Leaf by Niggle by J. R. R. Tolkien is a complex story that uses many symbols to emphasize the theme of life and death. At the beginning of the story it seems to just be about a man, who is going on a long journey, but wants to finish his painting first. However, after reading the whole story the theme becomes clearer and the story becomes an allegory. Niggle is the main character of the story, he’s a painter, but is not a successful one according to the story. He’s extremely nervous and reluctant to go on his journey. Niggle is kind hearted and is unable to refuse to help others, even if he doesn’t want to.
The country where Niggle live has strict rules on helping neighbors, therefore Niggle is forced to help his neighbor Parish, who he is not fond of. Through the symbols used in the story such as Niggles’ journey, his driver, the two voices, the inspector, Niggles tree, the hospital and the mountains; we get a clear vision of what the story is truly representing. The Inspector is the first is the first example of symbolic meaning we find in the story; the Inspector does not care about Niggles art and thinks he should use the material to repair the roof instead.
The Inspector is representative of the society in which Niggle lived; a society where creativity was not the main focus. Along with the Inspector, a Driver comes along to take Niggle on his journey. Through interpretation we can see that the Driver represents death; he shows up unexpectedly because death is often not expected. When Niggle arrives to his destination, he is put to hard work. The hard work causes Niggle to go into the hospital where two voices are discussing his life, and deciding his fate.
The first voice is extremely critical and harsh towards Niggle, while the second voice is much more understanding. We can assume that the hospital represents purgatory and the voices represent God and Jesus. They are trying to determine if it is possible for Niggle to move out of the purgatory. Niggle is able to leave the purgatory thanks to the generosity of the two voices. Niggle is sent to the country where he is to work as a gardener. When he arrives at the forest he realizes that the forest is the tree and forest from his painting he never got to finish.
The painting was long destroyed, except for a leaf that is displayed in the local museum in his old hometown. The tree represents to Niggle a glimpse of Heaven and perfection. Here Niggle finds himself once again with Parish and they begin to work together to develop this amazing world. Finally, Niggle goes deeper into the forest to the mountains that he was never concerned with in his actual painting. The whole idea behind the forest, tree, and mountains is that only God can create a perfect, an artist can only paint as he imagines; relating back to the allegorical theme of the story.
At the end of the story two men from Niggles’ old country are discussing him. It is seen once again how people are often only judged based on their usefulness and not by the thoughts and feelings the express. The sad ending leaves us with only a remaining corner of Niggles’ painting, which is unfortunately burned in a fire. Leaving Niggle forgotten; however Niggle no longer cared. As he is now in Heaven with Parish, the story says that they both laughed and the mountains were filled with the laughter. This provides us with the idea that the mountains symbolized Heaven for Niggle.
Leaf by Niggle is an emotionally compelling story because it shows both different aspects, and evaluations people have. The story evaluates life, what happens after death, the power of imagination, the value of the work we do, and the value of what we do for others. The story uses symbols to show us things, without saying it right out. Due to the unique wording of the story it gives the reader more to think about in terms of theme. After reading and examining the symbolic meaning of the story, a new impression of life and death is left with the reader.