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Wolf Hall | Symbols


Three-Card Trick

When Cromwell was young, he was able to make money with the three-card trick. This is a card trick in which the observer attempts keep his eye on a particular card. Cromwell, it comes as no surprise, excels at making observers choose the wrong card. He is good at presenting the lie as the truth. As the novel progresses and Cromwell grows up and becomes a lawyer and king's adviser, the three-card trick becomes a metaphor of and symbol for the way he and everyone else at court must keep up illusions. They craft their public images in ways that achieve their purposes, while all the time hiding their real lovers, children, wives, and selves. Cromwell's early success with the three-card trick foreshadows his great success with the manipulations political and court life require.


The condition of one's hands provides clues to occupation and status. The novel includes descriptions of hands because Thomas Cromwell knows this simple fact. The information he gains from noticing hands shows his perceptiveness. Since the novel's events are seen from Cromwell's perspective, hands become important symbols of character. Cardinal Wolsey has "a large, white, beringed hand"—a sign of his wealth. Thomas More has a "white scholar's hand," showing his occupation and suggesting physical weakness, while Cromwell has "beefy" hands, and on one palm, a scar—an "old burn mark ... like a twist of rope" that serves as a reminder of his low beginnings and ruthless approach to life.

Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel wrote in a 2012 article in The Guardian that "Wolf Hall, besides being the home of the Seymour family, seemed an apt name for wherever Henry's court resided." Wolf Hall is the home of Jane Seymour, who becomes Henry's wife after he executes Anne Boleyn. So Wolf Hall looms as a symbol of the future, and a reminder that Anne, who figures so prominently in the novel, doesn't last long as queen. Mantel's explanation also shows that Wolf Hall is a symbol of the court of Henry VIII, where men (and women) are engaged in continual power struggles, and those who are fiercest often win, at least until someone more wolfish comes along.

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