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Symbolism

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1x10 claire promotional
Two pens in a row didn't work when Claire was signing adoption forms, symbolic of her unease and mixed feelings in ("Raised by Another")  (promotional still).

Symbolism is one of the many literary techniques employed on Lost. Items or pieces of dialogue frequently reflected a character's state of mind, relationship dynamics or broader plot points. Sometimes, characters explained these symbols explicitly, conveying information to one another using metaphors or parables. Other times, the symbolism was more subtle. Some symbols' meanings only appear clear on second viewing.


Season 1

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Sun watches Kate bathe in ("Pilot, Part 2").

Backgammon

According to the producers, Locke's words about backgammon - "Two players. Two sides. One is light and one is dark" - always sought to symbolize a larger, unseen conflict between Island forces. These forces later turned out to be Jacob and the Man in Black.

Kate bathing

In "Pilot, Part 2", Sun observed Kate stripping off her clothing and bathing herself in the water. This symbolizes her own liberation compared with Sun, who offered Kate a prolonged glance. Sun had previously been reprimanded by Jin for simply undoing the top button on her blouse. When Jin and Sun separated later in the season, Sun freely entered the water wearing just a bikini.

Kate's bathing could also symbolize her washing away her criminal past and trying to become a new person on the Island, as echoed by the name of the next episode, "Tabula Rasa".

Handcuffs

Even after Michael broke the cuffs that shackled Jin, Jin retained a cuff on one hand. Only after leaving the raft and returning and fully reconciling with Sun did Locke cut off the remaining cuff, reflecting the man's newfound freedom.

The moth

Locke showed Charlie a moth in a cocoon to symbolize how struggle can strengthen someone, and how helping them can rob them of personal growth. At the end of the episode, when Charlie swore off heroin independent of Locke's controls, the two saw a moth flying in the air. ("The Moth")

Golf course

The scene on the golf course in "Solitary" was arguably symbolic of Michael's poor parenting skills. When he heard about the tournament, Michael left Walt on his own at the beach. He also later asked his son if he wanted a try, but Walt felt guilty that others were waiting to have a turn. When Hurley then told Michael it was his turn, instead of then offering his try to Walt (which would be more expected), he accepted it himself leaving Walt to walk back to the beach alone again.

The music box

Music box
The music box from Rousseau's hideout in ("Solitary").

Also in "Solitary" was Rousseau's music box, an item that seemed to symbolize Danielle's isolation. The box was initially broken, but having human contact (with Sayid) allowed Rousseau and the box to be repaired. This comparison is supported by the fact that the box stopped playing immediately after Sayid asked if he can go, ending the human contact.

The Halliburton case

In "Whatever the Case May Be", Kate's obsession with getting the Halliburton case seemed to reflect her closed personality. Living with the secret of being a fugitive, Kate was initially reluctant to share any truths about herself, hence couldn't get to the case and open it. Later, when she did get inside, she revealed one of her biggest secrets to Jack, that she had killed the man she loved. This is compounded by Jack's numerous requests during the episode for Kate to tell him the truth.

Another interesting idea here is that without a key it seems nearly impossible to get into the Halliburton case. Sawyer did everything he can, dropping it, hitting it, and banging it repeatedly against rocks, but he couldn't get inside. This can be seen as a metaphor for Kate's spiritual and mental state, she's has such a hard shell she wouldn't let anyone in. Finally, after promising Jack they would open it together, and failing at her "the key isn't there" trick she confessed to Jack and their relationship was pained, and different. Her defense failed, she went to help, went out of her shell, and with opening the case she opened herself up, if only a little bit.

Season 2

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The Bible from the Arrow station in ("The Other 48 Days").

Bible

In "The Other 48 Days", Eko found a Bible inside the Arrow station. Signifying his personal faith, Eko found an answer inside the Holy Book, a film clipping for part of the Swan Orientation film.

Charlie's piano

The piano from "Fire + Water" can be seen as a dramatic device to reflect Charlie's family. It was bought so that Charlie could become rich and thereby improve his family's standard of living. This is why the piano houses Aaron in a dream, as Charlie believes Aaron needs saving, and so this belief manifests itself inside an object that, to Charlie, symbolize the concept of saving.

Liam leaving a smoking cigarette on top of the piano with no regard may also symbolize Liam's attitude of not valuing Charlie in his idea of "family". This is reinforced by him selling the piano to help his wife, child (what he sees as his family) and himself. Abandoning Charlie at the same time, the piano's departure demonstrates Charlie's loss of family.

Season 3

GlassBallerina2
The glass ballerina in ("The Glass Ballerina").

The glass ballerina

The breaking of the glass ballerina in "The Glass Ballerina" may represent Sun's willingness to harm others in favor of protecting herself at all costs. It could also signify Sun's broken youth or the irrevocable loss of purity and innocence, qualities symbolized by a ballerina.

The glass ballerina is also used as a parallel to Jae Lee's suicide. Jae Lee jumped from the top of a building crashing to the ground out of not being able to handle never seeing Sun again. Both the ballerina and Jae Lee were "broken" by Sun, one literally the other figuratively.

Matryoshka doll

The doll that housed the diamonds in "Exposé" signifies the multiple depths of the episode, where there were both on and off-Island flashbacks which together explained how Nikki and Paulo met their end in a detective-genre inspired episode.

Juliet's knots

Along with the figure-8 knot, Juliet ties a double knot at the very end of "One of Us". The double knot symbolizes her (temporary) double-crossing of the survivors, since the knot will not necessarily hold.

The magic box

Ben offers Locke the concept of a "very large box" somewhere on the Island that could produce "whatever you wanted to be in it". Locke takes the concept literally, but Ben later reveals that it is a metaphor for the Island itself.

Ben's dolls

In "The Man Behind the Curtain", Ben receives two wooden carved dolls, one of a boy and one of a girl smiling. The items could signify the nuclear family and caring parental figures that in life Ben lacked. Ben keeps the female doll, which could represent the complete lack of a maternal figure, as his mother died at his birth.

Season 4

Water

In "The Beginning of the End", Hurley cannonballs into the water and comes out to see that everything has changed. This symbolizes baptism; going down his old self "dies", and he rises out of the water being changed or "reborn".

Panda bear

In "Ji Yeon", Jin buys a stuffed panda to give to the Chinese ambassador, with the panda being representative of China.

"Key to the whole game"

Hurley comments during the Risk game in the episode "The Shape of Things to Come" that "Australia is the key to the whole game". The Losties connections to Australia are key to the whole show, as it's where Flight 815 originated from. This reference could also symbolize the Island, regarding its key positioning in use as a strategic stronghold.

Locke, the leader

Locke symbolism
Locke, the new leader of the Others in ("There's No Place Like Home, Part 3").

The scene in "There's No Place Like Home, Part 3" where Locke meets the Others as "his people" is filmed from downside up. Locke is seen at the top of a cliff looking down, as a mythical figure, by people who are sitting, kneeling or just getting up slowly. This is intended to picture Locke as a savior, the chosen one, a divine entity that deserves to be adored by those people.

Season 5

The record player

The season's opening scene features a record that skips in a player. Daniel Faraday later uses this image to explain the island's skipping through time. The cause behind the time skips turns out the be a wheel that, like the record, is skipping, having fallen off its axis. Later, Faraday says "the record is spinning again", and the camera spins around him as he speaks.

The Compass

A compass provides direction with unwavering reliability, and yet the compass which passes between Locke and Richard is apparently locked in a paradoxical time loop. This could be said to represent the confusion induced by the chaotic time flashes, both in the characters and the viewers. It may represent the frozen donkey wheel, which spins about randomly unto eternity, untouched by time. Or perhaps it suggests the Island itself, which is now moving through time, without direction.

Season 6

Water

In "LA X, Part 2", Sayid is brought into a pool of water while seriously wounded and dies while being immersed only to come back to life a short time later. There are obvious parallels to baptism, which, according to some types of Christianity, involves the person being completely immersed in water to be cleansed of sin thus giving up his/her life and being reborn into a new life. The fact that the water isn't clear might suggest that Sayid hasn't been completely stripped of his demons, or it might suggest that this "baptism" isn't fully valid in some way.

We see Richard have a symbolic rebirth of his own in water in "Ab Aeterno". Water becomes a motif as the series closes - when asked for a clue about the final three episodes, Damon Lindelof replied, simple, "Water."[1] Jack and Hurley become protectors by drinking water. The Heart of the Island contains water and light.

Throwing a white rock

In "The Substitute", the Man in Black picks up a white rock from a scale (that had both a white and a black rock, keeping the balance) and throws it into the ocean. The white rock represents Jacob and good, and the black rock the Man in Black and evil. Throwing the white rock in the ocean represented the death of Jacob and the resulting "unbalance" of the scale the current unbalance of the Island as the Man in Black was alive and Jacob was not. This may have also symbolized the Man in Black's belief that he was going to finally get off of the Island, and "win".

6x09 EvilInABottle
Jacob used a cork in a bottle of wine to describe the Island to Richard.

The ship and the wine bottle

In "Ab Aeterno" Jacob uses the wine bottle as a symbol of evil with the island as the bottle itself. When Richard Alpert assembled a ship in a bottle, it was presumably the Black Rock, where terrible and evil things had happened.

The stubborn tomato

Jack shows Sun in "The Package" a tomato that survived despite her garden's neglect. He calls it a "stubborn tomato," saying "no-one told it it was supposed to die". He appears to be alluding to Sun's tenacity. The season's flashes also depict stubborn characters who have yet to learn that they died.

Senet

Recalling the show's earliest symbol of Backgammon, Jacob and his brother play another game with opposing light and dark sides - Senet. ("Across the Sea") This symbolizes their growing conflict.

Full Circle

In the final scenes of season 6, Jack collapses to the ground, upon where Vincent comes to him and lies beside him as he dies. The final scene is of Jack's eye closing, all of which is a referring contrast to the very initial scenes in season 1, where the very first scene is of jacks eye opening and Vincent running past him in same bamboo forest. This can be seen to symbolize Jack's "birth" and death, or in other words his life on the island, as he has fulfilled his reason for being there, as the story comes full circle from beginning to end.

This can also be seen to symbolize Vincent as guide or companion in a very spiritual or literal sense, along with many other plot occurrences throughout the series that feature him.

See also

References

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