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The Castle of Otranto | Symbols



The inciting incident (the event that sets the plot in motion) in the novel is the appearance, practically out of thin air, of a gigantic, metal helmet that no human being would be strong enough to carry, and it functions as an instrument of death. The helmet, which crushes Manfred's son Conrad, is a portent foretelling of a nasty and violent ending. It makes clear that real harm can and will come from the unseen world. This is made manifest when Manfred's family line ends with the death of his daughter and it is revealed that Manfred's power to rule comes from an egregious crime committed long ago by Manfred's grandfather. In the helmet's initial appearance, Providence has arrived for restitution, and, in Father Jerome's words, "heaven has doomed [Manfred] to destruction."


After her brother Conrad's death, Matilda and her attendant maiden, Bianca, discuss the possibility of Matilda's father, Manfred, procuring a prince for Matilda to marry. At this moment they hear a wind whistling through the battlements in the tower above where Matilda's rooms are located. This functions as foreshadowing for the symbolic meaning of the tower in The Castle of Otranto. The wind through the tower marks that love is on its way.

The tower, upright and sturdy, and, therefore, aligned with Theodore's character arc (he is the most morally upright character), represents his identity as the true Prince of Otranto and implies that there is a shadow cast on his destiny. In Chapter 3 Manfred locks Theodore up in the dark tower. In this ominous tower (there are many towers in the castle) Theodore and Matilda converse for the first time and love sparks between them. Matilda, not long after, frees Theodore from the dark tower, which directly leads to the unmasking of his true identity. Unfortunately, Theodore's future does not include Matilda, who is killed by accident when her father lashes out in a jealous rage, believing Theodore to be in the church with Isabella.

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