The Woman Who Rode Away

by D. H. Lawrence
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What is the symbolism of the knife in "The Woman Who Rode Away"?

In "The Woman Who Rode Away," the knife symbolizes death, liberation, and sacrifice.

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D. H. Lawrence’s story ends as the female protagonist is about to be killed by a priest wielding a sharp flint blade. This knife represents numerous facets of her story as well as traditional indigenous Mexican culture. The killing will be done within a ritual context, and the woman...

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D. H. Lawrence’s story ends as the female protagonist is about to be killed by a priest wielding a sharp flint blade. This knife represents numerous facets of her story as well as traditional indigenous Mexican culture. The killing will be done within a ritual context, and the woman has apparently consented to sacrifice herself to the gods.

As the story ends just short of the woman’s death, the majority of the text deals with her preparations for this final moment. In many respects her death is offered as a logical culmination of her decision to ride away, leaving her husband, children, and entire way of life behind her. The woman’s death is presented as an inevitable outcome of her desire for freedom. The knife that will be the physical instrument which ends her life therefore stands for both her death and for the liberation that she actively sought.

Once she arrives in the remote indigenous community, whose inhabitants seem entirely devoted to mystical pursuits, her transformation begins. Through a series of steps, including changing her clothing and consuming mind-altering drinks, she goes from being a wealthy white foreigner to a potential sacrifice. Her ability to consent to this role is complicated by the drug consumption. Because the knife will be used in the final rite, it stands for the sacrifice.

Finely-honed stone blades, made of obsidian, were used by the Aztecs and other pre-Columbian societies for sacrificial rites as well as medical uses. Their use is closely associated with ceremonies in which the human sacrifice’s heart was removed. By specifying a flint knife, Lawrence evokes ancient indigenous Mexican culture.

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