Through Charles’s amateur interest in collecting fossils, the narrative is able to explore and demonstrate the schism between science and religion. As befits his hobby, he has become increasingly influenced by Darwinism and, consequently, questions the Christian faith he has been raised with. Charles, in turn, becomes a cipher for revealing doubts in the Church, God and authority.
In addition, he is also compared to a fossil in Chapter Forty Three when he appears to have decided finally that he will marry Ernestina and spend his life trying to please her father. He is a relic from the past in this instance as he attempts to conform to the duty of meeting his obligations. If he goes through with this marriage, he will also have been swept along by history (and duty) and will become as dead and overlooked as the fossils he collects.
This town is used as the central setting and comes to stand for provincial life. It epitomizes the twentieth-century view of the Victorian era too as in this small relatively well-to-do place its denizens use gossip and rumor to control each other’s behavior. Sarah is able to be the abject outcast here, rather than London or Exeter, as the moral majority (as personified in Mrs Poulteney) dominate the bourgeois landscape.
Sarah’s face embodies the attempts to rebel against the stereotype of the obedient woman. Furthermore, her equivocal yet penetrating eyes entrance Charles as they also enervate him. Her face symbolizes her outcast status as it does not belong in the world of bourgeois women where her expressions are expected to demonstrate her demure nature and shyness. She does not willingly fit into a category or class, and others (such as Charles) realize that this is at least partly because she refuses to wear a metaphoric mask.
The French Lieutenant's Woman: Metaphor Analysis