The Moonstone | Study Guide

Wilkie Collins

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The Moonstone | Symbols



The Moonstone has several meanings through the novel. As a treasure stolen from India by a British soldier during a siege, it represents the violent colonization of India by the British Empire. During the historic period of Imperial expansion, Britain plundered native treasures and sent them to England, and the Moonstone functions as a reminder of this history.

The Moonstone also delineates the two value sets at play in the novel. To the Indian Brahmins tracking the Diamond, it is a spiritual treasure that belongs to the moon-god of their religion. Its worth is beyond price. But to people such as Septimus Luker and Godfrey Ablewhite, it is merely a commodity to be bought and sold; there is no further value to it than what it is worth in cash.

When John Herncastle steals the Diamond in India, one of the guards curses him with his dying breath. The Moonstone is a physical manifestation of that curse, the past that continues to haunt both Herncastle and the other characters. Tragic circumstances follow the Diamond as it changes hands: Herncastle's alienation by his family; Rosanna Spearman's suicide; Lady Verinder's sudden death; the attack on Godfrey Ablewhite; Mr. Candy's illness. Herncastle's criminal past casts a pall over the Moonstone and has consequences for his family. The Moonstone is the physical representation of a cursed past that can only be removed by its return to its rightful owners.

Shivering Sand

The Shivering Sand is an unsettling patch of quicksand near the Verinder's estate. Several characters remark on its sinister nature and how it appears to have a face or faces hidden in its depths. Wilkie Collins has several characters that present false faces to society. The quicksand looks like normal sand until you step into it or catch it at the right moment between the changing of the tides. Godfrey Ablewhite seems a fine, upstanding gentleman—at least until his past indiscretions are revealed. Drusilla Clack appears, on the surface, to be a good Christian woman, but her narrative indicates otherwise. The Shivering Sand serves as a reminder not to take anything at face value.

The Shivering Sand symbolizes the things lurking beneath the surface, as well as the hidden pasts that haunt several characters. Rosanna Spearman is strongly associated with the Shivering Sand, going so far as to say she feels she will meet her death there. Her haunted past literally drags her under: she commits suicide by jumping into the quicksand.


Opium, its use, and the resulting addiction play an important role in framing the points of view of characters in the novel. Opium symbolizes the thin line between objectivity—what can be known based on evidence—and subjectivity—what is perceived or experienced. The drug is the key, suggested by an opium addict, to solving the mystery of the Diamond's disappearance. It reveals what is hidden by providing a kind of gateway to Franklin Blake's unconscious mind.

In addition, Ezra Jennings mentions that opium is responsible for extending his physical life, but it also gives him horrible nightmares; a negative psychological effect of his addiction. John Herncastle, the original British owner of the Moonstone, also supposedly suffered from opium addiction—this is, in part, to blame for the rift between Herncastle and his family.

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