The themes of “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell” include secrecy, the hypocrisy of social conventions, and the contrast between appearance and reality. The literary devices by which the author develops these themes include symbolism, imagery, simile, and metaphor.
In Edith Wharton ’s story, the Brympton household is keeping...
secrets from the new lady’s maid, Hartley. Their efforts to keep these secrets include outright lying and omitting relevant information. Both Mr. and Mrs. Brymptom are apparently unfaithful to each other but do not openly admit to their infidelity. Instead, they do not discuss or refer to their affairs and superficially maintain good social relations, such as between Mr. Brympton and Mr. Ranford, who seems to be Mrs. Brympton’s lover.
A symbol is an object, animal, or person that stands for something else. The key symbol in the story is the ghost of Emma. Hartley’s lack of awareness that she is seeing a ghost symbolizes the secrecy that dominates the household. The ghost also stands for the falsity of appearances, as it is implied that Mr. Brympton sexually harassed her. Another important symbol is the locked door of the room across the hall, which stands for secrecy.
The relationship between Mrs. Brympton and Mr. Ranford is suggested through imagery that describes both of them. After they walk together in the garden, Mrs. Brympton is described as looking “fresh and rosy,” suggesting a flower. His appearance is described with a nature image that is also a simile, a comparison of unlike things for effect using like or as. Hartley says he is “like the first warm day in spring.”
The secrecy is also conveyed by Hartley’s descriptions of her attitude toward the house, which seems to be hiding something from her. Her worry at not understanding what is happening is expressed with figures of speech using weight. Thinking about the locked room “began to weigh” metaphorically on her. When Emma’s ghost disappears in the snow, the metaphor of weight is applied directly to secrecy. Hartley thinks,
It seemed as if she had left me all alone to carry the weight of the secret I couldn't guess.