What three symbols does Findley use in The Wars to illustrate the horrors of war and the depth of memory?

Quick answer:

Three symbols that Timothy Findley uses in The Wars are horses, fire, and injured legs. Horses, which figure prominently throughout the novel, stand for Ross’s compassion. Fire stands for destruction, especially of his innocence, and purification. Injured legs or the inability to walk represent ostracism or alienation.

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Throughout The Wars, horses play important roles in Robert Ross’s military career. Because he tries several times to help the animals, they represent his compassionate nature. Although compassion is a positive human quality, the author implies that it impedes Ross from becoming an effective soldier.

Another prominent symbol is fire. In numerous places, destruction by fire is a cause of disaster. Because Ross also deliberately uses flame to eradicate the past, it stands for purification or absolution from guilt as well as destruction.

Injury or disability involving legs also recurs in the novel. Examples include a horse with an injured leg and Rowena’s disability. This type of impairment may be taken to represent any condition that keeps the individual apart from society, whether the condition is imposed by others or results from the person’s action.

Even before Robert joins up, it is clear that he is a sensitive person who may not fare well as a soldier in combat. Both his tenderness toward animals and his grief for his sister’s passing indicate his emotional nature. On the ship to Europe, his special bond with horses is established. The symbolism of the injured leg which leads to the horse being put down is linked to Rowena’s disability, and Robert’s grief is rekindled when he must shoot the horse. Later, his concerted effort to rescue the horses further indicates his misplacement in the military, and it predictably ends in disaster.

The destructive power of the flames, while inflicting pain and death when it occurs, also leads to a kind of ritual release. When Robert is able to detach himself from guilt over Rowena’s passing, he does so by burning her photograph.

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