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As far as I understand Pulp Fiction is webbed with symbols and hidden meaning. Is there something symbolic in the Butch's father's gold watch because it did trigger a large number of events like:

  1. argument about the watch with Fabienne
  2. return to the apartment to pick it up
  3. killing Vincent at the apartment
  4. running over Marsellus
  5. all that gun shop action with Maynard, Zed and The Gimp
  6. followed by Butch stealing Zed's chopper, etc.
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3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I think it functions as a symbol in the sub plot about loyalty, friendship and being a 'true man'.

He gets it from the Captain with explanations about what the Captain and his father went through, the ordeals and humiliations which were suffered to connect with Butch via this watch. Remember that Captain says that "when two men are in a situation like that they take on certain responsibilities for each other"

The rescue operations where Butch gets his gold watch back and when Wallace and Butch are captured in some ways parallel military rescue mission.

However, the most important aspect was when Butch had escaped the basement but knew he could not abandon Wallace to be raped and tortured, like his father and the Captain he knew he had taken on a responsibility for Wallace.

In the basement Wallace is being raped. There seems to be foreshadowing with references by Wallace to asses ("pop a cap in his ass" etc.) and the watch being concealed in Butch's father's and then the Captains rectum.

Butch risks being recaptured to free Wallace.

Perhaps this rescue mission to Wallace was a way for Butch to connect with his father and gain some closure? Symbolically he might be rescuing his father from the torture of the POW camp.

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+1 good answer, but it feels like there might be more. It's been a few years since I watched it, but "Birthright" seems to stick out. Not sure if it means anything but I think it may tie in with what you're talking about. Maybe I'll try to watch (pun intended) it again and see if I can make a better connection... –  Ben Plont Dec 10 '13 at 3:38
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You mean when the Captain told Butch the watch was his birthright? Perhaps this rescue mission to Wallace was a way for Butch to connect with his father and gain some closure? –  Stefan Dec 10 '13 at 9:30
    
Possibly but I was thinking along a more metaphorical path. Since the watch is called his birthright - then if the watch symbolizes something that something would be his birthright also, maybe some kind of behavior (for example throwing the fight or (not) with impunity) or responsibility (going back for MW). I was thinking something along those lines...but I don't know exactly what... –  Ben Plont Dec 11 '13 at 0:57

Is the watch really "symbolic"? I think its role is much more direct: the watch is simply the central plot device in the Butch-related parts of the movie.

The watch is Butch's prized possession, a token his ancestors went to great lengths to pass on to him -- as Tarantino chose to explain in the movie's very first scene. To Butch, the watch is loaded with sentimental value.

Bruce's attachment to the watch causes him to go back to his apartment, leading to his confrontations with Vincent Vega and then Marcellus Wallace, which make up the main action of the movie. Any other possession would not have been worth risking all that trouble.

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Very good answer. –  Napoleon Wilson Dec 10 '13 at 23:11

I rewatched this film shortly after reading 'The Book of EST' (which can be ahem 'found' online), which is a guidebook for the 70s cult Erhard Seminar Training (now known as The Landmark Forum) which is partly derived from Scientology, and was a major influence on Chuck Palahniuk of 'Fight Club' fame.

I think the gold watch story is basically about EST style thinking - bear with me as I explain.

A big, big part of the EST seminar is the notion that most of our actions and decisions are conditioned reflexes to previous events from our lives or of the lives of other people that keep propagating through time - that most of our decisions are the result of historic random accidents piled up on each other and only by concentrating on the present and what really is happening now instead of our interpretations of the past can we free ourselves from reacting inappropriately to circumstances and making irrational decisions, and that we must 'take responsibility' fully for our decisions.

Rewatching 'The Gold Watch' in this light suddenly makes everything make sense. Why does Koons go into such dull detail about the minutiae of the watch's provenance? On a surface level, there's a pretty good ass joke there, but most of the monologue is pointless.

Viewed as a covert 'explanation' for how men pass down traumas and thus keep reprecipitating violence over generations, it becomes grandly eloquent.

Similarly, look at Butch's frightening and irrational spasm at Fabienne when finding out she has left behind his 'sentimentally valued' watch/inter-generational baggage. As Butch realises, there is no present reason why Fabienne would ascribe particular importance to this watch, and, in the present no reason to be aggressive to her or to risk their lives by going back for it… going, like his father, grandfather and grandfather 'to war'.

Butch is an interesting character because throughout the gold watch story he oscillates between conforming to what Scientologists call his 'reactive mind' and being aware that his thoughts and behaviour are not rational.

We are told by the radio commentators that Butch could not fail to realise how savagely he was beating his opponent - that he was in effect subconsciously murdering him intentionally. We even see Butch unnecessarily killing Vincent Vega because of a random toasting of a Pop-Tart.

In fact, the reason I am on this page at all is that I was so overwhelmed with what looked like EST symbolism in Pulp Fiction that I have gone looking for more information on it.

Maybe you'll get war I did on reading 'The Book of EST'. too. :)

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WHAT?! This is not just failing to answer a question, this is a rant. Good luck on your cult, hope it serves you well, but we're into verifiable answers here; not opinions or religious justifications. And as for your "ahem it can be found online," I hope noone searches for that. Hopefully you are a troll, because otherwise it's so much more depressing. –  Meat Trademark Jul 6 at 20:56
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Sorry if that was too harsh. I suggest checking out the Tour to get a better idea of how to ask and answer questions. We're not a typical discussion forum. Don't be discouraged, we were all new here at some point. (It also helps if you don't bring religion or a philosophy into the mix. "Just the facts, ma'am.") –  Meat Trademark Jul 7 at 0:26
    
@MeatTrademark This answer might be laden with promotion of unrelated stuff, yet if strapping the, admittedly questionable, Book of EST stuff, the answer makes some interesting points about the watch being a relic of the past whose actual insignificance for Butch's present life he fails to realize and which thus drags him into a spiral of violence out of some perceived dedication to his ancestry (if I read the answer correctly)... –  Napoleon Wilson Jul 7 at 16:46
    
@MeatTrademark ...So you might disagree with the answer, its philosophy or the source thereof, but it certainly does provide an answer and it isn't a rant either (though, maybe a bit of a proselytization). So downvote at will, but I trust that you shy away from a "not an answer"-flag or similar measures. –  Napoleon Wilson Jul 7 at 16:47
    
Flag? I didn't even downvote. I merely commented. And after that I apologized. Seriously, what is "Maybe you'll get war I did on reading 'The Book of EST'. too." even supposed to mean? It sounds ranty to me, sorry. –  Meat Trademark Jul 7 at 17:01

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