The Old Maid Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Old Maid Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Clock as symbol of fleeting romantic happiness

The ormolou clock in Delia's bedroom, a wedding gift from her widowed aunt who lived in Europe, has an image of a shepherd and shepherdess who are flirting. Since it is a clock, it relentlessly ticks out the passage of time. Although the clock was bought by Delia's aunt, it was delivered by the brokenhearted Clement Spender, who loved Delia but could not marry her. Clement, as it turns out, impregnated Charlotte only to leave for Europe again: their comfort together was fleeting. So likewise was Delia's happy marriage to James Ralston, who died young in an accident. The clock therefore symbolizes the brief, fleeting nature of romantic happiness for the characters in the novella.

Rosy cheeks as symbol of youth and health

Both Delia and Charlotte start the story as young women who have pink, blushing cheeks that can symbolize youth and innocence. In Charlotte's youth, her cheeks were considered a little bit too pink. However a blush can also represent shame, and flushed cheeks were a symptom of several forms of contagious disease. When Charlotte fell ill and had to spend time in the country, one of the first visible symptoms of her illness was a deepening of the redness in her cheeks.

Gold chain as symbol of family tie

Delia gives Clementina a gold chain while trying to find a way to arrange for Charlotte to keep her. The gold chain is an extremely subtle acknowledgement that Tina is family.

Ring as symbol of engagement

Charlotte returns the diamond engagement ring when she tells Joe she cannot marry him due to the return of her illness.

Boudoir as a symbol of privilege

A boudoir, or receiving-room for entertaining close friends, is something only girls from very wealthy families can afford. Delia wants to make over one of the empty rooms in her house as a boudoir for Tina, but Charlotte will not allow it: although Tina is being raised in the midst of privilege, she is not wealthy herself and cannot expect to marry into any of the rich, conservative families. Charlotte therefore will not allow Tina to become too accustomed to luxury.

Delia's room as symbol of conformity

Initially, Delia planned to be in control of her life: to renovate the Ralston house she occupied as a young bride, and to redecorate her room in particular to suit her tastes. But from the moment Charlotte announced her secret, Delia's life shifted to revolve around Tina and Charlotte instead. Instead of causing other events to conform to her wishes, she herself conformed and became more like the Ralston family she married into. Even her decision to sabotage Charlotte's marriage was not intended to save Tina or Charlotte but to save the Ralston family from possible embarrassment.

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