Between the Acts | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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Between the Acts | Symbols

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Fish

Fish appear as a symbol of faith throughout the novel. The first mention of fish occurs as the characters prepare for lunch. Fish must be ordered because the village is miles from the sea. Mrs. Lucy Swithin recalls her childhood when she lived by the sea and the fish were "brought to your door in a pail of water." She laments the fact that now they don't have direct access to fresh fish. Fish are also mentioned at the end of the novel. Lucy sits watching the fish in the lily pool. She notes that "fish had faith." She is sure that fish "trust us because we've never caught 'em." She thinks about how her brother insists that her faith is foolish and prefers logic above all else.

The Barn

The barn symbolizes history. It is described as "noble," and it reminds some of the villagers of a Greek temple. Its roof is "weathered red-orange," and inside it smells "of corn." Rumors circulating in the village say that the barn has been on the grounds of Pointz Hall for seven centuries. The villagers "would take tea there" during the play's intervals. The barn is set up with a makeshift stage and seating to serve as the indoor stage for the play if it should rain.

Pointz Hall

Pointz Hall once housed the noblest of families in the village. In the dining room hangs a portrait of a male Oliver ancestor who "had a name" and "held the rein in his hand." A glass case displays "a watch that had stopped a bullet on the field of Waterloo." Pointz Hall symbolizes the patriarchal structure of the family. The renovated larder or pantry once was a chapel. Bart "would bring gentlemen sometimes to see the larder—often when cook wasn't dressed." They imagine that there is "a concealed passage where once somebody had hid." Mrs. Sands the cook dislikes these interruptions and wishes Bart and the men "wouldn't come into her kitchen telling stories with the girls about." The girls are frightened at the thought that Pointz Hall may be haunted by its past.

The Gramophone

The gramophone sounds a "chuff, chuff, chuff" when it sits idle. It resembles "a corn-cutter on a hot day." The gramophone "chanted" and "moaned" from behind the bushes throughout the performance. Several times the gramophone "seemed to hold them together" by sounding a tune to rescue the villagers from the anxious moments of silence. It also announces the performance's intervals by repeating the chorus "dispersed are we." The villagers sing along with it and take "up the strain." The gramophone represents the village as a whole. The gramophone's music "is expressive of some inner harmony" and captures the collective hope and imagination.

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