Symbols

Justine Cantin

Hello! I find this part to be very interesting, because we are introduced to Sophie, which is a big part of the chapter, and we learn big things about Elliott. Here is a complete list of them ost important symbols in this chapter.

Sex, Drugs and Alcohol

Sophie MacDonald’s main weaknesses are sex, drugs and alcohol. To her, they represent an escape from her pathetic reality in which she seeks some form of comfort. When Larry and the gang see her at a bar, she is drunk and probably high. She is also a dancer at the bar. She is approached by her possessive boyfriend, who is telling her to stop talking to her old friends and to go dance with him. During the night, she also orders champagne for everyone and she ends up drinking most of it. Later, when she is engaged to Larry and while she is waiting Isabel for her dress fitting, she recklessly tries the infamous Polish drink, Zubrovka. She ends up finishing the whole bottle, after being sober for three months. When finishing the bottle she says:  “I felt like laughing and I hadn’t felt like that for three months” (Maugham, 220). This statement proves how she reacts to alcohol and what joy it brings her. Notice the coincidence between how long she has been sober and how long it has been since she has not laughed like she did after she drinks Zubrovka? I think it speaks for itself.

When she realizes she did not want to marry Larry, fearing of becoming the “Mary Magdalen to his Jesus” (Maugham, 218), she runs away from Paris and goes to Toulon. There, she starts drinking again. An interesting constatation Maugham does about Sophie is that her eyes instantly grow greener when she mentions opium. This shows how addicted she is to the effect of drugs. A link can also be made between the laughter she has when drinking and the enlightenment of her eyes.

Another escape from reality for her is sex. After running away to Toulon, she tells Maugham about her refuge at Hakim’s, her opium dealer. There, she has sex with so many men to forget what she has done and who she has hurt.

All these three elements also occur heavily in Sophie’s life after the car accident she had, killing both her husband and her baby. Sex, drugs and alcohol are her defense mechanisms when her life turns upside down, just like many people nowadays. We can translate these elements from the book as a sign of weakness, a fear of responsibility and lack of maturity from Sophie’s part.

Poems

Poetry is a symbol of how the Sophie that is presented in the novel is different from the person she was when she was younger. At a young age, she used to love poetry and even wrote her own. The simplicity and purity of poetry creates the contrast with the coarse person Sophie is now.

Gray’s coin

This coin, given to Gray by Larry after he cured his headache, represents all the trust Gray has in his best friend. He relies on it a lot and puts a lot of his trust in it, since Larry is the one who magically cured him. Despite his financial situation, Gray claims he “wouldn’t sell it for a million dollars” (Maugham, 213).

Elliot’s invitation to Edna Novemali’s party

This invitation is crucial to Elliott because it is the first time he is not invited to a societal party, which insults him deeply. Not being invited to Edna’s party is a sign that Elliott is not part of Society anymore, a thing which he cannot and never will accept. Although he does not like the woman, he just wants to be invited to her party so that he has the confirmation that he is not old and uninteresting. Adding to the fact that he did not receive an invitation, Paul Barton is invited, which insults him more, given he despises the man. This invitation is so important to him that he has a mental breakdown, which is also a symbol in itself of Elliott’s realization of the reality of society. When Paul asks him to borrow his Count de Lauria costume, which he plans on wearing to Edna’s party, he realizes that he has given so much to people who care so little about him. This incident has frustrated him so much to a point where he still thinks about it on his deathbed. Elliott was right to be worried that he did not get an invitation because Edna says herself that “He doesn’t count socially anymore” (Maugham, 228).

Elliott’s Costume

For the best party of the year, Elliott planned on wearing his best suit, his Count de Lauria costume. This costume, which he is very proud of, is the one of his ancestors’, and it is also the one he wishes to wear in his coffin. This has a great significance because people usually dress their best for their funeral and the fact that he also wanted to wear this at Edna’s party showed the importance he gave to parties: the same as his funeral. Having Paul ask him for this costume insults him a lot because to him, seeing Paul wear it would be unjust to the costume, lessening its value. This part shows Elliott’s pride.

Catholic Church

Because it is covered by other themes and symbols, the importance of the Catholic Church is a crucial part of Elliott’s life that we do not notice much in the book. In this part, the religion oversees an important role in Elliott’s life and death. First, he considers buying and early Christian sarcophagus in Rome as a coffin while on his trip to Italy to build a new church. He also wishes that his funeral be held in this same church. I think Elliott is, to a certain extent, superstitious towards the Vatican and considers it as a lucky charm. After all, it is supposedly the church who saved him from the 1929 crash. If you disagree with me, I think it is safe to say that Elliott trusts a great deal in the Church and this is why he gets so involved in it. I also think that to him, being an active member and contributor to the Catholic religion gives him an edge that other socialites do not: this is how he stands out more. On his deathbed, he asks to have a priest and a bishop by his side to conduct the final ceremonies. Another interesting link to the Church is made when Somerset Maugham sermons Isabel with a passage from the New Testament regarding her unfair judgment towards Sophie MacDonald. In the book, the Catholic Church represents reason.

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2 thoughts on “Symbols

  1. Hi Justine!

    Thank you for this great analysis of the symbols! I haven’t read the story yet, but I’m convinced that it will be very useful because I will be able to interpret the story better. I love how the importance of religion is demonstrated since this topic seems to be less present in modern stories.

    Keep up with the good work!

    Myriam

    Like

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