Tom's Midnight Garden

by Phillipa Pierce

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What do the barometer, grandfather clock, and ice skates symbolize in Tom's Midnight Garden?

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In Tom’s Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce employs many different symbols to develop the themes of her story. Let’s look at three of these: the barometer, the grandfather clock, and the ice skates.

Tom sees the barometer in the hallway of the house when he travels back in time. It becomes a symbol of the differences in the house between his time and the past. It is a grand object that reveals the grandeur of the house in the past, a grandeur that has faded in Tom’s time when the house has been converted into flats. The barometer fades as Tom returns to his own time and is replaced with the far less interesting objects of his day.

The grandfather clock, however, is still in the house, and it symbolizes time. The clock is a strange one, and we get the idea that it is somehow involved in Tom’s ability to travel. It actually strikes thirteen, giving Tom more time. It is also a symbol of Hatty’s desire to hold onto the past, for the clock still belongs to her, and she insists that it stays where it is.

Finally, the ice skates are a symbol of the bond between Tom and Hatty. Hatty leaves them in the past for Tom to find in her future and his present. The last time Tom travels, he and Hatty go skating, but now Hatty is nearly grown up, and Tom fades from her sight. Yet the bond remains, and Tom and Hatty find each other again in his present.

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