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The Other Side of the Hedge,
E.M. Forester, author of a multitude of short stories, plays, films, scripts and various other pieces of literature, was born in London England in 1879. Among his considerable repertoire of works is a short story called "The Other Side the Hedge;" it is part of an anthology, including "The Celestial Omnibus," which is a story of similar metaphoric properties.
Taken superficially, "The Other Side the Hedge" is a weak story about a man walking on a road, then crossing a hedge to encounter a park on the opposite side. However, the straightforward answer does not touch on the layers of metaphor and allusion Forester has built into his work. "The Other Side of the Hedge" serves as a metaphor for life, death and afterlife. Within the story, Forester has hidden many references – both religious and philosophical – to the world as an average reader would perceive it. The road becomes life itself; milestones mark passage of time and achievement while pedometers serve to measure experience. However, the road is also a folly of construction. It was created by humankind to give meaning to their existence and direction to their false lives. The walkers pretend the other side of the hedge does not exist, for its presence will cast doubt on the truth of their existence.
During the narrator's stay on the road (which serves as a reference to life on earth) he leaves behind his brother. The possibilities for this figure are many; "Brother" could be an all-encompassing term for mankind, or it could reflect a reader's own paradigms, referencing a male figure with sibling relationship to the narrator. This second has more likely feel to it; the entirety of humanity could not be accurately represented by a single individual.
The narrator, when the audience first encounters him, is seated on a milestone; he is stopped, watching others pass by as they jeer at him for having fallen short on the road. When there are no longer people around, he takes himself through the hedge, finding it to be "not as thick as usual." This is where there are several diverging opinions. Several critics hold that the narrator simply dies. Others claim that because he crawls through the hedge on his own, he is committing suicide. Following the second theory fits in with the description the narrator offers of how he is feeling: "In my weak, morbid state…I yielded to the temptation." Before he even considers entering, he first checks to make sure no one is around to see; there is a shame to his actions. He enters the hedge, going through the thinner portion only to fall out the other side into cold water.
Through life, both in the "real" world and in mythology, water is a symbol of birth and rebirth: when creatures are born into the world, they come through embryonic fluid; when Hindus and Buddhists hold funerals, they utilize water as a symbol of passing on; Christianity links water to baptism, as a public declaration of faith; in Islam water is a symbol of total purification, as it is in Judaism as well; and in Greek mythology, the dead cross a river to reach the afterlife.
The narrator is fished out of the water – presumably purified – by someone from the opposite bank. Before he comes out, he is said to have heard someone exclaim "Another!" which presents the idea that he is not the only walker of the road to enter this paradise by way of the hedge. The narrator, once helped from the water, immediately questions his rescuer: "'Where does this place lead to?'" to which the other replies, "'Nowhere, thank the Lord."
Overwhelmed by the vast scale of this space on the other side of the hedge, the narrator gives in to his rescuer, and allows the tour guide to lead him away from the water, arguing the merits of the road. The tour guide seems to have heard all the protests before; it is quite obvious that this man is no stranger to denial. Forcibly, the tour guide leads the narrator through this trapped paradise.
The aimless participation of others within the sphere of the park irks the narrator as he is led by a cross-country race staring a single participant and a girl singing for no audience. He is bewildered by the lack of motivation for a goal; as he follows the tour guide, he argues continually about the superiority of the men of the road. The tour guide, however, has his own views on what to show. He takes the narrator to a set of gates, promising that he will let the narrator go after they have been to the gates. The first set of gates are made of ivory, and lead out towards the road; this the tour guide names as the portion of the road through which "'humanity went out countless ages ago, when it was first seized with the desire to walk.'" The second gate which the narrator and tour guide visit is built of horn. The two gates are an allusion to the Odyssey, an epic which speaks of dreams that pass through gates of ivory and horn. In Greek, the terms 'ivory' and 'horn' are a play on words: horn and fulfill in English are the same word in Greek. The same is true of ivory and deception.
If the gate of ivory led out to the road, then the road is symbolic of self-delusion. Leaving paradise for the road is reminiscent of Adam and Eve's banishment from Eden after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Following the Christian trend, humanity's return through the gates of ivory should be symbolic of Judgment Day and the return of truth to the human race.
The hedge itself is also related to the gates. When the narrator comes through, he notes that there are dog-roses and Traveler's Joy on the park side of the hedge. Traveler's Joy is also known as Old-Man's-Beard, and in the language of flowers is a symbol of artifice. Following with the gates, coming in through the hedge would be passing through the self-delusion, and then the water in its purification would create the perfect environment within the enclosed paradise.
But…only under normal conditions.