Symbolism and allegory
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Symbolism and Allegory. Feature Menu. What Is a Symbol? Where Do We Get Symbols? Symbols in Literature Allegory Practice Part A Practice Part B. What Is a Symbol?. A symbol is an ordinary object, event, person, or animal to which we have attached a special meaning. [End of Section].

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Symbolism and Allegory

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Symbolism and allegory

Symbolism and Allegory

Feature Menu

What Is a Symbol?

Where Do We Get Symbols?

Symbols in Literature

Allegory

Practice Part A

Practice Part B


What is a symbol

What Is a Symbol?

A symbol is an ordinary object, event, person, or animal to which we have attached a special meaning.

[End of Section]


Where do we get symbols

Where Do We Get Symbols?

  • Public symbols

    • have been inherited, or handed down over time

  • are widely known

  • show up in art and literature

Note


Where do we get symbols1

Where Do We Get Symbols?

What does each of these symbols stand for? Why do you think they have taken on the meanings they have?

justice

love

luck


Where do we get symbols2

Where Do We Get Symbols?

  • Invented symbols

    • come about when writers make a character, object, or event stand for some human concern

  • sometimes become well known and gain the status of public symbol

[End of Section]


Symbols in literature

Symbols in Literature

  • Writers use symbols to

    • suggest layers of meaning that a simple, literal statement could never convey

  • speak more powerfully to the reader’s emotions and imagination

  • make their stories rich and memorable


Symbols in literature1

Symbols in Literature

Quick Check

What might the cake symbolize in this passage?

The most prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread on it. . . . An épergne or centrepiece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; . . . I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it. . . .

“What do you think that is?” she asked me, again pointing with her stick; “that, where those cobwebs are?” . . .

“It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!”

from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

What is your emotional response to the description of the cake?

[End of Section]


Allegory

Allegory

Allegory—a story in which characters, setting, and actions stand for something beyond themselves, such as

  • abstract ideas

  • moral qualities

  • historical figures or events


Allegory1

Allegory

  • Allegories

    • can be read on two levels: literal and symbolic

  • are often intended to teach a moral lesson or make a comment about goodness and vice


Allegory2

Allegory

Characters and places in allegories often have names that reveal their symbolic significance:

Characters

Places

Death

Vanity

Good Deeds

Ignorance

Celestial City

Vanity Fair

Hill of Difficulty

Valley of Fear


Allegory3

Allegory

Quick Check

What do you think Everyman, the main character of the allegory, stands for?

One day, Everyman is summoned by Death to give an accounting of his life. Everyman ask his friends Fellowship, Beauty, Strength, and Good Deeds to go with him to tell Death that he has led a good life. Only Good Deeds stays with him to the end.

—summary of “Everyman”

What comment about fellowship, beauty, and strength does this allegory make?

[End of Section]


Allegory4

Allegory

Quick Check

On a symbolic level, what does it mean that only Good Deeds stays with Everyman to the end?

One day, Everyman is summoned by Death to give an accounting of his life. Everyman ask his friends Fellowship, Beauty, Strength, and Good Deeds to go with him to tell Death that he has led a good life. Only Good Deeds stays with him to the end.

—summary of “Everyman”


Practice

Practice

A. Think about the great number of symbols we’re surrounded by in everyday life. For starters, identify what the items below stand for. Then, see if you can explain the basis for the symbol—why is this symbol appropriate for what it stands for?

  • A snake

  • An eagle

  • Spring

  • An owl

  • A white flag

[End of Section]


Practice1

Practice

B. Here is a brief poem that works on two levels: a literal level and a symbolic level. A fen is a swampy place. What does the fen symbolize in this poem?

I May, I Might, I Must

If you will tell me why the fen

appears impassable, I then

will tell you why I think that I

can get across it if I try.

—Marianne Moore

[End of Section]


The end

The End


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