Age of Iron
by J.M. Coetzee
Hope and Beauty
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Hope and Beauty are Florence's two daughters. More than once, Mrs. Curren points out how these names seem to stand for something larger than themselves: "Hope and Beauty. It was like living in an allegory" (3.49). When a narrator or any character in a novel spells something out like that in literary terms, it's usually a good idea to assume that you're being handed a clue worth investigating. So, who are Hope and Beauty, and what is their role in this novel?
Well, first of all, let's think about how they fit into the landscape around them. Would you say that the characters of Age of Iron consider the world they live in beautiful? Probably not. Would you say that anyone feels all that much hope? Nope, not really. Hope and beauty are ideals that don't seem to have a place in this world of suffering, indifference, and hatred. What's interesting about Hope and Beauty as characters is that they seem to just disappear from the story right before stuff starts getting really tough – Florence takes them into a family member's house right before they all go out to look for Bheki. Then they find Bheki's dead body, and it feels like all hope is lost and the world is an even uglier and sadder place.
Still, even though they're absent, Hope and Beauty aren't gone – they're just little girls waiting to grow up. The presence of these two girls in the story seems to suggest that in South Africa at the time the novel takes place, hope and beauty aren't fully developed ideals – they're only in their beginning stages. The promising thing about Hope and Beauty (both as little girls and as ideals) is that they'll continue to grow and develop until one day, hopefully not too far in the future, Hope and Beauty have a real and significant place in the world around them.