Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Rain serves in the novel as a potent symbol of the inevitable disintegration of happiness in life. Catherine infuses the weather with meaning as she and Henry lie in bed listening to the storm outside. As the rain falls on the roof, Catherine admits that the rain scares her and says that it has a tendency to ruin things for lovers. Of course, no meteorological phenomenon has such power; symbolically, however, Catherine’s fear proves to be prophetic, for doom does eventually come to the lovers. After Catherine’s death, Henry leaves the hospital and walks home in the rain. Here, the falling rain validates Catherine’s anxiety and confirms one of the novel’s main contentions: great love, like anything else in the world—good or bad, innocent or deserving—cannot last.
Although it is not a recurring symbol, Catherine’s hair is an important one. In the early, easy days of their relationship, as Henry and Catherine lie in bed, Catherine takes down her hair and lets it cascade around Henry’s head. The tumble of hair reminds Henry of being enclosed inside a tent or behind a waterfall. This lovely description stands as a symbol of the couple’s isolation from the world. With a war raging around them, they manage to secure a blissful seclusion, believing themselves protected by something as delicate as hair. Later, however, when they are truly isolated from the ravages of war and living in peaceful Switzerland, they learn the harsh lesson that love, in the face of life’s cruel reality, is as fragile and ephemeral as hair.