Alan Spence
Themes, symbolism & ending.
When an object represents an idea we call it a Symbol.
Symbolism is something we take for granted in our everyday
Symbols are used in advertising, flags, logos and signs.
Flags = National identity
Dove = Peace
Poppies = Those who died in WW1 and WW2
How many symbols can you think of
which are used in today’s society?
Symbolism in ‘Sailmaker’
The main symbol in ‘Sailmaker is
Alec’s toy yacht. Copy & then
annotate the diagram below to explain
what the yacht symbolises
The ‘noble’
Here are some suggestions – add your own.
The yacht
Alec’s loss is symbolised by the small boat:
•Davie means to but never fixes it (loss of the father
he might have been had his mother lived & Davie
kept his job).
•Billy paints it for Alex (Davie should be a more
reliable father).
•It ends up being burned on the fire; a symbolic
burning of the past and the loss of what might have
been (Mother/ a more ‘normal’ family life).
•The yacht was taken out of “The Glory Hole” but put
back away again (promises never kept).
Below are some other symbols used in ‘Sailmaker.’ Decide
what each symbol represents in the play.
Alec’s comics
The battered torch
The old furniture
Davie’s sailmaking tools
The “glory hole”
What it represents
‘Sailmaker’ Themes
In Pairs
•Discuss each (or the one that you have been allocated) theme in
turn giving examples of how each one is illustrated in the play
•Place them in order of importance
Decline of shipbuilding industry
Religious bigotry
Grief and loss
Poverty /Unemployment
Escape from reality
Growing up
dreams & ambitions
Father/son relationships
The dangers of gambling
‘Sailmaker’ - Ending
The ending of ‘Sailmaker’ is full of pathos. Davie and Alec have
no coal left so they are reduced to burning their own
possessions to keep warm. Each item they burn has some
symbolic significance. These include:
•The book ‘The British Working Man’
•Alec’s hymnbook
•Davie’s sailmaking tools
•The furniture Davie bought when he got married
•Alec’s old comics
The final item cast into the flames is Alec’s toy yacht, still with a broken
sail, as Davie never did get around to fixing it. He says,
‘Always ment to . . . jist never did . . . story a ma life.’ Just before the
yacht is destroyed it is finally complete as it has a ‘Sail of flames.’ This
is a very poignant moment as it makes us think of all the yacht
represents – broken promises, the family unit, Alec’s childhood, Davie’s
However there is optimism in this image – the yacht does ‘sail’ and this
could be seen as a symbol of rebirth – in the way that the phoenix rises
from the ashes, the yacht has a moment of glory before it disappears.
The ending of ‘Sailmaker’ illustrates the damaged relationship
between father and son as Alec talks of moving into a bedsit on
his own. There seems little for Davie to look forward to except
poverty and loneliness if he cannot change his life.
Is this a sad ending?
Is there a natural process here?
Children must finally leave home and make their own way.
Is there optimism at the end of Sailmaker?
Alec provides the optimism.
We can see a brighter future
for Alec who will, as his father
predicted, ‘Get out using his
brains’ and have a happier
and more successful life than
Furthermore despite the fact
that his outlook is bleak, Davie,
ever the optimist sees a
glimmer of hope as he is soon
to be re-housed.
(Extension: end of play activity: pp 86-87)
Music in Sailmaker
(p9 Red Sails in the Sunset)
(P11 Last Train to San Fernando)
• (P
13 Singing the Blues)
(P 47 My generation)
(P 51,52 Where the Blue of the Night…)
(P55 honky Tonk Angels)
More music…
• The Sash My father Wore
• Give Me Oil in My Lamp
• Will Your Anchor Hold
• Clementine

Sailmaker symbolism themes