The Golden Age

by

Joan London

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Gold Symbol Icon

Gold recurs in various contexts throughout the novel as a symbol of virtue and resilience. Of course, Frank’s last name is Gold. Upon first meeting Frank, Sullivan remarks that his first and last names are “apposite,” or fitting. He’s likely referring to the fact that “frank,” as an adjective, denotes truth and directness, while the substance gold is often used as a pure standard by which to measure other metals or to value currency. Through Frank’s name, Sullivan identifies an honesty and stolidity that Frank really does possess. It’s also worth noting that common Jewish surnames like Gold originated in the Middle Ages, when Christian communities forced Jews to work as moneylenders; the association between Jews and money created stereotypes of Jews as greedy and avaricious, prejudices that persisted centuries and fed into the anti-Semitic hatred of the Holocaust. By aligning his name with positive attributes, Sullivan helps Frank disentangle his character and his heritage from the intense persecution he experienced as a child. Elsa is also associated with gold; London describes her hair as golden-brown several times and notes how it catches the sun’s golden light. Frank, who frequently notices Elsa’s hair, associates her with a sense of gentleness and tranquility. Although it represents different characteristics, gold symbolizes the inherent virtues that both Frank and Elsa possess.

Perhaps the most meaningful incidence of gold comes in the hospital’s name, the Golden Age. On the surface the name is a fluke, inherited from the pub once housed in the same building. The phrase “golden age” is also used to describe various stages in human life, including the period of late childhood just before adolescence—exactly the age of Frank, Elsa, and many of the other patients. In this sense, the name is a mockery, because rather than enjoying the typical experiences and carefree happiness of others their age, the children are fighting to survive and face a life characterized by disability. Under Sister Penny’s reign, however, the hospital is characterized largely by cheerfulness and optimism rather than suffering and unhappiness, and the children are encouraged to consider possibilities instead of limitations. Just as the word gold is associated with Frank and Elsa’s strength of character, the hospital’s seemingly inappropriate name comes to symbolize the children’s courage and resilience, their ability to create a golden age for themselves regardless of their trying circumstances.

Gold Quotes in The Golden Age

The The Golden Age quotes below all refer to the symbol of Gold. 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:
Survival Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Europa edition of The Golden Age published in 2014.
2. The Golden Age Quotes

The Golden Age […] stood alone, bounded by four flat roads, like an island, which in its present incarnation seemed to symbolize its apartness, a natural quarantine.

Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

The name, inherited, could be considered tactless by some, even cruelly ironic. These children were impaired as no one would ever wish a child to be. But perhaps because of its former role, its solid and generous air, it was a cheerful place.

Related Characters: Frank Gold
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Golden Age LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Golden Age PDF

Gold Symbol Timeline in The Golden Age

The timeline below shows where the symbol Gold appears in The Golden Age. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Light
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
It’s nap time in a children’s hospital, but Frank Gold, the new boy, sneaks out of bed and into his wheelchair, knowing that the nurses... (full context)
2. The Golden Age
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Frank is technically too old to be a patient at the Golden Age but has been admitted because he’s “small and underdeveloped,” and because everyone at the... (full context)
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...to the growing polio epidemic, the government bought the pub and turned it into the Golden Age Children’s Polio Convalescent home. (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...no longer ill but learning to function again in the world. The parents (even Ida Gold, who’s very picky and known to the staff as Princess Ida) are happy with the... (full context)
4. Cockatoos
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...fly over the hospital; the children know they’re signaling rain. Frank’s parents, Ida and Meyer Gold, also hear the birds from their house in North Perth. Meyer is watering his vegetable... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
After the war, the Golds had hoped to go to America, but they received a sponsorship from Western Australia instead.... (full context)
Vocation Theme Icon
...piano in the living room. However, Ida hasn’t played since Frank got sick. Although the Golds are atheists, Meyer knows that Ida considers her talent for piano as supernaturally inspired and... (full context)
7. The Trains
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...memories “they’d been guests…in that country,” soon to be expelled violently during the Holocaust. The Golds think of themselves as a lucky family because all three have survived and now live... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...is there. He says that the hospital has arranged for Frank to move to the Golden Age, where he can be with other children and go to school. The IDB nurse... (full context)
8. The First Time Frank Saw Elsa
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
On Frank’s first Sunday at the Golden Age, Ida and Meyer come to visit. They befriend the parents of Fabio, one of... (full context)
Vocation Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...of Sullivan’s death. He feels unable to write poetry or complete Sullivan’s work at the Golden Age. (full context)
9. The Dark Night
Survival Theme Icon
Elsa feels relieved to be at the Golden Age. The terrifying and painful nights in the Isolation Ward still feel very close to... (full context)
10. The Loving Body
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
...college, Elizabeth Ann boarded with her best friend’s family, and Sister Penny moved to the Golden Age. Mother and daughter now meet every other Saturday and speak on the phone on... (full context)
12. Angel Wings
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...Lidja catches them talking and brusquely ejects Frank, displeased. Frank feels his time at the Golden Age is limited. (full context)
13. Meyer Walks Home
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...out” to die. Suddenly, he wants to see Frank, and he starts walking to the Golden Age. He doesn’t care that parents aren’t allowed to visit during the week. (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Arriving at the Golden Age, Meyer finds Frank reading One Thousand and One nights. Frank is delighted to see... (full context)
14. Margaret in Her Garden
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...her that he’s delivering his produce to the markets in Perth, not far from the Golden Age. Bravely, she walks over and asks for a lift to the hospital. She’s desperate... (full context)
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
At the Golden Age, Frank sneaks out and whispers to Elsa through the door of the girls’ ward.... (full context)
15. Christmas
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...for Christmas, but Meyer and Ida volunteer to serve lunch to those staying at the Golden Age so the nurses can have the day off. Frank is worried that his parents... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Vocation Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Even though Warren Barrett finds it hard to understand why the Golds don’t celebrate Christmas, the lunch goes off well. Meyer entertains everyone by exaggerating his own... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Returning to the Golden Age, Sister Penny is inexplicably pleased to see Meyer. She feels that he’s much like... (full context)
17. The Sea
Survival Theme Icon
...to write a poem. The shabby farmhouse reminds him of the migrant camp where the Golds stayed when they arrived in Australia. From his parents’ stories, he knows they used to... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Frank tells Elsa that if they were animals she would be a golden palomino, and he’d be a fox following her. This makes Elsa laugh, although he’s being... (full context)
18. A Long Cool Drink
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Sister Penny always leaves the door of the Golden Age open. While the children are at the sea, she comes into the unlocked entry... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Meyer drives away from the Golden Age still thinking about Sister Penny. He doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything wrong; the... (full context)
20. The Queen
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...might be cancelled because of the rising number of polio cases. The children at the Golden Age feel vaguely guilty, as if they’re responsible for the trouble. Eventually, the visit isn’t... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Ida is practicing frantically for the concert she’s agreed to give at the Golden Age, as well as having a new dress made by an immigrant friend. Meyer is... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
...everyone’s excitement, one of the bouquets presented to the Queen is sent, second-hand, to the Golden Age. The Queen returns to England uninfected, although a number of Perth residents contract polio... (full context)
22. The Concert
Vocation Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
When she arrives at the Golden Age, Ida can see that they’ve tried hard to create a concert venue, setting up... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...her awards but saying sincerely how honored she feels that Ida is playing at the Golden Age. Looking at Ida, she feels the Golds have altered her life with their “sharp... (full context)
24. Ann Lee
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
One afternoon while Sister Penny is out, a strange man arrives at the Golden Age. It turns out to be Ann Lee’s father. To her mute delight, he picks... (full context)
25. Blue Air
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...Sister Penny has a feeling that something is wrong and desperately wants to call the Golden Age, but Tucker doesn’t have a phone. When she finds a pay phone, Hadley, a... (full context)
26. The Third Country
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
After this incident, the hospital governors expel Frank and Elsa from the Golden Age. First, they question Elsa intensely, implying that Frank had forced his attentions on her... (full context)
27. Poetry
Survival Theme Icon
...familiarity of home life, Frank feels deeply alone without the noise and routine of the Golden Age. None of his old clothes fit, and he feels stifled by his parents’ attention.... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Frank feels that the Golden Age staff displayed a “lack of faith” in him, refusing to help him when he... (full context)
30. The Separation
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Returning to her messy home from the neat and organized Golden Age, Elsa is overwhelmed. Her family’s constant talking and complaining, and Margaret’s anxiety to please... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
One day the telephone rings. When Margaret picks up, Ida Gold is on the other end. After a quick conversation, she hangs up and informs Elsa... (full context)
31. The Visit
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Sally watches for the Golds and announces their arrival exuberantly. The Briggs’ rarely have visitors, and it’s exciting to have... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
The Golds have brought a decadent cake from a Jewish baker in Perth, the kind of food... (full context)
32. New York
Vocation Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...about him frequently and showed old pictures of them together on the verandah of the Golden Age. He looks very different as an old man, much larger and more confident. He’s... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Vocation Theme Icon
Next, Jack II asks about the title of Frank’s most recent collection, “The Golden Age.” He thinks this is a painful name for a book about children struggling with... (full context)
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Frank tells Jack II that “The Golden Age” is a kind of sequel to “The Trains,” his most famous poem. His last... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Frank was inspired to write “The Golden Age” when he had to take charge of Edie, the daughter of a friend who... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...looks very frail. Once Jack leaves the building, Frank hurries the window to watch his gold hair disappear into the crowd outside. (full context)