Annihilation

by

Jeff VanderMeer

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The Lighthouse Symbol Icon

The lighthouse represents the foolishness of believing in human power over nature. Lighthouses are usually viewed as symbols of safety—they are beacons guiding lost ships to the safety of human civilization and out of the treachery of nature (the dangerous waves). However, in Area X, the lighthouse does not provide a refuge from the dangers of the natural world surrounding it. The biologist even notes explicitly that it provides an “illusion of safe refuge,” because when she visits the lighthouse for the first time, she is met with bloodstains and other evidence of the violence that plagued previous expeditions. This suggests that violence is not isolated to nature; humanity is part of nature, which means that violence is a part of humanity, and human civilization—as symbolized by a lighthouse—cannot change that.

Instead of holing up in the lighthouse to avoid the dangers of Area X, the biologist says that “you had to wage a guerrilla war against whatever force had come to inhabit Area X if you wanted to fight at all. You had to fade into the landscape.” Thus, the lighthouse illustrates how the other expeditions’ resistance was futile because they tried to separate themselves from the environment. By contrast, the biologist survives because she relinquishes her power to Area X and essentially becomes a part of the landscape in the way that she describes here.

An additional illustration of this idea comes from the fact that the lighthouse keeper from 30 years prior was absorbed by the Crawler. In other words, the person who was the guardian of human civilization actually ended up subsumed by nature—and, specifically, by the Crawler, which seems to be one of the more violent manifestations in Area X. This suggests that any hope for human control over nature is completely futile, as what remains of the lighthouse keeper (as with the lighthouse) has been easily conquered by the dangerous natural world of Area X.

The Lighthouse Quotes in Annihilation

The Annihilation quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Lighthouse. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar Straus & Giroux edition of Annihilation published in 2014.
Chapter 1 Quotes

At first, only I saw it as a tower. I don’t know why the word tower came to me, given that it tunneled into the ground. I could as easily have considered it a bunker or a submerged building. Yet as soon as I saw the staircase, I remembered the lighthouse on the coast and had a sudden vision of the last expedition drifting off, one by one, and sometime thereafter the ground shifting in a uniform and preplanned way to leave the lighthouse standing where it had always been but depositing this underground part of it inland. I saw this in vast and intricate detail as we all stood there, and, looking back, I mark it as the first irrational thought I had once we had reached our destination.

Related Characters: The Biologist (speaker), The Biologist’s Husband
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

But there is a limit to thinking about even a small piece of something monumental. You still see the shadow of the whole rearing up behind you, and you become lost in your thoughts in part from the panic of realizing the size of that imagined leviathan. I had to leave it there, compartmentalized, until I could write it all down, and seeing it on the page, begin to divine the true meaning. And now the lighthouse had finally gotten larger on the horizon. This presence weighed on me as I realized that the surveyor had been correct about at least one thing. Anyone within the lighthouse would see me coming for miles. Then, too, that other effect of the spores, the brightness in my chest, continued to sculpt me as I walked, and by the time I reached the deserted village that told me I was halfway to the lighthouse, I believed I could have run a marathon. I did not trust that feeling. I felt, in so many ways, that I was being lied to.

Related Characters: The Biologist (speaker), The Psychologist, The Surveyor, The Crawler
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

The lighthouse had drawn expedition members like the ships it had once sought to bring to safety through the narrows and reefs offshore. I could only underscore my previous speculation that to most of them a lighthouse was a symbol, a reassurance of the old order, and by its prominence on the horizon it provided an illusion of a safe refuge. That it had betrayed that trust was manifest in what I had formed downstairs. And yet even though some of them must have known that, still they had come. Out of hope. Out of faith. Out of stupidity.

But I had begun to realize that you had to wage a guerrilla war against whatever force had come to inhabit Area X if you wanted to fight at all. You had to fade into the landscape, or like the writer of the thistle chronicles, you had to pretend it wasn’t there for as long as possible.

Related Characters: The Biologist (speaker), The Psychologist
Related Symbols: The Lighthouse
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

A swimming pool. A rocky bay. An empty lot. A tower. A lighthouse. These things are real and not real. They exist and they do not exist. I remake them in my mind with every new thought, every remembered detail, and each time they are slightly different. Sometimes they are camouflage or disguises. Sometimes they are something more truthful.

Related Characters: The Biologist (speaker), The Crawler
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Annihilation LitChart as a printable PDF.
Annihilation PDF

The Lighthouse Symbol Timeline in Annihilation

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Lighthouse appears in Annihilation. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
...tunnels below the earth, but it is the word that comes to her—she remembers the lighthouse on the coast that they saw when they arrived at Area X, and she views... (full context)
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
While the group is familiar with the lighthouse that they saw on their first day at base camp, the tower’s purpose is totally... (full context)
Chapter 2
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
...in the maps and papers, except that they all seem to be focused on the lighthouse. The surveyor asks what to do now, and the biologist says they should eat dinner,... (full context)
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
...the biologist sees a flicker of orange, which she realizes must be coming from the lighthouse. After a few minutes of flickering, it becomes snuffed out, and the biologist grows restless. (full context)
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
...spores. She now has a decision to make, because she knows someone was in the lighthouse the evening before, and she’s torn between the lighthouse and the tower. The surveyor has... (full context)
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
...longer believes in promises. The surveyor curses at the biologist, who sets off for the lighthouse. (full context)
Chapter 3
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
As the biologist walks to the lighthouse, she observes the environment with new eyes: the marshes, the algae in the lakes, the... (full context)
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
...puzzle. By the time she reaches the deserted village at the halfway point to the lighthouse, the sense of brightness and energy in her chest from the spores continues—a feeling that... (full context)
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
When the biologist reaches the deserted village—halfway to the lighthouse—she sees it has 12 or 13 houses. Few of them have roofs or exterior walls... (full context)
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
...natural world has become a kind of camouflage for something, and she continues toward the lighthouse. (full context)
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
The biologist reaches the lighthouse around noon, exhausted. She takes her gun out, leery of the little window halfway up... (full context)
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
The lighthouse is also in disrepair: an external wall on the landward side reflects years of neglect,... (full context)
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
The outer rooms at the lighthouse’s base are empty. It is dark inside, so the biologist uses her flashlight. In the... (full context)
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
...is a faded photograph with two men and a girl at the base of the lighthouse. A circle is drawn around one of the men, who is about 50 years old... (full context)
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
...as her own. It dates back to before the first expedition and references building the lighthouse’s fortifications. She reads an entry about “repelling an attack,” though she doesn’t find information on... (full context)
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
The biologist finds that, to the expeditions, the lighthouse is a symbol providing an illusion of safe refuge. But to survive Area X, she... (full context)
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
...she has to either go back to base camp before nightfall or remain at the lighthouse. She doesn’t want to travel in the dark, and if she doesn’t return, the surveyor... (full context)
Chapter 4
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
The biologist approaches the psychologist in the sand in front of the lighthouse; she must have jumped or been pushed out of the lighthouse. She has blood on... (full context)
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
...base camp despite the darkness because she doesn’t want to stay the night in the lighthouse. She sets out with her knapsack full of supplies, and as she looks back, she... (full context)
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
After an hour of walking, the lighthouse disappears behind the biologist. She walks quietly through the ruined village and the darkness intensifies,... (full context)
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
...biologist, asking where the psychologist is. The biologist explains that the psychologist jumped from the lighthouse. She begs the surveyor to leave her alone, saying that she’s not the enemy. She... (full context)
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
...enhances her senses: her hearing, her touch, her smell. All along the path from the lighthouse, she felt a fever overtake her, making her feel faint and also heavy. Her husband... (full context)
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
...of food, drinking water, matches, her notebooks, and measuring tools. More supplies remain at the lighthouse. Out back, she also realizes that the surveyor dug a new grave, a mound of... (full context)
Chapter 5
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
...to venture down into it, because he had claustrophobia. Instead, they explore further, to the lighthouse. They discovered the pile of journals and had an argument about what to do. He... (full context)
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
Instead, the group split up, with several members staying in the lighthouse while the linguist and the biologist went back to the Tower. The biologist’s husband and... (full context)
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
The return trip to the lighthouse took four days rather than seven. At the lighthouse, the biologist’s husband and the surveyor... (full context)
The Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
...record, recognizing the pointlessness of the generations of expeditions whose records lay languishing in the lighthouse. She returns to the Tower, guided by the green light emanating from her own body. (full context)
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
The swimming pool, the Rocky Bay, the empty lot, the Tower, the lighthouse: these things are real and not real to the biologist. She remakes them with her... (full context)