Symbolism In The Go-Between Essay, Research Paper
The Go-Between is full of Allegory and Symbolism. Illustrate
its variety, and Discuss the use Hartley makes of it
Hartley uses a wide range of symbolism and allegory in the Go-Between to convey a deeper moral understanding of the novel, in many ways it is used explicitly but occasionaly it is so subtle as to hardly be noticed. Weather, and particularly heat, are used throughout the novel to reflect Leo’s emotions. The temperature gradually rises as do Leo’s emotions. The rising heat reflects the build up to a fall implementing the Icarus idea.
“Sunshine and shadow outside, sunshine and shadow in my thoughts”
This shows the parallels between Leo’s feelings and the weather and climate. This use of heat and weather to emphasise Leo’s emotions and his heading for downfall, runs throughout the novel. Hartley uses clothes to symbolise change in characters
“My spiritual transformation took place in Norwich.”
Leo’s green suit marks his becoming the Go-Between as this is the first time he lies for Marian. The new suit, a gift from the Maudsleys, symbolises how Brandham changes his life. The colour green is also important as at first Leo associates it with Robin Hood and Maid Marian. This is at the point when he believes that Marian really cares for him and it is only later when he realises that he has been used by Marian, that green becomes the symbol of naivety and inexperience, a badge of his sexual naivety and blindness over how he was being used by Ted and Marian. Clothes are also used to mark the class division between Ted and Hugh.
“The more clothes he put on, the less he looked himself. Whereas Lord Trimingham’s clothes always seemed part of him.”
This shows Ted’s close association with nature and Hugh’s with the material things. It is Ted’s masculinity and nakedness that draws Leo to him and it is Hugh’s status and title that attracts Leo to him. Hartley associates symbols of danger and doom with Ted, to suggest his later suicide and damning effect on the Maudsley family and Leo. The place where Leo first meets Ted is given an ominous description,
“like a gallows. It gave out a sense of fear… It was like something that must not be approached, that might catch you and hurt you.” Leo, on approaching Ted, gets caught up in a triangle of deception and ends up very hurt in the end. Also Ted leaves a “dark footprint on each step.” These steps were constructed by the Maudsleys and it thus symbolises the black mark he leaves on the Maudsley family through his unacceptable affair with Marian. “The mirror which had been shattered by the farmer’s dive.”
This metaphorical breaking of a mirror could be symbolic of the bad luck that Ted brings upon himself and everyone else which ties in with Leo’s superstition throughout the novel as well as Mrs Maudsley’s with the number thirteen at Leo’s birthday party. These images of danger and doom become more explicit as the novel goes on with continual references to Ted’s gun and him being “a good shot” preceding his suicide. Leo cuts his knee whilst sliding down Ted’s haystack which Ted dresses for him.
“To know that something that had begun badly was ending well acted like a tonic.”
This is the start of doom associated with Ted it begins with physical pain and will end in emotional pain. Leo’s life having begun well is to end badly, indirectly because of Ted. Perhaps the most focal symbol in the novel is that of the Atropa Belladonna. The plant is symbolic of Marian’s character and also Leo’s confused fascination and yet revulsion with sex. Leo is drawn to the plant as he is drawn to Marian and yet he destroys it and in destroying it destroys himself.
“I knew that every part of it was poisonous, I knew too that it was beautiful.”
Leo is deceived by Marian’s beauty and is blinded by it to the potential poisons that lie beneath. Similarly to the beauty yet poison of the Belladonna there is a reference to roses in the novel.
“She pricked her finger on the thorn of a white rose.”
Like the rose Marian is beautiful and yet she holds a sting like the thorn on the rose. The rose being white shows parallels with Marian as the Virgin of the Zodiac. The roses are also “wilted” reflecting Marian’s feelings as she is very upset by her situation. Perhaps parallels can be drawn with William Blake’s “The Sick Rose” showing the pains of love. The Atropa Belladonna is described “like a lady standing in her door-way looking out for someone.”
This gives the image of a prostitute, thus personifying the plant. Leo’s destruction of the Belladonna is described in very sexual terms “stifling yet delicious”, “yielding” and “pressed against my lips” and soft sensuous sounding words are used “swish”, “soft”, “sighing” and “swirl”. The whole experience is described very physically and almost sordidly which is to become Leo’s permanent view of sex. With this metaphorical destruction of Marian, Leo ends up lying on his back from when he physically and metaphorically catches Ted out at the cricket match and gets knocked over backwards. Leo catches Marian and Ted out and in this way destroys them, but in doing so he also destroys his own life. Hartley describes many objects and scenes throughout the novel with sexual connotations to show Leo maturing and becoming confusedly and undefinably aware of sexuality. Watching the Maudsleys swim,
“The motion began to come more easily to them, smiling beatifically they drew deep blissful breaths.”
Also his sensuous feelings towards Marian as described through the Belladonna are described after the swimming scene.
“My thoughts enveloped her, they entered into her.”
This indirect description of the sexual reflects Leo’s ambivalence on the subject. Hartley uses symbolism and allegory throughout the novel, nothing can be taken for face value. The plot is almost a background for the symbolism. The characters and events in the novel through Hartley’s use of symbolism and allegory convey a deeper moral meaning. This is shown throughout the cricket match scene. The novel contains far more complex ideas and insight into character than may at first appear. There are main symbolic themes and images running through the novel intertwined with the fairly simple plot to make it a more complex novel. Adolescence is one of the most complicated and sensitive periods of anyone’s life and Hartley uses symbolism and allegory to effectively handle the subject and the emotional experiences it brings.