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(b) Shores, Bays And Peninsulas
Settings such as shores, bays and peninsulas, near great bodies of water, have served as important settings for many stories in the romantic genre. F.Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is a romantic story despite the tragic outcome of Gatsby. It is a story that has as its setting a bay and a peninsula near the ocean. "The practical thing was to find rooms in the city," says Nick Carraway, "but it was a warm season, and I had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees ..." The bungalow that Nick rents:
" ... was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York - and there are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound."
It is against the romantic setting of the bay that the harsh reality of New York City is placed. To get to the city one must cross the "valley of ashes - a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens." It is a land of grey that the characters must cross to get away from the romantic setting of the novel into the city of materialism and practicality.
The setting next to a bay also plays a central part in Raymond Chandler's romantic novel Farewell My Lovely. While the story roves all across Los Angeles of the 1940s, it is really concerned with the corruption in the Bay City police department out near the Pacific Ocean.
The story, though, begins on Central Avenue in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Like The Great Gatsby, various places serve to contrast romance against the material and practical world. In Gatsby, the action takes place in the city and a suburb. In Farewell My Lovely, all the action takes place within Los Angeles but Los Angeles is a world which can have its bay and shore and also its darkness of the downtown central part like Watts. Chandler describes the area near the ocean using a romantic description:
"I got down to Montemar Vista as the light began to fade, but there was still a fine sparkle on the water and the surf was breaking far out in long smooth curves. A group of pelicans was flying bomber formation just under the creaming lip of waves. A lonely yacht was taking in toward the yacht harbor at Bay City. Beyond it the huge emptiness of the Pacific was purple-gray."
Chandler is able to get contrast with the other parts of the story which are inland and away from the ocean. These settings have little romance in them.
"1644 West 54th Place was a dried-out brown house with a dried-out brown lawn in front of it. There was a large bare patch around a tough-looking palm tree. On the porch stood one lonely wooded rocker, and the afternoon breeze made the unpruned shoots of last year's poinsettias tap-tap against the cracked stucco wall. A line of stiff yellowish half-washed clothes jittered on a rusty wire in the side yard."
By contrasting the two settings, one the romantic setting near the ocean and the other the setting of the central city, Chandler is able to play two elements within the large background of one vast city against each other. Significantly, the story does not have to leave the city, as is often the case, for romance to happen.
Lakes have a strong association with symbolic aspects of the feminine archetype. J.C. Cooper in An Illustrated Encyclopaedia notes that they are often the dwelling place of monsters or magical feminine powers, such as "The Lady of the Lake." In the Chinese symbolism of the Pa Kua the lake is the Tui symbolizing collected waters, receptive wisdom, absorption and passiveness.
The structure of lake symbolism may be related to the space aspect of place symbolism and specifically the symbolism of level J.E. Cirlot in his Dictionary of Symbols suggests that this is the case and that this symbolism:
"...equates all that is on a low level spatially with what is low in a spiritual, negative, destructive, and hence fatal, sense. The fact that water-symbolism is closely connected with the symbolism of the abyss serves to corroborate the fatal implications of the lake-symbol, for the part played by the liquid Element is to provide the transition between life and death, between the solid and the gaseous, the formal and the informal."
This symbolism of level is associated with water because, as Cirlot notes, water always alludes to the connection between the superficial and the profound. In this sense, a lake symbolizes a fluid mass of transparency.
Traditionally, lakes have symbolized the peaceful, contemplative life where one goes to escape from the reality of the world. Many vacations center around lakes and not surprisingly, the romance genre of stories often uses lake settings. This contemplative symbolism of lakes is mentioned in the ancient Chinese Book Of Changes:
"Lakes resting on the other,
The images of the joyous.
Thus the superior man joins
With his friends for discussion and practice."
As Laurens van der Post notes the Book Of Changes "personifies the lake and makes it the image of the feminine value with the greatest future possibilities of increase, calling it the youngest of daughters in a house with many mansions." Jung himself as a child, notes van der Post, was convinced that no one could live without water and he meant lakes mainly when he spoke about water.
With lakes, the universality associated with the seas and oceans is made specific. Van der Post points this out saying:
" ... the macrocosmic sea microcosmically contained in the earth and so made a comprehensible source of nourishment to the life and spirit of man. It reflects and draws into its own deeps and so into the heart of the earth all that it's opposite, the sky, represents and possesses of illumination and height, becoming a kind of mediating factor between two great poles, two opposites of reality: a dark, earthly principle and another of light and celestial sky and all the values they stand for."
This mirror symbolism of lakes is empahsized by Cirlot when he writes that "the lake - or rather its surface alone - holds the significance of a mirror, presenting an image of self-contemplation, consciousness and revelation." A lake most likely offered the first mirror to man to see his reflection in and the reflection of the sky above. Interestingly enough, Narcissus died from looking into his reflection in a lake for too long.
The symbolism of the valley has a close association with creation and the birth of civilization. This symbolism relates back to the early development of civilization in the Nile River Valley. Its fertility stands in contrast with the desert and its depth in contrast to the symbolism of height in mountains. Cirlot comments on this symbolism saying that it is:
"a neutral zone apt for the development of all creation and for all material progress in the world of manifestation. Its characteristic fertility stands in contrast to the nature of the desert, the ocean and of the mountain ... In short, the valley is symbolic of life itself and is the mystic abode of sheperd and priest."
And in J.C. Cooper's An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, it is noted that the valley represents "life, fertility, cultivation, flocks and the sheltering feminine aspect." In Chinese symbolism the valley is the yin, shadowy state, with the mountain as the yang and sunny state.
In stories the valley has symbolized the peaceful and restful area reached after crossing the mountains and the deserts. A valley is the destination of the wagon trains of American western films. Valleys and the lush vegetation within them provide the places where new lives can begin again, where a man can establish a family.
A good example of valley symbolism is in the novel Growth of the Soil by the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun. It is the story of Isak who travels the valleys and mountain tops of Norway seeking a place to settle. Isak is alone and one night he settles on a high slope overlooking a valley and goes to sleep:
"The morning shows him a range of pasture and woodland. He moves down, and there is a green hillside; far below, a glimpse of the stream, and a hare bounding across. The man nods his head, as it were, approvingly - the stream is not so broad but that a hare may cross it at a bound. A white grouse sitting close upon its nest starts up at his feet with an angry hiss and nods again; feathered game and fur - a good spot this. Heather, bilberry and cloudberry cover the ground; there are tiny ferns, and the seven-pointed star flowers of the wintergreen. Here and there he stops to dig with an iron tool, and finds good mould, or peaty soil, manured with the rotted wood and fallen leaves of a thousand years. He nods, to say he has found himself a place to stay and live..."
Isak goes on to develop a homestead and find a wife and raise children in this valley and spends the next fifty years farming the land.
A valley has also represented an isolated area away from the torrent of life. Washington Irving talks about the valley's quiet isolation in his story "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" writing:
"I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud; for it is in such little retired...valleys...that the population, manners, and customs, remain fixed; while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant change in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved. They are the little nooks of still water which border the rapid stream."
The symbolism of valleys is assocated with this "sleepy" and peaceful state.
John Muir's description of California's Central Valley and the Sierras on the eastern boundary offer a famous naturalist's description of one of America's greatest valleys. In April of 1868, John Muir set out on foot from San Francisco with a plant press on his back and a small bag containing a few personal belongings. He headed east toward the Central California Valley and the Yosemite Valley. It was blossom time in the lowlands and he writes in his journal that the coast ranges of the Santa Clara Valley "were fairly drenched with sunshine" and "all the air was quivering with the songs of the meadowlarks, and the hills were so covered with flowers that they seemed to be painted."
After a few days of travelling he finally reached the summit of the coastal range of mountains at a place called Pacheco Pass. It was a bright, clear day and Muir stood on top of the pass and looked at the great Central California Valley for the first time. For the rest of his life, Muir would remember this spectacular scene and he would always consider it the most beautiful landscape he had ever seen.
"At my feet," he wrote in the small journal he carried, "lay the great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long." And lifting his head up from the valley, he saw the eastern walls of the Central Valley, the Sierra mountains. "Miles in height, and so gloriously colored and radiant," the Sierras seemed to him, "not clothed with light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city." Along the ridge of the mountains and extending a distance down was "a rich pearl-gray belt of snow" and below it a "belt of blue and dark purple, marking the extension of the forests" and stretching along the base of the range a "broad belt of rose purple." All of these colors, he writes, "from the blue sky to the yellow valley smoothly blending as they do in a rainbow, making a wall of light ineffably fine" should be called the "Range of Light."
Throughout the history of the western story genre this type of observation of a valley would be one of the central images of western stories. It was the image of characters standing on the brink of a valley and contemplating their arrival at last after the many trials of the journey. But with Muir it is almost as if this image is seen for the first time in American literature.
A canyon, like a valley, is also a lower level landscape. However, has a different symbolism than a valley. There is little peacefulness and fertility associated with canyons. They are often the product of the relentless cutting of rivers through hard rock in arid climates. This process of a river or ice carving itself deep through the land leaves a great scar in the land.
And rather than being cradled by gently sloping hills, canyons are usually bounded by dramatic walls which reach almost straight up. The cliffs of rock which contain canyons serve as places of ambush in western stories and have been the scene of many bloody battles. It is the place that the wagon train is most likely to get "bushwacked" or the outlaw most likely to get trapped by the posse such as in the film The Ballad Of Gregorio Cortez.
The symbolism of a cave relates to containment, enclosure and the mythological underworld. Cirlot writes that it is probably related to the general symbolism "of containment, of the enclosed or concealed." Jung, in his book Psychology And Alchemy, notes that the cave stands for security and impregnability of the unconsciousness. It appears fairly often in emblematic and mythological iconography as the meeting-place for figures of deities, forebears or archtypes, and becomes an objective image of Hades.
J.C. Cooper emphasizes the underworld and initiation characteristics of caves:
"Initiation ceremonies most frequently took place in a cave as symbolic of the underworld and the sepulchre where death took place prior to rebirth and illumination. As a place of initiation it was also a secret place, the entrance to which was hidden from the profane by a labyrinth or dangerous passage, often guarded by some monster or supernatural person, and entry could only be gained by overcoming the opposing force. Entering the cave is also re-entry into the womb of Mother Earth, as with cave burials. Passing through the cave represents a change of state, also achieved by overcoming dangerous powers."
The cave has found a popular place as background setting in adventure stories like those from Robert Louis Stevenson or the Hardy Boys series of stories. It also emerged as background in many popular films such as the Steven Speilberg film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.