The Contrasting Symbolisms in The Wars.
Although The Wars by Timothy Findley is not a very long novel, it packs a punch. The major reason for this so-called punch is not because of the plot line, but because of the imagery in the novel that brings it to life. This gives the novel a meaning that is found on a deeper level, giving an opinion as to what the war brings. The imagery is symbolic of the death, despair and destruction that inevitably come hand in hand with war. The most symbolic of these images are the recurring themes of the story-telling photographs, mud, and fire.
Photographs have always been seen as a way of capturing events in peoples lives (and in some beliefs, capturing the soul). The photographs that Findley has supplied the researcher (and consequently, the reader) are more pictures that give insight into that time; they are windows into the past and into peoples lives. The knowledge that these photos show history brings up the idea of the past, of things long gone, or long dead. A saying that is often used at funerals and said about ones who have passed on is "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." This is similarly shown in the novel and said about the photographs. "As the past moves under your fingertips, part of it crumbles." (Pg. 11) The photographs show captured life, and because they are decaying photographs, it symbolizes the decay of life, in other words, death. It shows that everything has a time and place, and for this particular piece of history, that time and place has come to an end, much like life in the death-bringer called war.
The second symbolic theme of this novel is mud. When one thinks of mud, the usual image brought to mind is a moist or wet, sticky, gooey, earth toned substance, earth toned to feel warm. However, the picture of mud that is painted by Findley is one of grey, steel-coloured mud, making reference to metal, bringing forth the image of cold steel, and therefore creating an environment that seems unwelcoming and uninhabitable.