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

The Incinerator Shaft 

The incinerator shaft symbolizes the formidable challenge of overcoming self-doubt. Even before the crew reaches the Ice Court, the six-story shaft connecting the prison basement to the roof represents a powerful obstacle in the team’s imagination. Many of them doubt that Inej will be able to climb it, but if she fails, the entire team will be caught and likely executed. Once Inej is inside the shaft, the climb becomes even more challenging than expected due to the searing heat that melts Inej’s shoes and burns her hands. As she ponders the possibility of failure, Inej doubts herself and considers giving up, falling into the hellish embers burning below. Though the climb is physically taxing, Inej is weighed down more by the negative thoughts and emotions that have held her back in life. She reflects on her traumatic captivity at the Menagerie under the domineering Tante Heleen. She faces her homesickness and blames herself for trusting Kaz more than herself. But just when all hope seems lost, she overcomes her self-doubt by finding a new purpose. She decides she must survive the heist to pursue her new goal of bringing slavers to justice. With new resolve, she completes the climb and emerges from the shaft, symbolically reborn.  

Kaz’s Gloves 

The gloves that Kaz wears all the time symbolize the mysterious persona he adopts to obscure his weaknesses from others. Throughout the novel, many characters speculate about what scars or physical malady Kaz’s gloves might be hiding, but when asked directly, Kaz tells people to pick one of the many legends they’ve heard about his gloves. He lets people believe what they want about him, creating an air of mystery that gives his adversaries pause. When he removes his gloves in front of Inej, she is surprised to see that his hands have no visible injury. In reality, the gloves conceal a much deeper injury: the emotional scars of Kaz’s traumatic ordeal on the sick boat. After awakening in a pile of corpses, Kaz has developed a phobia for human touch. The gloves provide a protective barrier between himself and others, allowing him to conceal this phobia, which he considers a weakness. However, the gloves also act as an emotional barrier between Kaz and others, especially Inej. When he finally manages to express his desire for Inej, she tells him she will only have him without his gloves and the rest of the metaphorical armor that comes between them.  

The Sacred Ash Tree 

The sacred ash tree is a complex symbol that can be interpreted from many different perspectives. For Matthias and the Fjerdans, the ash symbolizes the divine cycle of death and rebirth, as Fjerdans are believed to return to the sacred ash after death. The tree also symbolizes the Fjerdans’ divine favor and guidance, as worthy drüskelle believe they can hear the voice of the Fjerdan god speaking through the roots of the tree. For Nina and the Grisha, the sacred ash is not a holy symbol but an evil one. It represents the cruelty and corruption of the Fjerdan religion, which not only condones but sanctifies the persecution and slaughter of the Grisha. For Kaz, the sacred ash represents the falseness of all religions. Despite Matthias’s protestations, Kaz does not hesitate to blow up the most sacred religious symbol in Fjerda, and he relishes the irony of his discovery that the voice of god is only the sound of the underground river beneath the tree. Yet in spite of Kaz’s unbelief, his near-drowning beneath the ash aligns with the symbolism of death and rebirth. After he jumps into the river beneath the tree’s roots, he blacks out while thinking about his love for Inej. When Kaz emerges from the river, he is symbolically reborn, with a renewed vision and purpose for his life.