Symbolism in The Novel The Rainbow

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The Kinds of Symbols.

      To define the meaning of symbols, one can say, symbols are actually words which are suggestive of much more than they actually narrate. Symbols are used by writers to convey to their readers what cannot be conveyed through the ordinary resources of the language and these also improve the expressiveness of their language. In The Rainbow, we get the picture of three generations of one family with its emphasis on family genetics. The key symbols that are present in the novel are, the church and the rainbow which are representative of the thesis and antithesis in this dialectical structure of the novel. Banomy Dobree is of the opinion that the literary problem of Lawrence is, "To find words to describe not only physical sensation, but also the emotional reflexes accompanying it." When Lawrence is unable to describe himself with the help of words then he makes use of symbols which are suggestive of much more than what they actually describe. In The Rainbow we have mainly three kinds of symbols. First, expanding symbols like arches, cathedrals, rainbow etc. Then we have symbolic characters and finally we have the symbolic ritual scenes.

Expanding Symbols.

      The three major expanding symbols are: the arch, the rainbow and the cathedral. The arch symbol is described quite early when Lawrence describes an unhappy moment in the marriage of Tom and Lydia Brangwen. Tom feels frightened and depressed with the change of mood of his pregnant wife who lapses into a kind of sombre exclusion, a curious communion with mystic powers, a sort of mystic, dark state. The state of Tom is described with the help of a simile of a broken arch.

      "The tension in the room was overpowering, it was difficult for him to move his head. He sat with every nerve, and every vein, every fiber of muscle in his body stretched on a tension. He felt like a broken arch thrust sickeningly out for support. For her response was gone, he thrust at nothing. And he remained himself, he saved himself from crashing down into nothingness, from being squandered fragments, by sheer tension, sheer backward resistance."

      When a wholeness of being is achieved by Tom and Lydia through their manage Lawrence once again invokes the figure of the arch:

"Anna's soul was put at peace between them. She looked from one to the other, and she saw them established to her safety, and she was free...She was no longer called upon to uphold with her childish might the broken end of the arch. Her father and her mother now met to the span of the heavens; and she, the child was free to play in the space beneath, between."

      Reference is once again made to the same arch when Will and Anna achieve some kind of adjustment through a less wholesome one.

The Rainbow.

      Another predominant expanding symbol is that of the rainbow which is a symbol of life, its continuity and hope for its resurrection. Appearing at the end of each generation, it reveals a different meaning. At the end of the first generation it points at the restoration of the harmonious relationship between Tom and Lydia. When it appears at the end of the second generation, it is a symbol of the unknown beyond. In the third generation, Ursula comes very close to it and gets reinforced with hope by it. It has finally been described beautifully on the last page as a prophetic symbol of hope which Ursula sees in the sky:

"And the rainbow stood on the earth. She knew that the sordid people who kept hard-sealed and separate on the face of the world's corruption were living still, that the rainbow was arched in their blood and would quiver to life in their spirit, that they would cast off their home covering of disintegration, that new, clean, naked bodies would issue to a new germination, to a new growth, rising to the light and wind and the clean rain of heaven. She saw in the Rainbow the earth’s new architecture, the old, brittle corruption of houses and factories swept away, the world built up in a living fabric of Truth, fitting to the over-arching heaven."

      The other two passages where the rainbow appears earlier are marked with the same beauty and power. In this scene, the rainbow stands as a symbol of hope and reinforcement not only for Ursula but for the humanity.

The Church.

      This is another expansive symbol which measures the spiritual condition of every generation. In the first generation it stands as a part of daily life, visible to the worker in the field. In the second generation Anna questions its validity and opposes the mystic ecstasies of her husband. In the third generation, Ursula is keenly in love with Sunday and with the Christian rituals and festivals, but it does not take her long to realize that they belong to the Sunday world of visions as distinguished from the weekday world of facts and realities. Julian Moyanahan rightly describes this symbol:

"The rounded arch of the rainbow lifts into the heaven and returns to earth; that is, it symbolizes a form of self-realization wherein the values of blood and spirit, of organic union with nature and a higher spiritual expression, are kept in a state of vibrant tension. Moreover, since marriage is the enterprise through which this font of fulfillment becomes possible, the rainbow is a symbol of marriage. The wedding of opposites in marriage leads not to a static condition of contentment but into a perpetual journey of self-discovery and discovery of the marriage partner. The emphasis is on becoming; the shifting, dissolving color patterns of a rainbow are appropriate to this emphasis."

      Unlike the rainbow, the Gothic cathedral symbolizes a 'mystic emergence, with God's head'. The feeling of Will when he goes to the Lincoln Cathedral is a kind of consummation. The cathedral is symbolic of the difference between Will and Anna:

“She was not to be flung forward on the lift and lift of passionate flights, to be cast at last upon the altar steps as upon the shore of the unknown. There was a great joy and a verity in it. But even in the dazed swoon of the cathedral, she claimed another right. The alter was barren, its lights gone out. God burned no more in that bush. It was dead matter lying there. She claimed the right to freedom above her, higher than the roof."

      Thus, Anna with her radicalism rejects the Orthodox church because she feels that it does not embrace the whole of the universe. She opens the eyes of her husband to the absurdity of taking the Christian miracles as grounded upon sober truth and verity. Ursula is also shown to be waiting for the new birth of society because she feels that, 'Religions were local and religion was universal; that Christianity was a local religion. Her God was not mild and gentle neither Lamb nor Dove. He was the lion and the eagle.'

      Then we have the symbols of the Sun and Moon. The Sun is a male symbol marking the fertilizing warmth which makes the earth fruitful and pregnant. The moon, Lawrence explains, is 'the planet of the women..... She it is who, white with intense friction of her withdrawal into separation, that cold proud white fire of furious, almost malignant apartness, the struggle into fierce, frictional separation.'

Symbolic Character.

      In The Rainbow, we have numerous symbolic characters. For instance Anna is symbolic of the Mother, the woman seeking fulfillment through child-bearing whereas Tom Brangwen represents every man who in order to achieve harmony in life, makes a desperate effort. Both Anna and Ursula are the symbols of young emancipated woman at work in this universe. Anna also stands for the, 'life force' as a great river flowing on and on unchecked. She is symbolic of the ceaseless striving for becoming and growing. Tom Brangwen and Winifred Inger are symbolic of the corruption of the modern world as a result of mechanization. The class of people willing to subordinate their individual self to the great abstraction called the state and become an anonymous part of it is represented by Anton Skrebensky.

      Some of the minor characters in The Rainbow also have symbolic significance. The Bargeman, the taxi driver and Anthony Schofield are used as symbolic foils to Anton. They all are representatives of the male vitality that is lacking in Anton. They are symbolic of a life of physical experience and daily labor whereas Anton is ‘a mere nothing’ in his total suppression of individual instinct for the sake of the state. The taxi driver in whose taxi Anton and Ursula come back after Anton's annihilation under the moon is representative of the physically being which the sobbing and crying Anton no longer possesses.

Symbolic Ritual-Scenes.

      The most important of the symbolic scenes occur during the courtship of Will and Anna. The night is illuminated with moonlight, Will and Anna gather the sheaves in a dance-like manner. They pass each other without touching and remain separate. Thus, what is described is a prefiguration of the combat which will follow their happy marriage. A hint is also given about the opposition of their temperaments. This opposition is again symbolically presented in the scene which describes the different reactions to the powerful uplifting pull of the Church. Will is completely absorbed into the dark mysteries but Anna though carried forward by ecstasy, here also claims the right to freedom. The conflict of Will and Anna reaches its climax in the grand scene where pregnant Anna dances naked in her room in a frenzy of freedom before the dazed eyes of her husband.

      Before this, in the first part of the book we have Lydia slowly emerging into life, though feeling like dead after the death of her husband. She prefers to withdraw from life but Nature reaches out for her and brings her up into a state of new vitality. The gradual emergence of Lydia into life after the death of her first husband has been expressed by Lawrence with the help of a number of flowers and seeds and thus it is suggested that the essence of Lydia and the essence of the flowers are the same. He also suggests that if Lydia is to flourish once again in the day time world, She must be returned temporarily to the organic, instinctual source of creation, there to be charged with vitality.

      Then we have the moon-scenes where Anna becomes a mythical character, the moon - goddess, the confines of whose sympathies extend far beyond the confines of the recognizable world. She stands filled with the moon in the scene where she makes passionate love to Anton. It appears as if her breasts are inviting the moon in. "She wanted the moon to fill into her, She wanted more, more communion with the Moon, consumption." Anton is first destroyed by her kiss and then by her fierce love-making. He is made to lose his individuality as the female in her triumphs over him. "And her soul crystallized with triumph, and his soul was dissolved with agony and annihilation. So she held him there, the victim consumed, annihilated. She had triumphed: He was not anymore the dominant male.” Thus Ursula is seen to be linking herself to the infinite with her moon-consummation. In the words of Karl and Magalaner, “Ursula's association with the moon, for example is merely one way of emphasizing her otherness. Her aloofness and her repulsion by average people further define her removal of self from day to day life and indicate her need to come to terms with her own nature in some mysterious connection.”

      The scene describing Ursula’s vision of wild horses, taut with their compact vigor and energy, pursuing and pressing upon her till she flies for life has been variously interpreted. For instance Karl and Magalaner state; "When she finally escapes over the hedge, the vision has become the only reality for her, is in effect, reality, and in her ensuing illness she miscarries, thus losing her last contact with Skrebensky. Now he seems the hallucination, a person who has not become fully real.” But Lawrence interprets this scene best: "Far back, far back in our dark soul the horse prances, he is a dominant symbol. He gives us lordship: he links us, the first palpable and throbbing link, with the ruddyglowing, Almighty potence: he is the beginning even of our Godhead in the flesh. And as a symbol he roams the dark under-world meadows of the soul." Thus, the upsurge of the wild energy from the dark depth of Ursula’s subconscious is symbolized by the horses stirred by the great crisis in her life. She must be born again under its pressure. About this Julian Moynahan says, "It is clear that although these horses are profoundly dangerous to the ordered world, the power they symbolize is to be taken as the ultimate energy source of man’s virility, his creativity and of whatever is vital in civilized society as well."


      The symbol of the rainbow on which the novel ends is a symbol of hope and promise. The rainbow is a pledge of rightness, of continuity and adjustment. In the words of H.M. Daleski: "Ursula's vision of the rainbow which concludes the book, is not achieved by an obliteration of personal integrity and awareness, no matter how temporary. It is a vision of wholeness which springs from the realignment in a unified self of hitherto violently contending forces, forces which Lawrence symbolizes by the tiger and the lamb or the lion and the unicorn in the expository writings and which are represented in the scene of the horses on the high-road. With the horses behind her, experienced in all their wonderful terror but now brought into line against the hedge as a result of her determination to make for the road, and with the road lying arduously ahead, running along, as it seems to her, between the hedges, in relation, that is to say, to what is bounded by the hedges, Ursula has come to the deep, unalterable knowledge, which persists under all illness into which she falls after the experience. The illness is a prelude to her spiritual rebirth.

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