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The symbolism
objects in
Outlander

In any good self-respecting story, there are, in addition to protagonists and antagonists with well-defined profiles, objects that carry within them an important elliptical symbolism.

The object can be an essential function of the story like, for example, the ring of the 'Lord of the rings' or the mask of Guy Fawkes in 'V for Vendetta, but it can be only a recognizable accessory, like the 'Indiana Jones' hat or the 'Inception' top

 

Outlander is no exception to the rule and I suggest that you make an inventory of the few objects that run through Diana Gabaldon's work and that fans recognize at first glance.

I can't start this list without mentioning the wedding ring that Jamie has made from Lallybroch's key! It’s an incredibly romantic gesture that says a lot more about him than any statement. It would be possible to write whole pages on what this act represents, but I would like to develop only one aspect which seems to me to be preponderant.

One of the central concepts of the saga is the home. When they meet, Jamie and Claire have none left. She, lost in a Scotland of another century, he, back from France, living under a pseudonym in the castle of his uncles, unable to return home.

We feel the suffering of Jamie to be kept away from his dear Lallybroch, however, when he swears allegiance to Claire, promising him never to touch her again, he admits that never seeing Lallybroch again is less painful, because it is her home from now on.

 And if it is his home, then he must no longer keep the key. It is not up to him to hold Claire's key and that is why he offers her, so that she is a woman free to come and go.

 

This is one of the most beautiful aspects of their couples. Respect for others in their entirety. And that's also why Jamie never asks Claire to part with her first alliance. Because he respects that part of his life he wasn’t in.

 

The third ring, the one he gives him while they are at Fraser’s Ridge, is also made with a part of Lallybroch since it comes from his mother’s candlesticks.

What comes out is that the rings Jamie gives Claire are not just metal circles !! They are a part of his life, of his roots. They are a part of it.

 In a similar vein, we find in the objects that run through the saga, the necklace of Scottish pearls that Jamie offers to Claire the night of their wedding. He is one of the few things he has left of his mother, he tells her, and he cares about it as much as she does.

This necklace, which forms a circle as much as a ring and which it passes around his neck with tenderness, is again part of him.

Claire understands this because in turn, she will give it to their daughter who, by the way, will wear it on her wedding day.

 In the 21st century, we can consider a brooch as a jewel, but in the Highlands of the 18th century, the brooch had two functions.

The very first was to keep the tartan fallout in place on the shoulder and the second was to represent the clan to which the person belonged.

We feel the importance of this proof of belonging when Jamie, on the evening of the oath of allegiance to Colum, refuses to wear the brooch of the Mac Kenzie, a clan to which he does not belong, despite his parentage.

When he appears in front of the laird, it is indeed the Fraser brooch that he carries on his shoulder.

 Another object carries with it the symbolism of the home, and Claire explains it very well in an introduction to history. The vase she never bought because she never had a place to put it. This vase in front of which she reflects on her condition, mixing the present, the future and the past.

A vase which she will not buy in the end, but which a woman from Lallybroch will nevertheless offer her while Jamie presents her as his lady of Broch Tuarach.

Above all, a vase, which she will represent mentally while Lionel Brown and his men are baiting on her in the worst way. A vase that we know has found a home: the one she shares with Jamie, where she feels safe.

What we see when we start to enumerate the objects that run through the history of Claire and Jamie is how Claire has arrived 'naked' from her past. Nothing of what she has lived is represented in the century in which she must live from now on. No symbolic handover, no representative object, except the alliance of her other husband. Not easy to assume!

In return, Jamie’s story is dotted with objects that speak of the value of the family, the clan, the story that led him to be the man he is.

This is the case with boar horn bracelets that land in Claire’s hands through Jenny. Bracelets mysteriously offered to Jamie's mother, on her wedding day and whose creator is none other than Murtagh, the amorous transit of the beautiful Ellen MacKenzie to whom he will swear later that he will always watch over the life of her child.

Another story from Jamie's past which Claire becomes custodian of.

 Right after the ring made with the Lallybroch key, one of the most symbolic objects in the saga is without doubt the amber dragonfly that Hugh Munroe offers to Claire as a wedding gift. Diana Gabaldon herself gave her a name that titled her second volume: The Talisman.

This Dragonfly is the only good Claire has when she has to go back through the stones. She can't give anything else to Jamie that could symbolize the strength of her love. This symbol that Jamie serves against him as he dies on the Culloden Heath.

Finally, the dragonfly escapes him and rolls on the ground, but it fulfilled its role in keeping him alive. In addition, it will travel through time and return to Claire as an artifact on display at the Battle of Culloden Museum. Proof, if need be, of its reality.

Jamie is a man of traditions and he loves to perpetuate the symbols that mattered to him. This is why the small wooden snake that his late brother had given him when he was a child and bearing on the back the engraving of his Gaelic first name, Sawny, is so valuable to him and that he is upset when Claire the hands him.

This is also the reason why he feels the need to give his son William a snake. This is a way of affirming this fatherhood which he must keep secret, even to his child.

Note that his brother was also called William.

 Another relic of the family past that Jamie offers to Claire, or more precisely to their future child. The apostle spoons that have belonged to the Fraser family for generations and that Jamie brought to France especially.

Of course, Faith's death carries with it the omnipotence of the family symbol, like a clear break that must find its reason. This is why, torn at the thought of leaving their daughter's body in Paris, Jamie places the spoon of Saint Andrew, protector of Scotland, on his grave.

'If we have to bury you here in France, we leave you a bit of Scotland.'

And when we know all that France has taken from them, we understand better the significance of this gesture.

Few symbolic objects run through the second season, perhaps because nothing of Scotland should remain in France, unless the successive dramas which Claire and Jamie live leave little room for materiality.

However, a necklace will be at the center of Parisian history, giving both a protective identity to Claire, the White Lady, and playing a representative role in one of the dangers encountered: poisoning.

The magic stone that warns of the presence of a poison, a precious gift from one of Claire's rare Parisian friends, Maître Raymond, will ultimately be the alert, not of Claire's poisoning, but indeed of the poisoning who wanted his death: the count of Saint Germain. Master Raymond, many of whom wonder if he is also a time traveler, had he foreseen this possibility?

 

In any case, once back in Scotland, the magic stone is no longer useful, because the war will take place on a completely different terrain.

 Jamie and Claire finally meet again, after 20 years of separation. What object could be powerful enough to intervene in this meeting and bear witness to the past?

Brianna remained sheltered from the twentieth century and William is ignorant of his father's real identity. How can we say all that has been experienced without it being perceived only as a painful lack?

The photos that Claire has brought are magnificent and finally embody this child that Jamie could only imagine over the years. And the portrait that Jamie shows Claire of her hidden son is just as important, because it validates a truth that nobody knows and for which he alone bears the heavy responsibility.

The second one, which Lord John will confide in before leaving for England, will also be very important as this is how Jamie can introduce his brother to Brianna.

In a way, these photos and portraits go beyond mere representation. They testify to a tangible truth between two temporalities which were not supposed to telescope.

Roger's small plane is a very important symbol that makes the link between the past and the present. In addition, and this is little said in the series, the plane represents for Roger the link with his father, who died in war on the handle of a Spitfire plane (this 'detail' is very important for the rest of the story , but I will say no more so as not to spoil the surprise).

The first time we see this little plane is in the hands of a very young Roger, who is present when Claire returns without fully understanding the argument that this is causing. Then the page turns and we find Roger adult who helps Brianna to find traces of this same dispute by rummaging in the reverend's archives. And it is there that he finds his plane, posed beside the case containing the history of Randall, as if these two worlds were from the beginning closely linked.

Roger looks at the plane, but leaves it there to help Brianna review the documents found. He chooses Brianna and Claire, leaving behind the little boy and his past.

However, we find him a little later, when Claire and Brianna returns to Boston, the plane in their hands ... attentive, perhaps to the child he was, and to the man whom he became.

One of the objects that crosses time and carries with it a particularly powerful symbol is the small piece of tartan that Murtagh continually wears on him, held in his jacket by a brooch representing the Scottish crown and two entwined hearts. This little piece of Fraser-colored tartan represents his commitment to Scotland, despite the defeat of Culloden and the British's formal ban on showing their customs. He kept him against all odds, even deep inside Ardsmuir prison.

Murtagh wears it as an uncompromising sign of belonging to the fight, whether Scottish or American. She identifies him as a resistance fighter, a fighter, a man who puts his ideals before anything else.

 

There is a lot of tenderness in the gesture of Claire who retrieves this object from Murtagh's body.

Otter's tooth opal is, in itself, a complex story that collides with that of Claire and which will later rebound with that of the Mohawks, then finally, with that of little Jemmy which we learn that can cross stones.

This opal is part of the mystery of time travel. This is all that is not explained about these crossings, whether intended or suffered.

For Claire, the opal holds part of its history, even if it does not yet understand it and that is why it wears it around the neck, perhaps a little like Murtagh wears its tartan tip, so as not to not forget where it came from.

Ultimately, the opal explodes from the heat in Jemmy's hands. Was it his destiny: To mean that Brianna and Roger's child was also a time traveler?

An object as useful and precise as a syringe can become, by the detour of history, a symbolic object, especially when it allows the injection of a product that is not yet invented.

On her second pass through Craig na Dun's stones, Claire takes two things with her: photos of Brianna and a kit containing a syringe and penicillin. She knows that in the time she’s going to join, it’s going to change that.

A syringe she tests first on Jamie who has just taken machine gun in his arm from Laoghaire… and then on herself while the effects of the turtle soup are already being felt… then finally to Fraser's Ridge as she managed to make her own penicillin, the little she had left having sunk sharply during their shipwreck, to operate on the Beardsley twins.

So this syringe is the difference between life and death and we understand that well when Jamie fights for his life after the snake bite. Claire no longer has her syringe, destroyed by Lionel Brown’s raging foot!

A Lionel Brown who will eventually, and this is only justice, die at the hands of Marsali, armed with this syringe full of arsenic.

I voluntarily finish this list of items that matter in Outlander's history with the medical kit that Jamie gave to Claire when they were making their way to River Run for the first time.

A beautiful box of course, but one that expresses Claire’s knowledge and her raison d'être. And that’s real proof of love from Jamie, just like it’s been that he’s planning a room dedicated to his business at Fraser’s Ridge.

Jamie does not pretend to believe that Claire is enough. She needs to be a doctor, without that, she wouldn't be whole like he is a laird. Nothing can change that.

There’s a bit of a mix of the future and the past in this box, like a lot of things in Outlander. There is the story of Dr. Rawlings (infinitely more detailed in the books) and above all the tools that will help him to heal better. Among them, the microscope, which will be her greatest ally in the search for penicillin and which will help her to better explain to people around her what are the microbes of which she constantly warns them, or sperm, c is according to 😉

Valérie Gay-Corajoud