Gene Tierney once said “when you have spent an important part of your life playing Let’s Pretend, it’s often easy to see symbolism where none exists”. The statement highlights how symbolism can be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It is a renowned literature aspect used by authors in an attempt to disguise the real meaning of certain objects, actions or events. Symbolism is a technique utilized when either a person, object, action, place, or event have a meaning that goes beyond its literal definition. “Seven Floors” by Dino Buzzati and “The Story of the Lizard who was in the Habit of Dining on His Wives” by Eduardo Galeano, both use symbolism in order to criticize habits of our society, namely the gender stereotypes in a relationship and the ineffectiveness of health institutions to improve its patients’ state.
Author Dino Buzzati uses a seven-floor hospital in which Giovani Corte attends as the story’s main literary symbol. The reason this can be identified as the main symbolism is due to the weight that the number seven carries throughout the plot. One of them is the story in Genesis 1 that describes how God created life in seven days. First, “God created the heavens and the earth”, followed by light, expanse, water, land, “plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed”, signs for seasons, days and years, day and night, animals and “God said “let us make man” (Genesis 1, Bible). The last day God did not create anything new, but he blessed all of his creations and took the day to rest, designating the seventh day as a rest day. As a contrast, in Buzzati’s narrative, the seven floors represent a character moving closer to dissolution, not creation of life. Therefore, the symbolism is identified by this contrast between life and death, highlighted by the fact that the number seven brings in Genesis 1 and “Seven Floors”.
In addition, the symbolism carries a function in the story, which has an overt meaning that can be extended as a criticism to our society. Readers should note that the seven-floor hospital is designated as a place where “Corte had been advised to go” and “which existed solely for the care of the particular illness from which he was suffering” (Buzzati 1). The description identifies the seven-floor building as a health institution where patients go for a treatment, inferring that Corte should be getting better. However, as seen by the protagonist Giovanni Corte, people there tend to advance closer to death, by moving down floors. For this reason, the narrative can be seen as a criticism to the health institutions of our society as they are inept to provide a proper care for their patients. Buzzati was able to use symbolism to make a connection between life and death which extended the meaning of the number seven to something outside of the fiction world. In conclusion, the symbolism of the seven in the narrative by Dino Buzzati, “Seven Floors” is a criticism of the ineffectiveness of health institutions in improving the conditions of their patients. This can be seen by the connection of the number in the story, representing death, and the creation of life in Genesis 1.
Another narrative with a main symbolism that criticizes society is “The Story of the Lizard who was in the Habit of Dining on His Wives” by Eduardo Galeano. The dominant symbolism found in this narrative is the portrayal of the main character, who in the story is a lizard that eats his wives. The meaning behind the literal description is the idea of predator versus prey. The identification of such a symbolism comes throughout the whole narrative as Dulcidio attacks his wives, time and time again, when they are most vulnerable; at their honeymoon. The story concludes with a twist when “afterward Dulcidio sleeps deeply, curled up against this woman, and dreams for the first time in his life. She eats him while he is still sleeping” (Galeano 3). As a consequence, as the story unravels, the relationship between the predator and prey evolves.
The modification of roles in the narrative leads the readers to learning the function it has on the story, and on the world beyond Galeano’s creation. In the narrative, the change of predator and prey that Dulcidio suffers in the end, highlights that although he was the prominent figure, everyone is susceptible to vulnerability that can ultimately be used against oneself. It is important to note how Dulcidio was attracting his prey by being the heir of a man that “everything belonged to him: the town of Lucanamarca, everything around it, the dry and the wet, the tamed and the wild, all that had memory, all that had oblivion” (Galeano 1). Now, the woman with the glasses attracts her prey by being independent and intelligent, which shows the symbolism behind the glasses. One can extend to its meaning in society, and how the prey versus predator relationship can be identified as a man and woman. Galeano used the symbolism to criticize various gender stereotypes that allowed women to be figuratively consumed by their husbands. For instance, before women were solely identified by their husband’s names, like Mrs. Joseph Smith. As a consequence, the exclusion of the wife’s maiden names makes one identify the women as her husband’s possession, thus losing her identity as a person without him. The unexpected turn of events in the end, can be seen as a suggestion by Galeano to have women take control. In conclusion, Galeano uses the predator and prey relationship of the lizard with his wives to criticize the position women have in society and how they are figuratively consumed by men.
As it can be seen, symbolism enables an author to assign multiple meanings to the foundation of their stories, namely the characters, plot, etc. It is a useful tool in literature because it draws the attention of the readers and helps them think critically about the figurative meaning of certain events or characterizations, such as the meaning behind the lizard or the seven floors. Both Buzzati and Galeano depict how the use of symbolism was able to criticize habits of our society. Galeano implicitly denounces the lack of identity women have in society, while Buzzati disapproves of the ineffectiveness of health institutions in improving their patients. It is keen to note how symbolism allowed both authors, during a time when literature was still being censored, to express their respective opinions without being punished. The symbolism used by the two authors is highly dependent on the reader’s background, since every culture can find diverse meanings for the same object. For instance, an atheist would probably disagree with the link between the Genesis and the seven floors. However, symbolism is still a literary tool that is present in various narratives and continues to demonstrate its significance in literature.
“Genesis 1:1–31.” Biblia, biblia.com/bible/esv/Genesis1.
Galeano, Eduardo. “The Story of the Lizard who was in the Habit of Dining on His Wives”. https://moodle.johncabot.edu/pluginfile.php/36466/mod_resource/content/1/Galeano%20-%20The%20Story%20of%20the%20Lizard.pdf
Buzzati, Dino. “Seven Floors”. https://moodle.johncabot.edu/pluginfile.php/35881/mod_resource/content/0/dinobuzzati.pdf