Lady Windermere's Fan

by Oscar Wilde

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Discussion Topic

The symbolic value and function of the fan and other symbols in "Lady Windermere's Fan."


The fan in "Lady Windermere's Fan" symbolizes Lady Windermere's emotions and societal expectations. It represents her innocence and the facade she maintains. Other symbols, like the letter and the photograph, highlight themes of secrecy and reputation, illustrating the characters' struggles with identity and societal pressures.

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What is the symbolic value and function of the fan in "Lady Windermere's Fan"?

The symbolism of color is the same across the board in the Western culture, so you may see that, whether it is applied to a fan or to a ribbon, dress, or curtain, the color is what is sending out the message, not the object itself.

However- there is a specific language for fans, which is not in their color, but in the way it is waved, placed, and employed.

Click on the two links I am providing and you will get the entire symbolism of colors. Each color has a specific symbol representing an emotion, an event, or an idea.

On the second link there is the chart of the language of the hand fan as used in Victorian times. I believe both can help you.

**I would also include in your homework the previous editor's answer, because it has great information on how the fan is used in the play, and it gives a lot of insight into the story aside from the symbolism of fans themselves "*

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What is the symbolic value and function of the fan in "Lady Windermere's Fan"?

The fan has many colors, facets, faces, functions, much like the colors in the tail of peacock: it is both beautiful and a symbol of courtship.  Also, it is Lady Windamere's greatest fan (person who adores her the most).  Is it her husband or someone else?

  • It is a birthday present: LADY WINDERMERE "Pretty, isn't it! It's got my name on it, and everything. I have only just seen it myself. It's my husband's birthday present to me. You know to-day is my birthday?"
  • It is an object of revenge: "Yes, you gave me this fan to-day; it was your birthday present. If that woman crosses my threshold, I shall strike her across the face with it."
  • It is very feminine: DUCHESS OF BERWICK (fanning herself) "The air is so pleasant there."
  • She gives it to Lord Darlington: LADY WINDERMERE: "Will you hold my fan for me, Lord Darlington? Thanks."
  • She takes it back: "Lord Darlington, will you give me back my fan, please? Thanks.... A useful thing a fan, isn't it?... I want a friend to-night, Lord Darlington: I didn't know I would want one so soon."
  • And then drops it for him to pick up: LORD DARLINGTON: "You have dropped your fan, Lady Windermere." (Picks it up and hands it to her)
  • It is a symbol of jealousy, possession: LORD WINDERMERE: "What is my wife's fan doing here in your rooms? Hands off, Cecil. Don't touch me."
  • The female takes the fall for taking the fan: MRS. ERLYNNE: "I am afraid I took your wife's fan in mistake for my own, when I was leaving your house to-night. I am so sorry." (Takes fan from him. LORD WINDERMERE looks at her in contempt. LORD DARLINGTON in mingled astonishment and anger. LORD AUGUSTUS turns away. The other men smile at each other)
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Is the fan the only symbol in Lady Windermere's Fan?

Oscar Wilde's 1895 play Lady Windermere's Fan is one of the four society plays which brought Wilde to the zenith of triumph in the mid 1890's, only to be overshadowed by the scandalous three trials that led to his ultimate destruction in that same year.

In typical Wildean style, Lady Windermere's Fan is a conduit for Wilde to expose the lives of the aristocrats and other wealthy Londoners for what they really were: Shallow and superficial.

In Lady Windermere's Fan it is arguable that the fan is characteristic of Lady Windermere's behavior as a female,and as a woman that feels betrayed. The fan itself represents her husband's fondness (it was his birthday gift for her), her superior status above Mrs. Cheveley (she held the fan in contempt as she waited for her), her flirtation with Lord Goring (she flirted with Goring using the "fan language"), her want for revenge (she was ready to beat up Mrs. Cheveley with her fan), her passiveness, and her aggressiveness, all at the same time.

Comparatively, Lady Windermere's rival, Mrs. Cheveley, also has a symbol of her own which represents several aspects of her personality: The diamond brooch.

The diamond brooch with ruby eyes represents the betrayer and the enemy in the symbolic form of a snake. Not only does the snake brooch reflect Mrs. Cheveley's cunning ways, but it also symbolizes her shady past, since she had stolen that brooch. When Lord Goring recognizes the brooch he points out to Mrs. Cheveley that it also can be used as a cuff bracelet (reminiscent of the cuffs used by police). This is how he confronted her, thus trapping her into his knowledge so that she would not go try to ruin Lord Windermere.

In conclusion, the two female main characters had symbols that represented their behaviors as well as their diverse roles within the play.

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