Pere Goriot

Pere Goriot Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Rastignac's Watch (Symbol)

Delphine gives Rastignac an expensive watch as a token of her affections, but he later pawns it in order to cover the costs of nursing Goriot during his final illness. The watch symbolizes the superficial and temporary nature of Delphine's affections, and by extension, the superficiality of the entire high society world. Delphine is happy to shower gifts on Rastignac when she is in love with him, and because it gives her pleasure to see her lover wearing expensive things. However, she cannot be bothered to care for her dying father, or to support him financially. Rastignac sells the watch because he prioritizes helping another human being over enjoying expensive luxuries.

Anastasie's Diamonds (Symbol)

When she gets married, Anastasie is given a valuable set of diamonds that belonged to her husband's mother. When she is desperate to help her lover pay off his debts, she pawns the diamonds in order to give him money. Her husband ends up finding out that she has pawned the diamonds, and this leads to a furious confrontation between the two of them. The diamonds symbolize her lost reputation and the appearance of respectability within their marriage. Her husband knew that she was having an affair and tolerated this as long as she maintained social appearances, but when she passes the diamonds into the public world, she violates their tacit contract.

Turtledove Posset-Dish (Symbol)

Goriot's most prized possession is a silver posset-dish with turtledoves on it. It was a wedding gift from his late wife. It is one of the things he claims to love above all the other things he owns, yet he sacrifices it to pay his daughters' bills. The dish symbolizes Goriot's willingness to put the needs of his daughters above all else, even his own happiness. It also symbolizes the loss of his family ties, since he symbolically loses his connection to his wife when he gives up the dish, but he does so in hopes that he will always have his daughters. However, they will go on to abandon him and he will be left utterly alone.

Painting of the Feast (Symbol)

The boardinghouse dining room features a painting showing a mythological scene where the nymph Calypso gives a lavish feast for the son of Ulysses. The painting symbolizes how most of the boardinghouse residents accept their social position and lot in life. In fact, they find it funny to see the contrast between the lavish feast shown in the painting and the meagre meals they eat in the dining room. However, for someone like Rastignac, the scene of the feast torments him by showing an alternative lifestyle that he desperately wants to obtain.

Vautrin's Brand (Symbol)

Vautrin is very good at disguising himself and hiding his true identity, but he is marked on his shoulder with a scar from a branding iron, identifying him as a criminal. The brand symbolizes Vautrin's inability to ever fully escape from his past. Even though his dream of being able to emigrate to America seems very close, his history finally catches up with him. Even at a time when reinvention and class mobility is becoming much more possible, there are still consequences for past behavior.