After Captain Forrester has a stroke and is in his last days, walking only with canes and not speaking very well, his only joy is to sit in his rose garden and watch the shadow move slowly across the sun-dial. Mrs. Forrester explains to Niel that he is not senile, but she cannot understand his behavior: “How can anybody like to see time visibly devoured?” (II, Chpt. II, p.118) Captain Forrester had made a sun-dial out of wood, and his friend, Cyrus Dalzell, copied it in red sandstone from the Garden of the Gods, in Colorado. The image suggests some old sage watching time run out on a heavenly clock. The Captain looks like “a wise old Chinese Mandarin” “with perfect composure” (II, Chpt. IV, p. 143) as he keeps watch over time in a manner that suggests he is like one of the gods himself. The pioneer days are past, along with its glory, but instead of fighting age, the way Marian does, the Captain stands as a dignified old sentinel. Niel cannot forgive Marian for not gracefully accompanying her husband’s generation. Instead, she wants to run ahead of time, pretend she is young again by going with younger men. The Captain perhaps prefers a sun-dial to a watch, because it suggests the natural cycles and his acceptance of them.
Roses and Flowers
Flower symbolism is prominent in the book, especially roses. The Captain grows his own roses, and is proud of them. They signify his bond with his land, his ability to make the land produce. His affection for the land makes him unable to drain the marsh, for instance, where wild roses abound. Hunting is forbidden on his grounds. It is telling that a strong military man, a railroad man, is tender and wants to create a garden. The house at Sweet Water is home to him. He is domestic and likes to trim the snowball bushes and lilacs. It is the moment his roses are coming on that he gets the telegram about the bank failure, which leads to his financial and physical decline. Roses suggest the captain’s flowering, his success. In old age, he watches “the sunset glory on his roses” (II, Chapt. II, p. 121). When the Captain dies, the Blum brothers show their respect by sending yellow roses.
The first picture we get of Mrs. Forrester is arranging blush roses in a glass bowl. Roses in her hands indicate her love of artistry, to take from nature to decorate the house. And yet, roses also indicate her disloyalty to her husband. Niel cuts wild roses to surprise her on a summer morning and catches her with Frank Ellinger. He throws the bouquet in the ditch to indicate his disillusionment. The wild roses in the prairie grass represent innocence, and in the ditch, lost innocence.
Mrs. Forrester’s Earrings
Marian Forrester is the only woman Niel knows who wears earrings. This makes her exotic in Sweet Water, a real “lady.” He constantly refers to her garnet pendant earrings with seed-pearls in the shape of fleurs-de-lys. The Captain has given her many jewels and earrings but likes her to wear these, because they belonged to his mother. They create a sense of having family heirlooms and tradition, and “It gratified him to have his wife wear jewels” (I, Chpt. 3, p. 43). At the party with the Ogdens, Marian wears her diamonds: “a man bought them for his wife in acknowledgement of things he could not gracefully utter. They must be costly; they must show that he was able to buy them, and that she was worthy to wear them” (I, Chpt. IV, p. 55). The jewels single out the Forresters as the aristocrats of Sweet Water, and they indicate the Captain’s old-fashioned idea of how a gentleman communicates to his wife so others can see his appreciation, see his ability to give her what she deserves. They indicate their station, for Mrs. Forrester wears a lot of rings, and if she ever works in the kitchen, she has to take them off. She has a different idea about jewelry. For her, it indicates wealth, prestige, and leisure. They are part of her fascination for others, part of her cultural refinement. When she is reduced to poverty and housework, she has to remove the jewelry.
A Lost Lady: Metaphor Analysis