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As with many of the symbols in this important book, Richard's chair symbolises death, or at least Richard's own slow and inexorable descent towards death. What is significant about this chair is the way that it is decaying and slowly falling apart itself, thus paralleling the health of its owner. The importance of the chair is indicated when Clarissa visits Richard. She always tries to remain upbeat and not give in to sadness or other lachrymose emotions, but this chair is the one indicator about Richard's health that her optimism is not immune to. Note hte way that Clarissa describes the chair as "ostentatiously broken and worthless. Even though it seems as if it is rotting, Richard rejects any suggestion of getting rid of it.
The chair therefore can be seen as representing Richard's body, and there is an irony in Clarissa's observation that the chair is in such a state that it is not worth anything to anybody. What Clarissa finds amazing is that even when the body has similarly become so dilapidated, still the human desire to live is so strong that life continues. Even when Clarissa describes the chair as being "sick," which in itself is a fascinating comment, Richard refuses to get rid of it and grasps onto it with all his strength. Perhaps clinging on to the chair represents clinging on to hope and life.
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