The Da Vinci Code
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The False Conflict between Faith and Knowledge
Dan Brown refuses to accept the idea that faith in God is rooted in ignorance of the truth. The ignorance that the Church has sometimes advocated is embodied in the character of Bishop Aringarosa, who does not think the Church should be involved in scientific investigation. According to The Da Vinci Code, the Church has also enforced ignorance about the existence of the descendents of Jesus. Although at one point in the novel Langdon says that perhaps the secrets of the Grail should be preserved in order to allow people to keep their faith, he also thinks that people who truly believe in God will be able to accept the idea that the Bible is full of metaphors, not literal transcripts of the truth. People’s faith, in other words, can withstand the truth.
The Subjectivity of History
The Da Vinci Code raises the question of whether history books necessarily tell the only truth. The novel is full of reinterpretations of commonly told stories, such as those of Jesus’ life, the pentacle, and the Da Vinci fresco The Last Supper. Brown provides his own explanation of how the Bible was compiled and of the missing gospels. Langdon even interprets the Disney movie The Little Mermaid, recasting it as an attempt by Disney to show the divine femininity that has been lost. All of these retellings are presented as at least partly true.
The Intelligence of Women
Characters in The Da Vinci Code ignore the power of women at their peril. Throughout the novel, Sophie is underestimated. She is able to sneak into the Louvre and give Langdon a secret message, saving him from arrest, because Fache does not believe her to be capable of doing her job. Fache specifically calls Sophie a “female cryptologist” when he is expressing his doubts about Sophie and Langdon’s ability to evade Interpol. When interpreting one of the clues hidden in the rose box, Langdon and Teabing leave Sophie out, completely patronizing her. When she is finally allowed to see the clue, she immediately understands how to interpret it. Sophie saves Langdon from arrest countless times.
Other women are similarly underestimated. Sister Sandrine, in the Church of Saint-Sulpice, is a sentry for the Brotherhood, but Silas, indoctrinated in the hypermasculine ways of Opus Dei, does not consider her a threat. And Marie Chauvel, Sophie’s grandmother, manages to live without incident near Rosslyn Chapel for years, preserving her bloodline through Sophie’s brother.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Ancient and Foreign Languages
Many of the secrets that lie below the surface of the narrative are concealed from would-be interpreters only by language. Saunière leaves anagrams for Sophie to decipher. Langdon and Teabing use the Hebrew alphabet to figure out a clue. Sophie helps Langdon and Teabing use a mirror to read the backward writing that Da Vinci favored. In The Da Vinci Code, language reminds us that secrets exist everywhere and sometimes need just a little interpretation.
Brown uses descriptions of works of fine art to prove that art can tell stories that history tends to obscure. These works of art include Da Vinci’s Last Supper, Madonna of the Rocks, and Mona Lisa, which hide symbols of goddess worship and the story of the Magdalene; the Church of Saint-Sulpice, which still contains an obelisk, a sign of pagan worship; and tarot cards, which hide themes of pagan mythology. These art objects are constantly viewed by people who see them without seeing their hidden meanings.
Sexist men in The Da Vinci Code are used as a counterpoint to the religions that celebrates the divine feminine. Fache’s inability to accept women in the workplace is one instance of this bias. Another exists in Opus Dei’s female devotees, who are not allowed to be in proximity to men and must do their cleaning and other dirty work for no pay. When Teabing reveals himself as the creator of the plot and scorns Sophie as unworthy of possessing the secret of the Grail, his sexism is a sign of his fundamental sourness. In The Da Vinci Code, sexist characters are always suspect.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Sophie Neveu’s red hair, mentioned at the beginning of the text, foreshadows her divine blood. When Langdon first sees Sophie, he calls her hair “burgundy” and thinks that her attractiveness lies in her confidence and health. He compares her favorably to the blonde girls at Harvard over whom his students lust. Later, at Teabing’s chateau, Teabing shows Sophie that Mary Magdalene is depicted with red hair in The Last Supper. Langdon also thinks the mermaid Ariel’s red hair in The Little Mermaid is evidence that Disney intended his movie to be an allegory of the story of Magdalene. By the end of the novel, when Sophie’s brother gives a tour of the Rosslyn Chapel and his hair is described as “strawberry blonde,” we understand that Sophie and her brother are of Mary Magdalene’s bloodline.
Blood stands for truth and enlightenment in The Da Vinci Code. Saunière draws a pentacle—for him, a symbol of the Church’s intention to cover up the true history of the world—on his stomach in his own blood. Sophie realizes that her grandfather has left a message for her on the Mona Lisa because a drop of his blood remains on the floor. Teabing spies a trickle of blood on Silas’s leg, which he takes to mean that Silas has a cilice, a barbed punishment belt, on his thigh, and disables him by hitting him there. Silas himself had thought of blood as truth in a different way—for Silas, blood means cleansing of impurities. And at the very end of the novel, the discovery of the blood of Mary Magdalene running through Sophie and her brother’s veins proves that the story of the Grail is true.
In a novel that spends a great deal of time interpreting ancient symbols like the pentacle, the chalice, and the rose, the cell phone might seem like an incongruous modern interloper. But the cell phone symbolizes the fact that in the modern world, secrets are both harder and easier to keep. Teabing conceals his identity as the Teacher by using cell phones to communicate with his unknowing allies. In one instance, he even speaks to Silas from the back of the limousine while Silas is in the front, concealing his identity while only feet away. At the same time, however, the characters are often worried about their cell phone use being traced. Fache, for example, at one point figures out that Sophie has tipped Langdon off by looking up her phone number, which is stored in his cell phone, and finding that it matches the number Sophie gave Langdon as the American Embassy’s number.
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