3. The Symbolism of Rural Landscapes in Literary Works


Rural landscapes have always been a prevalent theme in literature. From pastoral poetry to novels set on the countryside, these depictions of rural life are rich in symbolism that adds depth and layers to the literary works. The rustic charm of rural landscapes has captured the imagination of writers for centuries, and through their words, they have given a voice to the beauty and significance of these landscapes.

The symbolism of rural landscapes in literature often reflects on the cultural and societal context of the era in which the works were written. In this article, we will explore three major symbols commonly associated with rural landscapes in literature.

1. Nature as an Escape

In many literary works, rural landscapes are often portrayed as a refuge, a place of respite and escape from the chaos and confines of urban life. This symbolism of nature as a form of escape is particularly evident in the 19th-century novel “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte. The vast and wild moors surrounding the isolated Yorkshire farm, “Wuthering Heights”, provide a stark contrast to the oppressive and structured society of Victorian England.

The character of Cathy, in the novel, is often drawn to the moors, finding solace and freedom in its untamed beauty. It is also on the moors that she forms a deep bond with Heathcliff, which further symbolizes the idea of nature as an escape from societal norms and expectations.

Another example is found in the works of American writer, Henry David Thoreau. In his book “Walden”, Thoreau famously retreats to the natural setting of a rural cabin in the woods, seeking a simpler existence and a break from the complexities of city life. This escapism towards nature can be seen as a recurring theme in literature, highlighting the soothing and restorative qualities of rural landscapes.

2. The Cycle of Life

Rural landscapes are often used as a symbol to represent the cycle of life, with the changing of the seasons mirroring the stages of human existence. In John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath”, the vast, barren fields of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl represent the harsh realities of life for migrant farmers during the Great Depression.

As the Joad family journeys to California in search of a better life, their struggles and hardships are paralleled with the dry and desolate landscape through which they travel. Conversely, in the final scene of the novel, as the Joad family finds refuge in a barn and Rose of Sharon gives birth, the rain finally falls, bringing hope and new life to both the land and the characters.

This symbolism of rural landscapes as a metaphor for the cycle of life is also evident in Rose Tremain’s novel “The Gustav Sonata”. Set in a rural town in Switzerland, the novel follows the lives of two childhood friends, Gustav and Anton, whose relationship is intertwined with the changing of the seasons. The landscape serves as a reflection of the stages of their friendship and the challenges they face as they grow and evolve.

3. The Dichotomy of Nature

In literature, rural landscapes are often characterized by their duality – the beauty and simplicity of nature, contrasted with the harsh realities of life and the human struggle for survival. In Thomas Hardy’s novel “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, the protagonist, Tess, experiences both the wonder and brutality of nature as she moves from the idyllic countryside to the harsh city. The lush landscapes of Tess’ rural home and her encounters with the natural world provide a sense of comfort and harmony, but they are often disrupted by the harshness of human nature.

Similarly, in Tony Morrison’s “Beloved”, the rural setting of a former slave plantation serves as a symbol of the duality of nature. The land is fertile, but it is also tainted by the violence and suffering endured by its inhabitants. This symbolism reflects the larger theme of the novel – the search for a sense of belonging in a world that is both beautiful and cruel.

In conclusion, the symbolism of rural landscapes in literature serves to enrich the meaning and depth of literary works. By using nature as a metaphor, writers are able to explore complex themes and emotions, while also giving readers a glimpse into the cultural and societal context of the time. Whether it is to convey a sense of escape, depict the cycle of life, or explore the dichotomy of nature, rural landscapes continue to hold a special place in literature and capture the hearts and minds of readers.