Use of Symbolism in Short Story The Thing in the Forest

In the short story, “The Thing in the Forest”, written by A.S. Byatt uses a variety of literary devices to enhance her storytelling. One of the most prominent literary devices used is symbolism. Symbolism is used to represent ideas or qualities as well as being used to give the story a deeper meaning. This essay will discuss how the story of “The Thing in the Forest” uses symbolism to enhance the story. The three main symbols seen throughout the story are the main character’s names, the action of returning to the forest, and the creature the girls found.

The main characters, Primrose and Penny, have names with symbolic meaning. A penny is a type currency, which usually signifies materialism but in Penny’s, it shows she is logical and analytical traits. A primrose is a flower that is known for its beauty and used to signify youth. Thus, to the character, it better shows her being an emotional and creative person. This is shown from the very beginning through the character’s descriptions of “Penny was thin and dark and taller, possibly older, than Primrose, who was plump and blonde and curly” (Byatt 354). This gives Penny the look and feel of a slender and well-put-together intellectual while Primrose is described as a short and stout and imaginative little girl. In that way, they seem to contrast each other in personality. All of this is further shown when there is a flashforward to when the girls are all grown up and the audience learns that “Penny was a good student and in due course went to university where she chose to study developmental psychology…became a child psychologist, working with the abused, the displaced, the disturbed” (Byatt 357). This further shows her intellectual nature and how she is using that to help others who have been through trauma as a child. This, in a way, is her coping mechanism for her past; Penny using her intellect to give other children the help she never got. While Primrose, on the other hand, got through her hardship and trauma by embracing her childlike nature and creativity during the war. Primrose tells the audience about back when she was a child how “She told herself stories at night about a girlwoman, an enchantress and a fairy wood, loved and protected by an army of wise and gentle animals. She slept banked in by stuffed creatures, as the house in the blitz was banked in by inadequate sandbags” (Byatt 361). This shows her using her imagination to help her get through hard times. She tried to distract herself from the terror around her and it helped her survive. Both of the girl’s names are symbolic of their true character when they were young and as they get older.

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The forest itself is seen as frightening and mysterious to the characters thus the act of returning is symbolic of facing ones’ fears. When the girls decide they are going back to the forest they are making the decision to go back to their place of trauma and stand up to it. This is shown when “without speaking to herself a sentence in her head- ‘I shall go there’-Primrose decided” (Byatt 360). This fully shows Primrose deciding that enough is enough and it is time for her to go back, see if she really saw the creature and if so, stand up to it. In other words, face her fear she has had since she was a child. Penny, later in the story, is seen to do the same thing, shown by the quote “She closed her eyes briefly as the noise and movement grew stronger. When it came, she would look it in the face, she would see what it was. She clasped her hands loosely in her lap. Her nerves relaxed. Her blood slowed. She was ready” (Byatt 365). This shows Penny is ready to face her trauma and she is ready to move past it. Going back to the forest symbolizes facing one’s fears in that both main characters go back as a step to getting over their trauma.

The worm like creature the girls find in the forest in the most well-known symbol in the story. The creature in the forest represents war, more specifically World War II since that is the war that is going on at the time. It is most explicitly shown as a symbol of war in the quote “It and its stench passed within a few feet of their trunk, humping along, leaving behind it a trail of bloody slime and dead foliage” (Byatt 356). The main parts of the creature’s description are to show what war leaves in its wake. It leaves a putrid smell of dead bodies, tons of spilled blood of soldiers, and dead bodies of the troops. Just like war, the creature is horrible and leaves behind destruction. The creature is shown again to represent war and its effect on the little girls. The girls were traumatized and said that “They remembered the thing they had seen in the forest, On the contrary, and the way you remember those very few dreams-almost all nightmares-that had the quality of life itself” (Byatt 357). The dreadfulness that the creature caused haunted the girls their entire life exactly how war never leaves a person.

In conclusion, different types of symbolism are used throughout the story to give the reader’s a better and deeper understanding of the test. Symbolism of a name is used with the main characters to show their personality, symbolism of an action is used to show how returning to the forest shows facing a fear, and symbolism of an object is shown in the terrifying creature representing the horrors of war.

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