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 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.
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.