Tunneling Symbols In Birdsong

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Tunnels — the Over-arching Symbol in Birdsong

Since antiquity the human imagination has invested symbolic significance in the three separate worlds of underground, everyday surface life, and a metaphysical other world located as often or not in the skies. In Christian mythology, the underground represents hell, whose opposite above us is heaven, and our real world is often a vale of tears. In Birdsong (1993), Sebastian Faulks both exploits this archetypical symbolic structure, but also extends it in a complex, multilayer trope around the idea of tunnels and tunneling. In Faulks’s symbolic world, the trope operates on many levels: tunnels can be underground mazes, cities, places for hiding, protection and danger; on another level, tunneling can represent a search for hidden treasure, a journey towards a meaningful goal, and obstacle course for heroes to overcome to reach a Holy Grail. At the same time, the dichotomy between underground and surface can represent the subconscious emotions and drives that the characters conceal or are unaware of in their conscious life; this dichotomy can also stand for the ‘underclass’ of workers and bourgeoisie or aristocracy. Although these various and complex deployments of the tunnel trope appear and reappear throughout the novel, this essay tackles the topic in three sections, corresponding
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As Wheeler puts it, “Birdsong is very simply a love story set in France against the backdrop of World War 1” (Wheeler 2002, p.21). The tunnel metaphor come into immediate play to describe the house of the bourgeois factory-owner Azaire, whose wife Isabella will eventually transgress all class barriers by eloping with the Englishman Stephen. At first, the guest Stephen cannot work out the geography of the house; it is like a mysterious
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