The Golden Bowl Themes

This Study Guide consists of approximately 40 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Golden Bowl.
This section contains 848 words
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The Politics of Marriage

In many ways this novel presents marriage as a political affair. While modern Americans generally marry for love and affection, the characters in this novel seem to view marriage as a way either to move up the social ladder or a means of accessing what their mate can provide for them. For instance, when the Prince marries Maggie, one of his thoughts is that he is now associated with, and is in fact, one of the rich. It is suggested, on the other hand, that Maggie marries the Prince because of his historical background. She is, in a way, adding this piece of Italian royalty to her father's collection. When Mr. Verver marries, he chooses a spouse who can be useful to him. Charlotte fills in the gap that Maggie left behind when she married the Prince. One can only guess that Charlotte married Mr. Verver as a way to get close to the Prince again.

It is also important to note that in much the same way these politics determine who one should marry, they also determine those who should not marry one another. For instance, it is stated that the Prince and Charlotte could not marry because of their lack of money. It is assumed from the beginning that any marriage where a great deal of money was not possessed would automatically be doomed to failure. In fact, Charlotte runs away from the Prince in order to keep their relationship from going any further. For a while they have a perfect relationship. The Prince and Charlotte both depend on their spouses for their social standing and monetary funding, but are able to enjoy each other's physical company.

The Symbolism of the Golden Bowl

The golden bowl is a highly symbolic object throughout the entire novel. The bowl is first seen when Charlotte and the Prince go on their shopping trip together. Although the bowl is to be a wedding gift to Maggie, Charlotte speaks in the store of giving it as a gift to the Prince. The Prince seems to recognize right away that the bowl is flawed and walks away from it. As the shopkeeper continues to press Charlotte to buy the bowl, she realizes there must be something wrong with it and also leaves the store without making a purchase.

Note that the bowl is made of crystal and gilded with gold. It is very beautiful to look at and appears tempting. In truth, however, the flaw in the crystal makes it weaker and causes it to crack easily if dropped. Note that Charlotte suggests to the storekeeper that crystal might crack if thrown on a marble floor. This statement closely mirrors what actually happens to the bowl when Fanny drops it in front of Maggie. When the bowl is dropped, it splits into three perfect pieces. The text states that if Maggie had something to bind the bowl together, the broken pieces would have fit perfectly.

Therefore, the bowl is a symbol of the Prince and Charlotte's adultery because it is through the purchase of the bowl that Maggie learns of their unfaithfulness. However, it is also a symbol of marriage in general. Marriage between two people can be a beautiful relationship, but even the best marriages have flaws. These flaws cause these marriages to be susceptible to breaking up if they encounter any stress or pressure, as the golden bowl breaks when dropped on the floor. These marriages, however, can be put back together if there is love and faith to hold them together.

Maggie's Transformation

Maggie's maturity is an important theme in this novel. It is not that she is not mature at the beginning of the novel, but she has yet had any real hardships to deal with at this point. It is only at the point that she deals successfully with her husband's affair that she becomes a truly mature and beautiful woman in her husband's eyes.

Notice that throughout the novel Maggie is referred to by almost all characters, even Charlotte, as a beautiful, kind creature who does not know what evil is. When faced with the evilness of her husband's affair, however, Maggie seems to recognize this evil before she even is really sure what is happening. Her response to this affair is not to blame others, but to take an active role in correcting the problems that led to the affair. She makes a point to attend more social functions and gives her husband and Charlotte fewer opportunities to be alone.

In addition to keeping her marriage, Maggie's second main goal in the novel is to keep her father from learning that Charlotte has been unfaithful to him. Throughout the book, Maggie plans and strategizes so that her father will not be exposed to the truth about his wife. Although Maggie could have sought pity, she instead chooses to protect those she loves from the pain she feels. The only person that Maggie opens up to through her whole ordeal is Fanny, a woman whom Maggie believes knew the truth about the affair from the start.

This section contains 848 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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