World literature can be regarded as the refined and magnificently presented experience of humanity. Authors and poets use bright literary devices to draw readers’ attention to important things, trends, and events. Symbols and metaphors are some of the strongest instruments that help authors convey major ideas without saying unnecessary words. A symbol can represent an idea, an epoch, a tradition, a person, and countless other things, and metaphors also add meaning by drawing parallels between different things (Molter, 2018). The use of these figures of speech in literary works has a stronger impact on readers whose minds respond more actively to the meanings behind them.
To identify the way symbols and metaphors strengthen literary works, it is possible to compare the major symbols and metaphors in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Philip Larkin’’s poem “Church Going.” These comparatively short literary works are exemplary as authors use bright metaphors and symbols that evoke particular ways of thinking. For instance, the reader is invited to think of many layers hidden behind the wallpaper in Gilman’s work and the church in Larkin’s poem. The authors manage to start a grand discourse by using quite a limited number of words. This paper includes a comparison of central symbols and metaphors and their roles in the corresponding works.
As mentioned above, symbols make people uncover different layers and meanings behind an ordinary object. One of the layers both symbols under analysis uncover is the material world and its relevance for a person. The church in Larkin’s poem stands for a specific site used for ceremonial purposes, as well as the very institution of Christianity. In the poem, the author considers the role Christian temples play in people’s life. These are the places of worship that are currently losing their sacred status (Osborne, 2016). In a way, churches are the material representation of such an immaterial concept as faith. Larkin claims that churches are becoming mere buildings that are used for different purposes, including trade. However, in the last stanza, the poet still stresses that the church will remain an important place for people looking for the wisdom of the past generations (Larkin, n.d.). The church, being a part of the material world, will still assist people to explore their spirituality and address the challenges of their daily lives. The author shows the importance of the physical world for humans.
Likewise, Gilman’s central symbol refers to the factual world and its importance. The yellow wallpaper is presented as the only aspect of human existence, where the narrator can experience her creativity. The wallpaper stands for paper in general, the material used to write on (Grinder, 2018). The female who is not allowed to work has the only opportunity to keep her mind active by writing down her ideas in her diary. She also creates her patterns on the yellow wallpaper, which is also an act of creative effort. The wallpaper becomes a symbol of the sensible world that makes a human alive. A person needs to be active to feel satisfied and even alive. People need to see the result of this kind of activity to understand that their lives are not empty. The physical world becomes an important part of a person’s life showing the value of human existence. Hence, the positive role of the material world is described with the help of a symbol of the yellow wallpaper that stands for paper.
Different Kinds of Boundaries
The two symbols are also seen as boundaries people tend to create. However, the authors see these limits differently as Larkin has a positive view of the frames people build while Gilman focuses on the negative impact of some limitations. The two kinds of patterns share one similarity in common they are quite artificial. Larkin contemplates religious canons that can be regarded as a type of restriction, while Gilman concentrates on societal norms related to gender. These limits are unnatural since they are based on bias and superstition rather than specific laws of nature.
In Larkin’s poem, the church symbolizes religious canons that are contrasted, to a certain extent, to spirituality. The poet tries to decide whether these rules and things people are expected to do when in the church are needed and relevant. In stanza 2, the poet describes some of the major rules associated with being in a church (Larkin, n.d.). People sing some chants and pray in churches, they also donate some “Irish sixpence” (Larkin, n.d., stanza 2). Many people argue that these rules are irrelevant and only build the wall between the human and the divine (Osborne, 2016). On the contrary, Larkin sees these simple conventions as activities that help people find reconciliation with themselves. The poet states that these patterns can be “A hunger in himself to be more serious, / And gravitating with it to this ground” (Larkin, n.d., stanza 7). Even these restrictions can help people feel safe and comfortable. Praying and chanting are rituals that help people address the pains and stress they have to endure outside the church. Therefore, the boundaries the church symbolizes have a positive influence on people.
Gilman uses her major symbol as an illustration of the negative effect of some restrictions created by people. The yellow wallpaper, as described by Gilman, has a pattern that incarcerated a woman of the nineteenth century (Molter, 2018). Females are confined to their homes and have a limited set of roles. A wife’s opinion is not taken into consideration and a recurrent question the author, similarly to thousands of women of that period, asks is as follows: “What one can do?” (Gilman, 2018, p. 7). Women are expected to be submissive and completely satisfied with their lives. Otherwise, males, as well as good women, see them as being excessively nervous and in need of rest.
The pattern of the yellow wallpaper is a clear symbol of such attitudes that served as frames for females. The author shows the negative impact of such limits, and in her short story, the narrator loses sanity and dies. Many women who lived in the nineteenth century did not feel well within the boundaries established in the patriarchal society. They needed freedom to realize themselves and feel they could make the world a better place but had no chance to do so.
Metaphors and Margins
As mentioned above, metaphors are very similar to symbols as they build bridges between things that seem different. Authors do not speak literally, which would avert people who could see literary works as preaching and moralizing. Instead, unexpected vocabulary serves as a kind of alert making readers more attentive and mindful. The value of this figure of speech can be illustrated by the way the two authors describe the atmosphere in the places they find themselves. In Gilman’s story, the narrator describes the mansion they are living in as an old-fashioned mansion where “hedges and walls and gates that lock” (Gilman, 2018, p. 8). The author creates a strong metaphor describing the atmosphere the female has to endure. Walls and hedges do not lock, so this figure of speech intensifies the atmosphere in the old mansion, which is the house where the narrator feels locked behind doors, gates, and even hedges, walls, and the wallpaper pattern. The metaphor makes readers think of the patriarchal society, where women were locked inside a set of rules and conventions.
The idea of being locked is also conveyed with the help of a metaphor in Larkin’s poem. The author contemplates the future of cathedrals seeing that many of them will have “Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases” (Larking, n.d., stanza 3). Again, the poet refers to boundaries and limits since the church, according to the writer, will become a museum where no live ideas reside. However, this future does not seem horrible; on the contrary, it sparks hope and evokes a myriad of positive feelings, because a portion of human existence will be preserved. Unlike Gilman, who sees boundaries as something ultimately negative, Larkin points to positive aspects of limits.
Larkin also uses a bright metaphor to depict the atmosphere inside the church. The poet describes silence as “musty,” which renders the suffocating and depressing effect of the silent building (Larking, n.d., stanza 1). The reader gets an impression of the peculiar atmosphere in an almost abandoned church. The combination of two words, musty silence, makes readers think of the role the church plays or should play in human life. The old institution is silent, and this silence is musty as individuals do not find comfort inside such buildings anymore. Not only are they empty sites, but people are oppressed by the canons they impose, as well as the very atmosphere reigning inside the buildings.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that symbols and metaphors serve as a gate to multiple layers and meanings. Gilman and Larkin use these figures of speech to draw readers’ attention to the most important ideas and themes. The former describes the role a woman plays in society, and the latter depicts the function of the church in a modern person’s life. When considering the way two literary devices are used, it is clear that the authors achieve their goal by attributing some unexpected qualities to rather ordinary things. Wallpaper and sixpence, as the symbols of certain boundaries, enable authors to discuss the impact of these limits on their contemporaries. The use of metaphors to establish the setting is instrumental in creating a sense of being present in those particular locations, Larkin’s church, and Gilman’s old-fashioned mansion. The two figures of speech make short literary works under analysis rich and full of meaning. Without explaining their worldviews and messages in detail or naming the problems they find relevant, the two authors make readers feel the wrongs and values of the world they have around them.
Gilman, C. P. (2018). The yellow wallpaper. Martino Fine Books.
Grinder, M. (2018). Discourse on anxiety: An analysis of Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Penumbra, An Interdisciplinary Journal of Critical and Creative Inquiry, 5(1), 55–69.
Larkin, P. (n.d.). Church going. Web.
Molter, C. T. (2018). The Charlotte Perkins Gilman experience: An analysis of the literary devices in her short stories. Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creativity, 5(1), 3–9.
Osborne, J. (2016). Radical Larkin: Seven types of technical mastery. Springer.