Coraline Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Buttons (Symbol)

Buttons are an important symbol throughout the novel. In the other world, people have buttons in place of their eyes. They act almost as masks, as they conceal the true identities of the individuals in the other world. As the popular adage explains, "eyes are the windows to the soul." Because the buttons cover the eyes of each character in the other world, it is impossible for Coraline to determine each person's moral intentions. The protagonist is unable to gauge their human emotion through the plastic eyes. Coraline is explicitly told that in order to stay in the other world forever, she would need to forgo her eyes and instead replace them with buttons. This would indicate that Coraline would have to sacrifice her soul in order to exist in the beldam's world.

The Key (Symbol)

From the moment that Coraline moves into the new home, she is intrigued by the key that hangs in the kitchen. It turns out that the key allows the bearer to access the portal between the human world and the other world. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that both Coraline and the other mother fight to possess the key, as it represents freedom, mobility, and power. The other mother specifically wishes to keep the key so that she can hunt for victims in both dimensions. For Coraline, the key represents escape and victory from the beldam's world.

Food (Motif)

The motif of food appears throughout the novel. Coraline is often hungry and searches for comfort through food, but her family is unable to provide her with satisfying meals. Specifically, Coraline has issues with her father's intricate recipes. When Coraline first visits the other world, she is immediately surprised that her other parents prepare all of her favorite foods. As the story progresses, Coraline often clings to the apple that she keeps in her pocket for nourishment. Through these various examples, it is clear that food symbolizes comfort, warmth, and love.

Mirrors (Motif)

Both literal and figurative mirrors play an important role in the novel. Coraline is intrigued by the mirror in the hall, and she finds that it becomes particularly significant as the story progresses. Coraline often looks at her own reflection in order to muster her strength and encourage herself to succeed. Coraline first becomes aware that her parents are in danger by noticing their cry for help in the mirror. The motif of mirrors extends thematically, as the beldam's world is a warped reflection of Coraline's real world. The motif of mirrors pays homage to Alice in Wonderland and specifically its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, another fantastic story that centers around the adventures of a young, female protagonist.

Names (Motif)

Coraline takes pride in her unconventional first name. There are numerous instances in which Coraline grows frustrated at her neighbors for mistakingly calling her "Caroline." Coraline's insistence on the proper pronunciation of her name signifies her strong character and sense of self. Coraline extends her opinions about names to the black cat. She asks for the cat to reveal its name, but the cat explains that names are not necessary. This opinion prompts Coraline to alter her perspective on names and their rigid ties to identity.