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
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.
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.
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.
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.