Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Laura wants the cake she makes for Dan to fulfill her desire for meaning in her role as a mother, cook, and housewife. Though she knows a cake cannot provide the baker with the same satisfaction that a work of art would provide an artist, she can’t help but crave some creative outlet. Although she tries to convince herself that the first cake she bakes has turned out well, she decides to throw it out and make a second cake. She becomes furious when this second cake is ruined after Dan spits on it as he blows out the candles. No matter what she does, Dan and Richie will be there to “ruin” whatever cake she produces by reminding her of the restricted nature of her role. The cake forces Laura to consider the idea that just having a family will not be enough for her.
Richard’s decaying armchair represents his declining health and mental prowess. Clarissa tries to maintain her optimism when confronted with Richard’s decline, but the chair is a sign she cannot ignore. With her scrupulous attention to domestic detail, Clarissa is bothered by the chair, which she calls “ostentatiously broken and worthless.” Though it smells like it’s rotting, Richard refuses to throw it out. The chair, which Clarissa has pointed out is so far gone as to be almost not worth holding on to, represents Richard’s body. Clarissa marvels at the idea that the human will to live is so strong that even when the body has decayed completely, human beings still have a powerful will to live. She describes the chair as being sick, and Richard clings to it stubbornly. Perhaps if he can hold onto the chair, he can hold onto hope.
Virginia sees the dead bird as a symbol of death and becomes fascinated with the way the thrush’s body becomes smaller and seems less important after it dies. Virginia first notices the dead bird when Vanessa’s children construct a grave for it in her garden. She takes notice of how small and insignificant the bird looks after being placed in the nest of flowers. Later that evening, she creeps out to the garden and looks at the bird again. Although earlier she expressed that she would like the peace and quiet of laying on the bird’s bed of roses, she realizes that she is not yet ready to become that small and insignificant. The bird represents death and demonstrates the way the vitality of day-to-day life is pulled from the physical form, leaving only a small body. At that moment, Virginia decides she is not ready to choose death, but ultimately she does decide to take her own life.