Short Fiction

This essay is entirely focused on “The Story of a Panic” written by E.M. Forster. It will be addressing the question of symbolism and other meanings that have been employed in the story. The primary reason for choosing this topic is the symbolism itself, metaphors and other meanings are among the most commonly used literary devices. Forster employs them heavily to create a clear mental picture of the happenings in his story. The story is of a narrative style, and it is important that the narrator makes direct reference and comparisons using meanings that make it easier for the reader to follow the story. As it will be seen herein, the symbolism and other meanings serve as instrumental tools that enable the narrator to capture the interest, attention, and understanding of the audience throughout the whole story.

In order to understand how and why Forster uses symbolism and other meanings in his text, it is important to understand what it is all about. It is a narration where the narrator gives an account of the events happened eight years earlier, when he was at a place called Ravello. He was accompanied by his wife and their two daughters. There was a hotel, and it was the place where they spent the eventful night after the equally eventful day out in the woods. They also had two women in their company, Miss Robinsons, their nephew Eustace, a would-be artist, Mr. Leyland, Mr. Sandbach, Signora Scafetti, the landlady, and, lastly, Gennaro who was standing in for an absent waiter at the hotel called Emmanuele. Two old women also emerged briefly at some point of the story. It is in the course of narrating the events of the day and night that, as well as the characters are involved, Forster exploits extensively the meanings as it will be seen below.

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The reader does not need to go deep into Forster’s story to encounter the first use of symbolism. In the second paragraph, the narrator talks of a “little circle” that he, his wife, and their daughters had made. The circle being referred to in this case is not of a round shape; rather, it is the people that were surrounding the narrator and his family in terms of interactions and happenings. These are the visitors that they were with at the hotel, the landlady, and the waiter. All of them later played a key role in what happened during the day and the night. By “little circle”, the author denotes close interactions that he and his family have with the rest people, although he is quick to note that he did not enjoy the company of Leyland and Eustace, probably because of their indifferent characters.

When describing Eustace, the narrator significantly uses symbolism in an attempt to shed light on the lazy and disobedient character of the boy. He describes “…his features as pale…chest contracted, and his muscles undeveloped”. He points out that his aunts thought that the boy was delicate as a result of these characteristics; however, what he actually required was not their care but discipline. On the surface, the reader may deem this description as merely physical, but a closer look shows that the narrator used it to grant a clear meaning of the boy’s traits to the reader. When the body is termed “pale”, this means that body parts are not receiving adequate blood supply. Under such conditions, one may not be able to perform many activities, including the simplest ones. Eustace was such a person. In fact, earlier on, the narrator had pointed to an instance when he and his daughters had thought of taking him out as they left for a picnic. Afterwards, they reconsidered the decision upon which he indicates that “No, walking was such a fag”. Here, the reader gets an idea of a person who is too lazy to even walk himself or be assisted to walk out. The “contracted” chest also denotes a person who cannot perform a laborious activity. The same applies to the boy’s muscles, which the author describes as undeveloped. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that Eustace is presented as a weakling almost throughout the whole story. In fact, when they encountered a frightening situation in the chestnut woods, everyone ran away except for Eustace. They later found him lying motionless; and in their usual style of sympathizing with him, his aunts started to pamper him worried of what happened.

Symbolism is also used to describe the scenery of the location where the narrator and the group went for a picnic. The narrator talks of “…..the ribs of hill that divided the ravines…….”. As one reads through this section of the story, a clear picture of the sections of raised earth that is cut between the ravines is created in mind. This, coupled with the previously described ravines and the valley, enables the reader to understand what the scenery looked like. Mr. Sandbach’s remarks regarding the scenery also entail the use of a symbol. He describes landscape as a “tithe” that most European galleries would yearn to have. Tithe is a religious term that describes a proportion of one’s earning that is supposed to be devoted to God’s work. It should be 10% of the earnings, and this can be described as a minimal proportion compared to the remaining 90%. The word was used to denote beautiful but rare scenery that was the site of the picnic.

Apart from symbols, the author also uses metaphors to compare objects and make them more understandable to the reader. In one case, he describes sweet chestnuts that grow in the southern region as nothing close to what grows in the north. He indicates that “…chestnuts of the South are puny striplings compared with our robust Northerners”. This fact is intended to depict the former as weak and immature, precisely undesirable if compared with the latter. A metaphor is also used while describing the character of Eustace when the group was out there for a picnic. When almost everyone else was admiring and making positive comments of how nature made the place beautiful, Eustace was silent. In fact, it is as if he did not exist. At some point, Leyland remarks that he was out to spoil their pleasure. Prior to saying this, Leyland indicates that Eustace is blind to “…anything that is elevating or beautiful. This does not mean that the boy goes blind whenever he encounters something beautiful. Rather, it is simply an indication of the way how he pretends not to see that it is really beautiful, at least going by his tendency to remain silent throughout the conversation about nature. Before this comment was made, Eustace had let out a scream that the narrator describes as excruciating, and the sound being discordant and ear-splitting. As such, when other people were enjoying the beautiful scenery, Eustace is expressing discomfort. Therefore, Leyland said the boy was spoiling their pleasure probably due to this fact.

Other meanings used in the story include similes. First, when describing the scenery before them as they went out for a picnic, the narrator indicates that the “…valley ended in a vast hollow, shaped like a cup…”. Comparing the valley’s end to a cup enables the audience to imagine and visualize the scenery. In fact, one can even draw it from the way it has been described. After the frightening encounter that made the group to run away and leave Eustace behind, they returned for him. It was when they were making their way back to the hotel, this time with the boy, that the narrator indicates that Eustace “….was racing about like a real boy…”. Previously, the narrator had described Eustace as a weakling; however, at this point, he finally behaved like a real boy should act instead of walking as if he needs to be dragged along. This description denotes a brief change of Eustace’s character as he shifts from being lazy to being active like a young man is expected to be. Later, when they got to the hotel and sat down at the table to have dinner, the narrator indicates that their imaginations were as exhausted as their tongues. They had said many things while out there at the picnic, Next, after going through the entire conversation, the reader cannot fail to notice that everything being said was largely either a disagreement or something unimportant. In fact, the narrator indicates that he has missed some of the comments that the group made since they were not worth recording. Thus, their tongues got tired probably because of this. Similarly, apart from being in a place where there was so much to see and think about, they had visualized plenty of things, and their imaginations had also got tired. All the descriptions that the narrator gives regarding the place, as seen earlier in this essay, depict his imagination of it.

Lastly, hyperboles are also severally used. These are exaggerated statements that are also used to help the reader imagine and visualize what is described. When the group was out in the woods, the narrator indicates that there was a time that they experienced “terrible silence”. This is certainly an exaggeration as it is hard to experience silence that is terrible. In fact, silence means nothingness by itself as there was nothing remarkable or worth noting. “Terrible silence” is thus only an exaggeration meant to help the reader imagine what the conditions were like at the moment. Next, as the group was running away from the frightening moment, the narrator points out that they “…were tearing away along the hillside”. The phrase “tearing away” is an exaggeration intended to show how divided the group became as the people ran away in confusion and fear. The narrator then proceeds to describe what he could have seen as he ran away out of the fear that had engulfed him. He says that “The sky might have been black, …the trees short grass, …the hillside a level road.”. Undoubtedly, this could have never been the case since it is impossible for a hill to suddenly flatten and for the trees to suddenly become short. These are only exaggerations that help the reader understand what the narrator was experiencing.

In conclusion, as has been shown above, in “The Story of a Panic”, the author widely uses diverse meanings in an effort to assist the reader in visualizing what the conditions and the objects being described as well as the characters involved looked like. These meanings are used throughout the story, and this tendency can be explained in terms of the narrative character of the story. Thus, the narrator uses different literary devices to put the readers in his shoes so that they can understand what happened and what he saw. The symbols, metaphors, and other meanings described herein are among the most commonly used literary devices; therefore, Forster’s text is an exemplification of literature work that makes use of them. As one reads through the story and takes notes of the meanings, it is hard to imagine what the story would be like without them.

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