The fireplace is a central component of the home, especially in the time before central heating. As such, it comes to symbolize home and domesticity in the story, and furthermore, it represents the opportunity to create a home in unlikely places. The British prisoner Belcher, whose own home fell apart after the departure of his wife and children, constantly has his legs in the “ashes” of the fireplace. This suggests that he has begun to feel at home, even as a prisoner in Ireland. Likewise, Noble kneels near the fireplace after Belcher and Awkins are executed, but this time, the effort to feel at home in spite of his despair is fruitless. Here, the fireplace implies that home cannot be created by domestic objects or structures (such as fireplaces) alone: home is really about the people who inhabit it.
The Fireplace Quotes in Guests of the Nation
At dusk the big Englishman Belcher would shift his long legs out of the ashes and ask, “Well, chums, what about it?” and Noble or me would say, “As you please, chum” (for we had picked up some of their curious expressions), and the little Englishman 'Awkins would light the lamp and produce the cards.
“But my missus left me eight years ago. Went away with another fellow and took the kid with her. I likes the feelin' of a 'ome (as you may 'ave noticed) but I couldn't start again after that.”