The Bloody Chamber

by Angela Carter

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What is the significance of symbols in "The Bloody Chamber"? Relevant symbols include the red opal, the choker, the piano, and music.

The significant symbols in "The Bloody Chamber" include the red opal engagement ring, which is an omen of bad luck; the ruby choker, which is a cruel reminder of the Marquis's family's opulence; the piano, which connects the narrator to the faithful piano tuner; and music, which is the narrator's greatest strength.

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Angela Carter’s short story “The Bloody Chamber” is narrated by an unnamed teenage girl who has recently married a much older wealthy French Marquis. From the beginning of their courtship, she recognizes that she is not in love with him, and her intuition tells her there is something sinister about the man.

Nevertheless, she is seduced by his wealth, having grown up poor with her widowed mother and her old nurse, who are skeptical of the Marquis from the beginning. The symbols of the red opal and the ruby choker foreshadow the Marquis’s wickedness, whereas music and the piano represent the narrator’s strength and innocence.

The narrator's nurse disapproves of the fire opal engagement ring that the Marquis gives to the narrator, saying that it is bad luck. The ring is presented in a box lined with red velvet, one of many uses of the color red throughout the story, typically when describing one of the Marquis’s possessions or decorations.

The use of the color red denotes blood, of which there are many instances, such as the bloody sheets from the marriage’s consummation, the gruesome scene in the Marquis’s den, and the dark history of the ruby necklace:

After the Terror, in the early days of the Directory, the aristos who'd escaped the guillotine had an ironic fad of tying a red ribbon round their necks at just the point where the blade would have sliced it through, a red ribbon like the memory of a wound. And his grandmother, taken with the notion, had her ribbon made up in rubies; such a gesture of luxurious defiance!

The choker is a symbol of the family's wealth and haughtiness. Its history suggests violence, specifically decapitation. And yet the Marquis insists that his new bride wear it whenever they are together, usually requesting it to be paired with a flimsy white dress.

In this way the necklace serves as a contrast to the narrator's purity. When she sees her reflection at the opera, she “saw how much that cruel necklace became [her.] And, for the first time in [her] innocent and confined life, [she] sensed in [herself] a potentiality for corruption that took [her] breath away.” She is aware of the temptation of her new luxurious life, and senses something will go terribly wrong.

However, she takes solace in music, which has always been her talent. In fact, her mother sold the last of her jewelry, even her own wedding ring, to pay for her daughter’s music lessons. This sacrifice shows her mother’s love and was arguably worthwhile in that the narrator has the rare gift of perfect pitch. That being the case, she recognizes that the piano in her new home is out-of-tune and requests to have it fixed.

The blind piano-tuner becomes a friend of the narrator, and at the end of the story, her companion. He bravely stays with her, even when the other servants are ordered out of the castle by the Marquis, and is a symbol of goodness. He is closer to her age and shares her passion for music. He appreciates the narrator for who she is and her talent with the piano.

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