Saint Joan: Metaphor Analysis

Metaphor AnalysisOn first glance, Shaws play admits little symbolism overall-somewhat surprising, given the opportunities for symbolism that Joans story naturally presents, and which other tellers of that tale have availed themselves (for example, consider Luc Bessons heavily symbolic 1999 film, The Messenger). Shaw himself, however, alerts his readers in his preface to the fact that his characters are the dominant symbols in his drama. Students should refer to the “Character Analysis” section for further details about the cast of characters, but a brief, rough sketch shows that, for instance, Chaplain Stogumber symbolizes both medieval superstition and emerging, modern nationalism; Warwick represents pragmatism; Bishop Cauchon symbolizes medieval ecclesiasticism; and Joan herself symbolizes-one might almost say incarnates-the possibility of the human imagination to surmount even such powerful social dynamics in the pursuit of what Shaw, in the preface, terms the “superhuman evolutionary appetite.” Thus, symbolism and metaphors are present in Saint Joan-but they are present largely in the people involved.
The eggs in Scene I-their absence before Baudricourt agrees to support Joan, and their abundant, miraculous presence once his support has been granted-are a symbol of new hope and new life for the French cause against the English, a hope and life embodied in Joan. From ancient times, in many cultures, “[t]he new life that lies dormant in the egg came to be associated with life-energy.” (Dictionary of Symbolism, p. 112). In Christian thought and art, eggs are also often a symbol of Christs Resurrection; this symbolic level, too, may be appropriate since, as de Poulengey reports to Baudricourt, Joans “words and her ardent faith” are resurrecting the hope of the French troops. The hens sudden laying of the eggs is miraculous, but, as Polly states, “the girl herself [Joan] is a bit of a miracle.”
The wind in Scene III is a literal wind, but it may also serve a symbolic purpose. Readers are no doubt familiar with such phrases as “a change is in the winds,” “see which way the wind is blowing,” and so on. In Scene II, the Archbishop de Chartres remarks, “There is a new spirit rising in men: we are at the dawning of a wider epoch.” Perhaps Shaw intends the shift in the wind at Orleans in Scene III to dramatize that new spirit and new epoch. It marks a turning point in the war between the French and English, and it also marks a turning point in Joans career, for, following the victory at Orleans and the Dauphins coronation, fortunes turn against her (see Shaws comments on the necessity of unbroken, “simple” successes for a theocrat in his preface). This “high point” in Joans story is also, ironically, the beginning of her storys end. The shift in the wind marks a point of no return for Joan, even though neither she nor those around her fully know it. It is the moment in which, as Dunois says, Joan truly “dares to lead.” Her words must shift to action. This symbolic aspect of the new wind may help explain why Shaw chose this moment, out of a biography filled with dramatic moments, as the only truly action-filled moment to depict on stage. That singularity alerts the audience to the winds symbolic importance.
Joans heart is the only part of her body not destroyed in her immolation: as the executioner reports to Warwick, “Her heart would not burn.” Shaw may intend for his audience to take this statement as much more than literal fact. Joans heart is, it would seem, her spirit of individual conscience and imaginative genius. The facts of her rehabilitation in the Churchs eyes (dramatized in the plays epilogue) and of her continued treatment in art and literature, to Shaws day and beyond, bear out the truth of the executioners words. And, as Warwick tells Joan in the epilogue, “[Y]our spirit conquered us, madam.”