Murder in the Cathedral: Metaphor Analysis
The wheel was a symbol, in medieval times, of the "wheel of life" or the "wheel of fortune," "which never stands still, being constantly subject to the turns of fate" (Dictionary of Symbolism, p. 379). No doubt Eliot draws on these ancient associations in his text's multiple references to the wheel, but he also subverts them by stating that, in fact, the wheel of fate-or, in Eliot's Anglo-Catholic worldview, of God's providence and plan for history-has in fact been standing still during Becket's seven-year absence from Canterbury. (As discussed earlier, the length of Becket's exile is itself of metaphorical importance, since seven symbolizes totality and completeness.) Becket's task is to set the wheel turning again: to take his part, willingly and completely, in God's "pattern" (another word-image that occurs frequently in the text) so that the wheel can resume turning and that "peace" can replace the mere existence of "living and partly living."
The seasons also carry symbolic freight in Eliot's play. The most notable example is the Chorus' invocations of the passage of the seasons at the beginning of Part I and then at the end of Part II. At the beginning of the play, the passing seasons are in actuality one long season of waiting, one endless Advent. But by the play's end, after Becket's martyrdom, the seasons in their cycle have become part of human beings: "Even in us the voices of seasons . praise Thee." Eliot's use of seasonal imagery will no doubt remind readers of his work in The Waste Land (1922). That epic poem's first line, "April is the cruelest month," reinforces the poem's dominant mood of pessimism in the face of what Eliot sees as the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of the then still-young twentieth century. As in Murder in the Cathedral, the passage of the seasons in The Waste Land is not a healthy cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Life has become stuck in "living and partly living." Still, even The Waste Land was "not merely a poem of despair of the present but of hope and promise for the future, since at the close the thunder speaks, foretelling the coming of the life-giving rain" (Baugh, p. 1586). In a similar way, Murder in the Cathedral ends in hope-although more tempered by a realization of humanity's reluctance and inability to, in Becket's words, "bear too much reality." Still, the "redemption" of the seasons is an important symbolic motif in the play, as it was in Eliot's earlier work.