The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Notebooks (Symbol)

Anna writes in four different notebooks, which symbolizes the way she compartmentalizes her life and tries to see different aspects of her history and personality as distinct from one another. Anna presents her time in Africa, her first novel, her political beliefs, and her relationship with Michael as if they were all entirely separate things. However, a reader can see that they are interconnected and reflect one another. The notebooks also symbolize Anna's tendency to view her experiences analytically and in an emotionally detached way. She writes about her life as if it were a story or simply an objective list of events, which prevents her from truly understanding what she is feeling.

Dreams (Motif)

Dreams play an important part in the book, representing the inner workings of the mind and the subconscious. Anna dreams frequently, and most of her dreams are connected to her art. She may lack feeling in real life, but her dreams are vivid and artistic. She is experiencing an artistic block in real life, but her artistic nature comes out in her dreams. Dreams are also used to represent inner fears: for example, Ella dreams of being trapped in the house of Paul's wife. Anna also dreams of Michael leaving her soon before he really does. Dreams symbolize Anna's emotional and creative life, along with her inability to ever totally repress it. Even though she wants to lead a rational, detached life where she controls what she thinks and feels, Anna's dreams symbolize her lack of control.

Ella's Plane Ride (Symbol)

Returning from a business trip, Ella finds herself onboard a plane that had been experiencing mechanical problems. She reflects that it is possible the plane will crash during her trip, yet she does not experience any fear or worry due to this possibility. Ella's plane ride symbolizes her sadness, depression, and lack of hope. Ever since her relationship with Paul ended, she doesn't actually care if she lives or dies. The plane ride also symbolizes how modernity, technology, and progress don't mean very much to individuals who are preoccupied with their personal emotional lives.

Editing the Notebooks (Symbol)

At various points in her notebooks, Anna crosses out things she has written or draws heavy black lines in order to separate different portions of the notebooks. These actions symbolize her desire to control how she conceives of her own life. When Anna writes down something she feels uncomfortable with, she tends to cross it out so as to try to pretend it was never there in the first place. Rather than accepting that life is full of messy and uncomfortable experiences, Anna tries to edit and curate it so that it looks the way she wants it to.

Pigeons (Symbol)

The Mashopi group goes hunting for pigeons. Paul is the one shooting them, and they keep coming, one by one, to the same tree branch. The pigeons follow each other blindly to the same branch, unaware of their coming death. This symbolizes the way millions of people will be killed during WWII and the resulting political conflicts. Anna sees the world as full of violence, but she also sees people being naïve and gullible and getting hurt as a result. Whether it is through war, violence perpetrated by Communist states, or colonial conflicts, most forms of political and state orders result in violence and harm, yet people continue to cling to their beliefs in these institutions.