The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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Written by Polly Barbour
Motif of Sewing and Needlework
Throughout the novel the Motif of sewing and needlework is apparent. In Esme's childhood it is yet another example of something she fails at; a young woman of her social standing should be able to sew beautifully yet she has no interest in needlework at all. It is also an area in which Kitty excels and picks up the slack for her, enabling Kitty to again feel superior and that she is covering for her sister's incapability. Needlework is also something that she sees as some kind of favoritism as she doesn't feel as though she gets as nice of a dress for Hogmanay as Kitty does. Kitty also sews copiously to prepare for her marriage to an as-yet unidentifiable suitor almost as if by sewing the perfect trousseau the perfect man will miraculously appear. There are also similes relating to needlework throughout the book.
Motif of Women's Rights Being Trampled On
It is painfully evident from the novel that women growing up in Esme and Kitty's generation had pitifully few rights and were basically the property of their parents until they married when at this time they became the property of their husband. This is most obvious when it comes to Esme being committed to a hospital for the insane based on just her father's insistence. She is never asked any questions, interviewed or given any opportunity to prove herself sane. She is also never given the chance to prove herself fit for release as the only reason she is released is that the hospital is closing.
Symbol of Esme's Hair
Esme's hair is wild and uncontrollable and symbolizes her individuality and the fact she wants to make her own choices for herself. Her mother's demands for her hair - that it be "bobbed" like every other girl her age - symbolizes her need for Esme to conform to societal expectation and her disregard for anything that Esme wants for herself. Her refusal to cut her hair is listed as a reason for committing her to an institution as wanting to decide for herself how to wear her hair is seen as an example of insanity. Once she has been committed to the hospital the staff shear off her hair symbolizing that she now has no control over herself or what happens to her and that she has been forced to conform. It is a symbol of their control over her.
Loss Of Baby Boy Motif
A motif in Esme's life and therefore in the book is the tragic loss of the baby boys that she dearly loves. Her baby brother Hugo dies whilst her parents are away and it is Esme who both finds him and holds him for days until she is discovered, whereupon he has to be forcibly taken from her arms. As a young woman she becomes pregnant as a result of her rape and barely gets to hold her son before he is ripped away from her and given to her sister. Again she feels the loss of a baby boy who is forcibly ripped from her fingers. She loses her son a second time when she meets her granddaughter and learns that Robert passed away many years earlier.
Symbol of a Link Between Iris and Esme
The photograph on Iris' pin board that shows her Grandmother Kitty and an "unknown girl" standing by a car symbolizes the link between Iris and Esme. Although Iris didn't know of Esme's existence she was strangely drawn to the picture and never really knew why. She is also drawn to Esme in a way that she cannot quite explain. The fact that she also refers to Esme as an "unknown girl" symbolizes Esme's existence within her own family and the fact that although she existed she was unknown to her descendants and even more unknown by the family she grew up with.
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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell.