Symbolism of everyday objects in Diana Gabaldon's books

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.

I first posted a version of this list in 2012. This updated version includes examples from Diana Gabaldon's most recent books and stories. Hope you enjoy it!


If you haven't yet read GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, there are spoilers below. Read at your own risk.

wild strawberries

1) 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.)
porcelain doorknob

2) 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.)

Roquefort cheese

3) Roquefort cheese

The blue mold in Roquefort contains penicillium, which helped to save Claire's life after she was shot during the Battle of Monmouth.

“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.)

4) Oranges, and orange marmalade

Some of you may recall the encounter between Lord John and Stephan von Namtzen in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER. If you read carefully, you'll see references to oranges, and orange marmalade, 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.)

5) 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.


6) 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.)

scuppernong grapes

7) Scuppernong grapes

I can't look at this photo of scuppernong grapes without thinking about what happened to poor Amy in BEES:

“Let’s move,” Brianna suggested. “There are a ton of grapes out here; the ants can’t be in all of them.”

“I dinna ken so much about that,” Amy muttered darkly, but she picked up her bucket and followed Brianna a little farther into the small gorge. Bree hadn’t been exaggerating: the rocky wall was thick with muscular vines that clung and writhed up into the sun, heavy with pearly-bronze fruit that gleamed under the dark leaves and perfumed the air with the scent of new wine.

(From GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 26, "In the Scuppernongs". Copyright© 2021 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

If you've read the book, you'll recall what happened next. Just horrible!

compass needle pointing north

8) 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.)

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

9) Chrysanthemums

Those of you who have read "A Fugitive Green" will remember the chrysanthemums in the scene where Hal and Minnie first meet:

“Oh!” she said, quite loud. She glanced guiltily over her shoulder, then put out a hand and touched the flower very gently. There it was: the curved, symmetrical petals, tightly layered but airy, as though the flower floated above its leaves. It--they--had a noticeable fragrance, so close to. Nothing like the voluptuous, fleshy scents of the orchids; this was a delicate, bitter perfume--but perfume, nonetheless.

“Oh,” she said again, more quietly, and breathed it in. It was clean and fresh and made her think of cold wind and pure skies and high mountains.

(From "A Fugitive Green", in SEVEN STONES TO STAND OR FALL by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 11, "Garden Party". Copyright© 2017 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I like this, both as a reminder of Hal and Minnie's first meeting, and because I was born in November, and the chrysanthemum is the traditional flower for November.

bees on beeswax

10) Bees

And last but not least: Many OUTLANDER fans have been noticing bees everywhere in the last few years, ever since Diana Gabaldon announced the title of Book 9, GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE:

“Bees are real sociable,” Myers explained, and blew one of them gently off the back of his hand. “And they’re curious, which only makes sense, them goin’ back and forth and gatherin’ news with their pollen. So you tell ’em what’s happening--if someone’s come a-visitin’, if a new babe’s been born, if anybody new was to settle or a settler depart--or die. See, if somebody leaves or dies,” he explained, brushing a bee off my shoulder, “and you don’t tell the bees, they take offense, and the whole lot of ’em will fly right off.”

(From GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 13, "What is Not Good for the Swarm is Not Good for the Bee (Marcus Aurelius)". Copyright© 2021 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I love the way references to bees and bee-related imagery are scattered throughout the entire book. I've been having a lot of fun spotting them.

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


Carolyn said...

Wonderful post, Karen. Really enjoyed it!

Carolyn said...

Excellent post Karen, really enjoyed your insights!

Anonymous said...

Strawberries are also the origin of the name Fraser as explained by Jamie. French word for strawberry is Frais. The strawberry flower is in the coat of arms of the Frasers of Lovett

Unknown said...

Un grand merci pour ce bel article qui se focalise sur ce que parfois nous paraît anodin...connaissant Diana, rien est tel, quand la mémoire du lecteur défaille, de telles lectures sont un' aubaine. La richesse de son œuvre littéraire est extraordinaire !

Alison S said...

Lovely observations showing yet again Diana’s attention to detail and her use of multiple sensory descriptions to evoke empathetic reactions in her readers. Your use of her Lord John series and the Seven Stones anthology reminds us of the breadth and richness of her writing and imagination. Thank you so much.

Sharyn said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your article. It was very interesting.

Unknown said...

Loved reading about the scoppernoug grapes, I grew up hearing my mother talk of these type of grapes!

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