Enduring Love

by

Ian McEwan

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Curtains Symbol Analysis

Curtains Symbol Icon

Enduring Love uses curtains to represent that human knowledge is often corrupted or incomplete. When Joe looks out his apartment window at Jed Parry in the street below, he hides himself from Parry’s vision by standing behind the curtains, yet Parry, in a subsequent telephone message, congratulates Joe on using those curtains to send him a message. Joe has done no such thing, of course, which shows that their communication has become corrupted. Likewise, when Joe visits Jean Logan, he sees in her closed curtains a sign of grief and sadness, yet he understands simultaneously that he is merely projecting his own knowledge of her recent bereavement onto the house’s appearance. Here again, a character has attempted to draw meaning from curtains, yet the knowledge that proceeds from that attempt is tainted. Jean is indeed bereaved, Joe understands, but the placement of her curtains does not necessarily proceed from that fact. As the novel proceeds, Joe finds himself thinking more and more about the very word “curtains” and his memory, just beyond the edge of recall, of a famous house in which curtains were used as a signal. This famous house turns out to be Buckingham Palace, and Joe’s memory is of a mentally ill Frenchwoman who fell in love with King George V in the years after World War I. Like Parry, she suffered from de Clerambault’s syndrome, and she came to believe that the king was using the palace’s curtains to communicate with her. In an ironic temporary reversal of his curtain symbolism, McEwan allows this curtain-related memory to confer upon Joe what the reader understands to be correct information: Parry is himself afflicted with de Clerambault’s. At the end of the novel, however, McEwan reverts to his earlier use of curtains as an indicator, or source, of incomplete knowledge. When Joe approaches his apartment with a gun, determined to rescue Clarissa, it is now he who must see past the curtains with which Parry has obscured himself. Once again, curtains are used to represent the necessary incompleteness of human awareness.

Curtains Quotes in Enduring Love

The Enduring Love quotes below all refer to the symbol of Curtains. 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 Importance of Loyalty Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Anchor Books edition of Enduring Love published in 1998.
Chapter 14 Quotes

This woman was convinced that all of London society was talking of her affair with the king and that he was deeply perturbed. On one visit, when she could not find a hotel room, she felt the king had used his influence to prevent her from staying in London. The one thing she knew for certain was that the king loved her . . . . He used the curtains in the windows of Buckingham Palace to communicate with her. She lived her life in the prison gloom of this delusion. Her forlorn and embittered love was identified as a syndrome by the French psychiatrist who treated her, and who gave his name to her morbid passion. De Clerambault.

Related Characters: Joe Rose (speaker), Jed Parry
Related Symbols: Curtains
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
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Curtains Symbol Timeline in Enduring Love

The timeline below shows where the symbol Curtains appears in Enduring Love. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
...be calling, only to find Parry on the other end once again. Hiding behind his curtains for a moment, Joe watches Parry before hanging up, turning the ringer off, and “set[ting]... (full context)
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
...a claim by Parry that Joe has succeeded in leaving Parry a message “with the curtains,” an assertion that is clearly a product of Parry’s imagination. Returning to his study, Joe... (full context)
Chapter 10
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
...behind in his hurry, he remembers a “quarter-memory”—a faint and decontextualized recollection of the word “curtain” that might somehow help him in his current situation. Joe attempts to tease out this... (full context)
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
...after several minutes the fact of his own “half-million-pound apartment.” Joe briefly considers the word “curtain” again before sensing Jed Parry coming up behind him. (full context)
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
...during their confrontation. The word “signals” again brings to Joe’s mind the idea of a “curtain,” and Joe puts the two together to realize that his “quarter-memory” is of “a curtain... (full context)
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Following this line of thinking, Joe reflects upon his own curtains in his apartment and the massive collection of files in his study. Somewhere in that... (full context)
Chapter 12
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
...reflects upon the fact that he was able to find nothing related to the words “curtain” and “signal” in his files. (full context)
The Importance of Loyalty Theme Icon
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
...himself, he realizes. Arriving at the house, Joe sees Jean Logan’s “neglected garden” and “closed curtains,” yet he realizes that “the sadness” he sees “coming off the house” is “mere projection.”... (full context)
Chapter 14
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
...gives the signal.” This seemingly random remark immediately jogs Joe’s memory. The business about a “curtain” and a “signal” that he has been trying to remember has to do with Buckingham... (full context)
Chapter 17
Obsession Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
...him on,” and though Parry no longer insists that Joe is sending him “messages” with curtains or hedges, he now believes that Joe is speaking to him “in dreams.” (full context)
Chapter 22
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Parry has come to the window and is partly concealed by the curtains, and Joe realizes that their usual positions have been “invert[ed].” Joe climbs the stairs, rings... (full context)