The banshee, a female spirit in Irish folklore who is said to wail outside the home of a person who is soon to die, plays a significant role in Francis Marion Crawford's gothic horror novel, The Dead Smile. Throughout the novel, the reader is confronted with the banshee's eerie presence, which serves as a symbolic representation of the impending doom that looms over the characters.
The banshee is first introduced in the short story as a warning of the curse that the main character, Sir Hugh Ockram, has placed upon his children. The banshee's wail is described as a "dreadful cry," which echoes throughout the castle and fills the hearts of the characters with fear and dread. This serves as a foreshadowing of the horrors that Sir Hugh is hiding and could serve to be the damnation of his son, Gabriel.
Furthermore, the banshee is also symbolic of the guilt and shame that the characters in the novel carry with them. Gabriel, for example, is haunted by the sins of his ancestors and is tormented by the dead smile which becomes a symbol of horrible secrets. Similarly, Lady Evelyn Warburton is consumed by her own obsession with the secret that Sir Hugh Ockram took to his grave. The banshee looks like her. Animals react badly in her presence. Yet, her beauty is often referred to throughout the story to counteract the evil that surrounds her.
The opposing symbolism of Evelyn can then be interpreted as tainted innocence. She is good, but obsessed. She is beautiful, but ignorant. Evelyn is not the banshee, but it wouldn't take much to interpret the banshee's wail - heard twice throughout the story - as a manifestation of the inner turmoil caused to those still living when Sir Hugh dies without sharing his secret.
In conclusion, the banshee in The Dead Smile is a powerful symbol that represents the impending doom that looms over the characters throughout the story. Its eerie presence serves as a warning of the horrors that await as the result of a terrible past. The banshee also adds to the unsettling and gothic atmosphere of Crawford's work. By analyzing the symbolism of the banshee, we can gain a deeper understanding of the themes and motifs at play in The Dead Smile.
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