Often authors use signs to foreshadow events that will happen in the future in their stories. For example an author might write “As he was walking down the dark eerie path dark skies began to form” . Here the writer uses a usually negative sign to foreshadow a negative future. This is the most common way for authors to foreshadow in a story, but it isn’t the only way. In some instances authors use symbols to foreshadow the future of a character. Like foreshadowing with signs, symbols can also be used to foreshadow both positive and negative futures. In the two short stories “The story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin and “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara the authors use symbols to foreshadow both a positive and negative futures. In “The Story of an Hour” Chopin uses positive symbols to foreshadow a woman’s future without her husband who was killed in a railroad accident. In “The Lesson” Bambara uses a toy sailboat to foreshadow both positive and negative futures of a little girl named Sylvia.
Chopin’s story begins with a woman who has locked herself up in her room who stares endlessly out her window after getting word of her husbands death. As the woman is looking out of her window she begins to think about her new life and what is in store for her now that she is widowed. An important note about this story is that it takes place back in the 1890’s. In the 1890’s woman had very little rights and were very dependent upon their husbands whether they loved them or not. As the woman stares out of her window the reader quickly learns about her true feelings. Through foreshadowing with symbolism we find out that the woman looks at her husbands death as liberating.
The reader first realizes this when Chopin writes, “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life,” (Chopin 157). The open square gives the reader a sense that since the death of the woman’s husband she now has many open possibilities or a variety of options with her life. When she writes about new spring life it’s as if the woman was dull and lifeless as the winter is, but when spring comes things start to grow and become more lively just as she is now that she isn’t held down by her husband. Chopin also goes on to write, “The delicious breath of rain was in the air…
There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window,” (Chopin 157). In many instances rain symbolizes dreary events and negative vibes, and here the author writes of the taste of rain in the air as if the rain has passed and the skies have cleared. This gives the reader the sense that the woman has persevered through the storm of her marriage with the death of her husband.
Chopin uses those symbols to foreshadow a positive future for the woman in her story. In a similar fashion, but very different story Tony Cade Bambara uses symbolism to foreshadow the future of a young girl named Sylvia. Bambara’s story begins in the projects of a poor New York neighborhood where a group of very young children are being taken downtown Manhattan to a toy store called F.A.O. Schwarz. The children are lead downtown by an educated neighborhood mentor named Miss Moore whom most of the children dislike because she always tries to teach them lessons when they would rather go play. This story is narrated by the oldest of these children, named Sylvia, who comes with an attitude and a very profound dislike for Miss Moore.
When the children arrive at the toy store they are at first reluctant to go in because they realize how high class it is and get the sense that they don’t belong. They finally enter the toy store and as the children walk around they are amazed at how costly the toys are. The children then begin to relate the prices of those toys to the things they could buy with that kind of money. Soon enough the children come upon a toy sailboat made of fiberglass that cost one thousand on hundred and ninety-five dollars. Again the children begin to relate what the toy cost and what they could buy that would fulfill their everyday needs and they are astounded. They begin to feel uncomfortable in the store and they all started to think about why people would spend so much on a toy, how could they have enough money to actually buy that toy, and why is it that even if their families combined all their money together they still couldn’t afford it.
Much to Sylvia’s disliking, when they leave her friend Sugar says to Miss Moore, “Imagine for a minute what kind of society it is in which some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven. What do you think?…this is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don’t it?,” (Bambara 54). As much as it annoyed Sylvia that her friend Sugar gave Miss Moore the satisfaction of teaching the children a lesson it gets her thinking as well. Sylvia goes on to say, “She can run if she want to and even run faster. But ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin,” (Bambara 54). The sailboat becomes a symbol to Sylvia as well as the reader.
Not only does it symbolize flaws in the country’s economic and social system, but it also foreshadows a determined future for Sylvia. Sylvia learns the lesson that life won’t be fair from this and that it isn’t always even. She realizes she is in a poor situation living in the projects of a New York neighborhood, but when she see’s that people can go out and spend thousands of dollars on a toy for their children when her family could be using that money to make ends meet. Sylvia essentially decides that this isn’t going to be a life for her and she is more determined than ever to make her own life as good as those peoples who can go out and spend all that money on toys.
When comparing these two short stories the authors use similar elements of symbolism to foreshadow a future for their main characters. For the most part in both stories the symbols used are positive things which lead the reader to believe that life for the characters is going to be better in the future. In Chopin’s story the woman seems to be liberated of a bad marriage when she gets word of her husbands death. That liberation makes us believe that her marriage wasn’t great and it had many flaws that she was happy to rid herself of. The author uses symbols of new spring growth, a peddler selling his wares, and the smell of rain in the air to signify this.
In Bambara’s story Sylvia had an epiphany that life isn’t fair after going into the upscale toy store. When she saw that thousand dollar toy sailboat it made her realize that she lived in a poor situation where her family had to conserve money where as rich families would go spend more money on a toy than she would see in a year’s worth of time. That sailboat then symbolizes a determination for Sylvia to do something with her life and maybe even do something great in her future. Sylvia’s attitude towards the end of the story portrays that to the reader when she says that nobody is going to beat her at anything. Throughout both stories, the authors deal with symbolism of physical things that translate into what hopefully could turn out to be a
positive future for both main characters.
When contrasting these two stories they seem to be less different than similar. In “The Story of an Hour” all of the symbolism was very positive and pointed towards a better life for the woman. In “The Lesson” it not only had a positive twist, but a negative one as well. Not only could the reader interpret the sailboat as a positive symbol of her future, but they could also interpret it as a symbol of a negative future. The sailboat can also be used as a symbol of a rough future ahead for Sylvia and her friends. It symbolizes what is wrong with the economy in America where the poor will stay poor and the rich will stay rich. It is wrong when a child’s tyo cost more than any of the children’s houses. Toys are toys therefore they should not cost large amounts of money, but since the toys in that store are for people who are wealthy and wealthy people only they make it impossible for poor families such as the childrens to afford them.
In both stories both authors effectively used symbolism to foreshadow their main characters futures. In Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” the symbolism was all positive and pointed to a positive future for the woman. On the other hand in Bambara’s “The Lesson” the symbolism was very subjective and could be interpreted as either positive or negative symbolism. I feel that the subjectivity of Bambara’s use of symbolism was more effective because it could be interpreted as positive and negative things.
Courtney from Study Moose
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