Symbolism In Margaret Atwood's Short Story

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The first object of symbolism in Atwood’s short story is the ancient sacrificial well that Edward and Sarah go to visit on vacation. The sacrificial well represents the state of the relationship between Edward and Sarah. Sarah describes the well negatively; she describes it as “mud-brown” and “more like a swamp to her”. She reflects that, “there might be some point to being a sacrificial victim if the well were nicer, but you could never get her to jump into a muddy hole like that.” In Sarah’s perspective, she began her relationship with Edward in much the same way as her perception of the well. She imagines the well to be “more like a wishing well,” only to be disappointed by its dingy appearance when she sees it in person. When Sarah began…show more content…
While the source of Sarah’s unhappiness was the death of their child, Edward’s distress stems from Sarah’s disdain towards him afterwards. In the beginning, Sarah pretends to see a rare oriole bird in the woods in order to get rid of Edward for a few moments. Edward goes to look for the bird despite knowing that Sarah is lying to him. Sarah pretends the bird is there in the same way that she pretends that their relationship hasn’t changed. Edward goes along with it because he is too afraid to confront her, believing that it “would be the end [of the relationship], there would be nothing left to say and Edward wasn’t ready for that”. Angry, Edward lights a smoke and reminisces on the time when Sarah was happy and interested in his bird watching hobby. As he gets up to leave, he catches sight of the orange plumage of an oriole. Edward becomes “suddenly happy”. He is happy because of the hope that maybe Sarah isn’t lying to him after all, and perhaps there might be hope for their relationship becoming happy again. Edward feels even if Sarah didn’t see the bird, it is a symbol of a secret message for him, alluding to this hope of his relationship with Sarah improving. This hope is further hinted by Sarah at the end of the story when she finally reveals her sadness in front of Edward, and when asked if she wants something to eat she says that she would perhaps like an orange, the same color of the oriole

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