Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Minuet

Dowell compares the intimacy of the two couples to a "minuet," a dance with four beats to a measure, which occurs in perfect synchrony. For the nine years of their friendship, he considers them to have moved unanimously together, without thought or signal, but with similar taste and inclination. He considers a minuet to be a symbol of their relationship because it is regular and orderly, music "good people" might listen to. But the minuet, he reconsiders, is not permanent or stable; it is a prison. It is false because it arbitrarily binds them to a pattern that, in reality, they do not fit. Though it may sound good and appear stable, the "minuet" is a mere mask of the cacophany of "screaming hysterics" beneath. It symbolizes the fraudulent stability of their seemingly normal existence.

Martin Luther's Protest

The scene when the Dowells and the Ashburnhams visit Martin Luther's Protest is the same scene in which Florence first makes advances toward Edward. Happy to be the teacher, Florence explains to the group that this piece of paper is what separates the "honest, sober, and industrious" from people like the Irish, Italians, and Poles. As she says this, she lays one finger upon Captain Ashburnham's wrist, and Dowell feels something "treacherous" and "evil" in the day. Martin Luther's Protest is symbolic here because it parallels Florence's own protest. By making advances toward Edward, Florence protests the rules of marriage and challenges a sexually submissive role for women. Just as Martin Luther's Protest separates two groups of people, so Florence's protest strongly divides she and Edward from Dowell and Leonora.


"Shuttlecocks" is the only word that Nancy Rufford, in her state of madness, can say. Morbidly amusing, such an outburst signifies the way that she is bounced back and forth between Edward and Leonora. But she is not the only character who feels like a shuttlecock. Edward and Leonora also consider themselves to be tossed around by the other characters. "Shuttlecocks" is a symbol for the way each person is flippantly thrown about by fate, by society, and by other people. It is the real manifestation of utter disorientation in a world that has arbitrary means of establishing right and wrong.