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Symbolism in The Bloody Chamber

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Symbolism in The Bloody Chamber

In The Bloody Chamber, Carter employs a highly symbolic writing style where several objects attain symbolic meaning. In the metaphor theory, these objects are also referred to as vehicles, a term which was coined by I. A. Richards (96-97) When a metaphor is used, a concept or kind of thing is experienced or described via another one, with which it shares similarities or correspondences and, thus, two different conceptual domains are mapped (Lakoff 206-207). For instance, by using the metaphor Time is a thief someone states that sometimes time, which is valuable to us, passes by without one even noticing and, therefore, it seems as if life goes by too quickly.

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Thus, the conceptual domains of time and theft or losing one’s property are linked. Richards (96-97) claims that a metaphor consists of two components: the tenor and the vehi­cle. The tenor is “the underlying idea or principal subject which the vehicle or figure means ” (Richards 97); thus, the vehicle is the image to which the attributes of the tenor are ascribed.

In the following chapters, I will analyze the vehicles I was able to identify in The Bloody Chamber for their underlying meanings as well as Carter’s intentions behind including them.


Throughout The Bloody Chamber, Carter uses mirrors in order to emphasize the way the Mar­quis objectifies the heroine. By assembling twelve mirrors around their marital bed, he creates twelve reflections of the heroine – the more women, the better. This the Mar­quis comments on with the following statement: “’See,’ he said, gesturing towards those elegant girls. ‘I have acquired a whole harem for myself!’” (14). By doing this, he turns himself into the sultan of one of his favorite books, The Adventures of Eulalie at the Harem of the Grand Turk, allowing him to reconstruct a scene taken from it called Immolation of the wives of the Sultan. This sacrifice, as is revealed during the course of the story, was exactly the tragic fate his former wives had to suffer and the same which is awaiting the heroine of the of the story as well. In addition to his harem of living wives in his bedroom, he, creates a harem of his former wives by taking their lives and laying out their dead bodies in his secret chamber. Additionally, as their marital bed is surrounded by dozens of mirrors, he is able to look at her, his possession, at all times from every angle. This leads to her feeling as if her every move is being watched over.

This impression of constant observation suggests that the Marquis is omniscient when it comes to his wife’s activities. Various further references allude to his controlling gaze which suggest that he possesses the uncanny ability to watch her also through other objects than mirrors. For instance, the heroine compares the Marquis to God, the ultimate omniscient being, after having entered the secret chamber: “[…] the eye of God–his eye–was upon me” (29). Also the attempt to postpone her deflowering because of the time of day is rejected by the following statement: “All the better to see you”. Additionally,while searching through her husband’s desk in the library, she notices that she is “alone, but [her] reflection in the uncurtained window” (25), which leaves the reader with an eerie feeling that, as long as she is his wife, his property, she is being watched over.

The bloody chamber

The title of the story does not only refer to the Marquis’ secret chamber but also functions as a vehicle which carries multiple meanings. Firstly, Carter uses the torture chamber of the Mar­quis as a symbol for the female womb. It can only be accessed after one has crossed the “long, […] winding corridor” (27) leading up to it just as the vagina precedes the uterus. This notion is further supported by the heroine’s feeling “as if [she] were in the viscera of the castle” (27). In this context, the bloody chamber refers to both the blood when a woman is menstruating as well as when she loses her virginity. Thus, the chamber represents the heroine’s transformation, as both, menstruation as well as loss of virginity, signify a transition from a state of purity, innocence and honor to reaching (sexual) maturity. Secondly, the bloody chamber may also allude to violence experienced in sexual desire, as the word chamber can also refer to the bedroom and, by implication, a couple’s sexual activities. What happens behind the closed door of a bedroom, usually remains a secret between the people engaging in these activities. As sexual violence happens in the privacy of the bedroom, the passive victim is defenselessly exposed to the violence of the abuser, similar to the heroine in the narrative. At the beginning of the story, the heroine is not aware of her husbands violent behavior, even though she may have sensed a dangerous and dark side of his, for instance, when he had given her “a kiss with tongue and teeth in it and a rasp of beard” (8) or due to his daunting appearance: “[a] huge man, an enormous man, and his eyes, dark and motionless as those eyes the ancient Egyptians painted upon their sar­cophagi” (12). The reference to the sarcophagi, an ancient Egyptian coffin made out of limestone or marble whose name translates to “flesh-eating”, can be viewed as a foreboding of the horror to come (http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/sarcophagus?q=sarcophagi 30 January 2013).

The heroine starts to realize the full extent of her husband’s liability to violence for the first time when she stumbles over his collection of pornography in his library. There, she discovers, among others, an image showing a man masturbating while whipping a crying girl. These pictures illustrate the the risks which lie in being the passive victim in a relationship. The meaning behind entering the bloody chamber is twofold: On the one hand, it symbolizes the heroine’s exploration of her own potential for violence. However, by closing the door of the room behind her, she refuses to partake in the Marquis’ excessive perversities. On the other hand, setting foot into the secret chamber also signifies the complete insight in her precarious situation. As Makinen (4) states, this realization ultimately leads to her rescue as “the curiosity of the [woman protagonist] is rewarded (rather than punished)” [plural removed]. This implies that in disobeying the Marquis and learning his secret, she can try to save herself, first of all, by realizing and embracing her own sexuality and, secondly, also actively using it to appeal to his desire in order to distract him.

The pornographic image

In The Bloody Chamber, the heroine is confronted with her husband’s passion for pornogra­phy. Soon after their engagement he introduced her to his collection of pornographic images which exclusively depict women as the ones who have to endure suppression and abuse in sadomasochistic activities. Furthermore, the various items of his pornographic collection represent
women who are sacrificed, such as the painting called Immolation of the wives of the Sultan or Moreau’s Sacrificial Victim. The painting with the telling name Reproof of Curiosity entails a grim foreboding of the heroine’s destiny. In many of these images, the women depicted are naked whereas the men are often fully cloathed. While the naked woman is entirely defenseless and forced to be the man’s (sexual) slave, the dressed man is in a position of power over her.

This results in the woman being fully deprived from agency and turned into a passive victim of the man’s aggressions. Just as the men depicted in the paintings, the Marquis forces his desires and fantasies on the heroine, who is not left a choice but to subordinate her own sexuality. Additionally, the Marquis openly displays his pornography in his castle which means that he can embrace his sexuality while she has to restrict her own in order to ensure his satisfaction. Thus, Carter uses the Marquis’ pornographic collection as a vehicle in order to address two major problematic aspects of pornography in general: She illustrates the dangers which lie in the objectifica­tion of women as well as one’s full abidance to someone else’s (sexual) desires.

Cite this Symbolism in The Bloody Chamber

Symbolism in The Bloody Chamber. (2017, Jan 26). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/symbolism-in-the-bloody-chamber/

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