive response. This is an updated version of the original list. Hope you enjoy it!

The Symbolism of Everyday Objects

One of the things I love about Diana Gabaldon's writing is the way she can take a perfectly ordinary object, something you've seen a thousand times and never really paid attention to before, and turn it into something completely unforgettable.

Here are a few examples of what I mean.

1) Doorknobs

I don't think anyone who has read LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE will look at doorknobs the same way again.
Meanwhile, the doorknob--made of white china and slick as an egg--as though to compensate for the loss of the key, was inclined either to spin loosely round on its stem, or to jam fast, both conditions preventing the door from being opened from the outside.

(From LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 25, "Betrayal". Copyright© 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

2) Strawberries

I can't think of strawberries now without remembering the wonderful scene in DRUMS OF AUTUMN where Jamie and Claire discover the site of Fraser's Ridge:
"It's a rare plant," he said, touching the sprig in my open hand.  "Flowers, fruit and leaves all together at the one time.  The white flowers are for honor, and red fruit for courage--and the green leaves are for constancy."

My throat felt tight as I looked at him.

"They got that one right," I said.

He caught my hand in his own, squeezing my fingers around the tiny stem.

"And the fruit is the shape of a heart," he said softly, and bent to kiss me.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 16, "The First Law of Thermodynamics". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

3) Oranges, and orange marmalade

The encounter between Lord John and Stephan von Namtzen in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER was dubbed a "marmaliaison" by my friend Vicki Pack on Compuserve, shortly after the book came out. <g> If you read carefully, you'll see references to oranges scattered throughout that whole chapter.
As he followed Stephan from the coach, he caught the scent of von Namtzen’s cologne, something faint and spicy--cloves, he thought, and was absurdly reminded of Christmas, and oranges studded thick with cloves, the smell festive in the house.

His hand closed on the orange, cool and round in his pocket, and he thought of other rounded things that might fit in his hand, these warm.

“Fool,” he said to himself, under his breath. “Don’t even think about it.”

It was, of course, impossible not to think about it.

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 9, "Eros Rising". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

4) A wooden mallet, its handle wrapped with twine

Even Jamie is bothered by the memories evoked by this particular object, and no wonder

"Surely ye can make hare pie without looking in the wee book?" he said, obligingly taking the big bone-crushing wooden mallet from the top of the hutch where it was kept.  He grimaced as he took it into his hand, feeling the weight of it.  It was very like the one that had broken his right hand several years before, in an English prison, and he had a sudden vivid memory of the shattered bones in a hare pie, splintered and cracked, leaking salty blood and marrow-sweetness into the meat.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 7, "To Us a Child is Given". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Just looking at the photo makes me shudder, thinking of Jamie's hand.

5) Pebbles

I thought Jamie's collection of stones, one for each of his family members, was a lovely bit in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER:
A scatter of stones, picked up because of their feel in the hand or a pretty color. He counted them; there were eleven: one each for his sister, for Ian, for Young Jamie, Maggie, Kitty, Janet, Michael, and Young Ian; one for his daughter, Faith, who had died at birth; another for the child Claire had carried when she went; the last--a piece of rough amethyst--for Claire herself. He must look out for another now: the right stone for William. He wondered briefly why he had not done that before. Because he hadn’t felt the right to claim William even in the privacy of his own heart, he supposed.

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 38, "Redux". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

6) Compass with needle pointing north

I love the compass-needle imagery in "Lord John and the Haunted Soldier", as a metaphor for John's feelings for Jamie:
He dipped the pen again, and saw the slender splinter of metal that lay on his desk, straight as a compass needle, dully a-gleam in the candlelight.

My regiment is due to be reposted in the spring; I shall join them, wherever duty takes me. I shall, however, come to Helwater again before I leave.

He stopped, and touched the metal splinter with his left hand. Then wrote, You are true north.

(From "Lord John and the Haunted Soldier", in LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS by Diana Gabaldon. Copyright© 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I love that metaphor. John simply can't stop loving Jamie, any more than a compass needle can avoid pointing north.

7) Roquefort cheese

If you've read WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD, you'll never look at Roquefort cheese the same way again. <g>
“Roquefort,” I said urgently. “Is it Roquefort cheese? Sort of gray, with green and blue veins?”

“Why, I don’t know,” she said, startled by my vehemence. She gingerly plucked a cloth-wrapped parcel out of the basket and held it delicately in front of me. The odor wafting from it was enough, and I relaxed--very slowly--back down.

“Good,” I breathed. “Denzell--when you’ve finished...pack the wound with cheese.”

(From WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 83, "Sundown". Copyright© 2014 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The blue mold in Roquefort contains penicillium, which helped to save Claire's life.

Hope you enjoyed these! Let me know if you find any more examples like these in the books.


Donna said...

A lovely list!

Unknown said...

Lovely post!

Michelle said...

Thanks again!

Ellen Christine Couture said...

Brilliantly exec uted, with just the right touch: fandom, academics, and literary reference. Love this post.

Anonymous said...

You made my morning! Wonderful list Karen!

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