Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo


George Saunders

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Lincoln in the Bardo can help.

The Iron Fence Symbol Analysis

The Iron Fence Symbol Icon

In Lincoln in the Bardo, the majority of the characters are unable to go beyond an iron fence that marks the edge of their realm. Because they are otherwise unconstrained—capable of drifting through objects and even living people—this fence signals to readers that the Bardo-dwellers still have to face certain limitations. In the same way that they can’t rejoin the living world, they can’t float beyond the iron fence, which produces a nauseating effect when they approach it. Interestingly enough, though, the souls of black people in the Bardo remain uninfluenced by the fence’s “noxious” qualities. In the Bardo, black souls unfortunately encounter the same kind of racism that plagued their lives as slaves in the real world, but their ability to roam beyond the iron fence symbolizes one tangible way that they finally are allowed to enjoy a modicum of freedom. While the white souls can’t even approach the fence without recoiling, the black Bardo-dwellers can drift by unharmed by its sickening qualities. In turn, the fence comes to represent the fact that different people contend with different kinds of limitations, both in the Bardo and in the living world.

The Iron Fence Quotes in Lincoln in the Bardo

The Lincoln in the Bardo quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Iron Fence. 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:
Unity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of Lincoln in the Bardo published in 2018.
Chapter 13 Quotes

I want ed so much to hold a dear Babe.

I know very wel I do not look as prety as I onseh. And over time, I admit, I have come to know serten words I did not formerly

Fuk cok shit reem ravage assfuk

[…] I did not get any. Thing.

Was gone too soon

To get

Only forteen.

Yrs of aje

Plese do come again sir it has been a pleasure to make your

But fuk yr anshient frends (do not bring them agin) who kome to ogle and mok me and ask me to swindle no that is not the werd slender slander that wich I am doing. Wich is no more than what they are doing. Is it not so? What I am doing, if I only cary on fathefully, will, I am sure, bring about that longed-for return to

Green grass kind looks.

Related Symbols: The Iron Fence
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Lincoln in the Bardo LitChart as a printable PDF.
Lincoln in the Bardo PDF

The Iron Fence Symbol Timeline in Lincoln in the Bardo

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Iron Fence appears in Lincoln in the Bardo. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 12
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
...edge of an uninhabited wilderness of some several hundred yards that ended in the dreaded iron fence ,” Hans Vollman says, and Roger Bevins III explains that this is the “noxious limit... (full context)
Chapter 27
Unity Theme Icon
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon recover from their injuries in an unmarked disreputable common sick-pit just beyond the dread iron fence ,” Vollman explains, “the only white people therein, thrown in with several members of the... (full context)
Chapter 66
Unity Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon
...this, Lieutenant Stone and his cronies push the crowd of black souls against the “dreaded iron fence ,” but the black souls are uninfluenced by the fence’s “noxious effect.” Unable to push... (full context)
Chapter 102
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
...thing the two friends know they must do, and so they swoop toward the “dreaded iron fence .” (full context)
Chapter 103
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
...explodes with Vollman’s departure, throwing Bevins to the ground. When he stands, he sees that the iron fence is the only thing left standing. Advancing toward it, he thinks one last time of... (full context)