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Symbolism and Allegory . Layers of Meaning. What Symbols Stand For. A symbol is often an ordinary object, event, person, or animal to which we have attached extraordinary meaning and significance. We use a rectangle of dyed cloth to symbolize a country.

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symbolism and allegory

Symbolism and Allegory

Layers of Meaning

what symbols stand for
What Symbols Stand For
  • A symbol is often an ordinary object, event, person, or animal to which we have attached extraordinary meaning and significance.

We use a picture of a skull and crossbones to symbolize poison or danger.

  • We send red roses as a symbol of love.
where do symbols come from
Where Do Symbols Come From?
  • Symbols can be inherited or invented
  • The most familiar symbols have been inherited, meaning, they have been handed down over time

For example: no one really knows who first thought of using a lion as a symbol of power, courage and domination

  • Once these qualities were associated with the animal, images of lions appeared on flags, banners, coats of arms and castle walls
  • The lion became a public symbol that shows up in art and literature, even today!
  • Can you think of some examples of how lions are used as a symbol of courage and power?

People through out history have endowed ordinary objects with meanings far beyond their simple meaning,

A crown symbolizes royalty

An olive branch symbolizes peace

Five linked rings symbolize the Olympics


Writers often take a new object, character, or event and make it the embodiment of some human concern.

Some invented symbols in literature have become so widely known that they often have gained the status of public symbols.

  • Symbols can also be invented.
  • What is the symbol for our school?

For example: Peter Pan is a symbol for eternal childhood

why create symbols
Why Create Symbols?

You may ask why writers don’t just come right out and say what they mean.

  • Symbols allow writers to suggest layers and layers of meaning-possibilities that a simple, literal statement could never convey.
  • A symbol is like a pebble cast into a pond: It sends out ever widening ripples of meaning

In the short story Marigolds, a poor woman has no beauty in her world except the dazzling marigolds she plants around her ramshackle house. The children in the story, who are as poor as the old woman, hate the flowers and all that they stand for, In a moment of thoughtless hatred and violence, one girl destroys all the bright flowers.


While the flowers are REAL flowers in the story, we also get the sense that they symbolize something else, something larger than the flowers themselves…

What do you think the marigolds stand for?


Some readers might think they symbolize hope and beauty and that the children are so angry about their poverty that they want to destroy anything that expresses the beauty of another world.

  • Other readers will have different ideas about what the marigolds stand for, but most will agree that the marigolds work on more than just a literal level in the story.

You may not be able to articulate fully what a certain symbol means, but you will always find that the symbol, if it s powerful and well chosen, will speak forcefully to your emotions and to your imagination.

  • You may also find that you will remember and think about the symbol long after you have forgotten other parts.
allegory split level stories
Allegory: Split Level Stories
  • An allegory is a story in which characters, settings and actions stand for something beyond themselves.
  • In some types of allegories, the characters and setting represent abstract ideas of moral qualities.
  • In other types, characters and situations stand for historical figures and events.

An allegory can be read on one level for its literal or straightforward meaning

  • And on a second level for its symbolic, or allegorical, meaning.
  • Allegories are often intended to teach a moral lesson or to make a comment about goodness and vice.

Some of the most famous allegories feature characters and places whose names describe what they symbolize.


In an old English play called Everyman, the main character is named Everyman (he stands for exactly what his name indicates).

  • One day, Everyman is summoned by Death to give an accounting of his life
  • Everyman asks 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 until the end

  • The allegory in Everyman doesn’t get in the way of a very good story
  • In fact Everyman written in the 1400s, is still revived in theaters today and it still gets good reviews!
what are some more allegories
What Are Some More Allegories?

Here we have a picture of a serpent (snake) and an apple.

What are some things that come to mind when you see this image?

Often times, a serpent or snake is used to symbolize temptation or trouble. This allegory stems from it’s biblical reference.

What does the apple stand for?

symbolism vs allegory
Symbolism vs. Allegory
  • A symbol is a word, place, character, or object that means something beyond what it is on a literal level.
  • An allegory involves using many interconnected symbols or allegorical figures in such as way that in nearly every element of the narrative has a meaning beyond the literal level, i.e., everything in the narrative is a symbol that relates to other symbols within the story.
symbols and allegory in stories we have read
Symbols and Allegory in stories we have read

The Most Dangerous Game:

Zaroff: Allegory for ________________

Thank You M’am:

Shoes: Symbol for ________________


The Casks of Amontillado:

Fortunato: Symbol/Allegory for____________

The Sniper:

War: Allegory for_________________

examples of symbolism and allegory
Examples of Symbolism and Allegory

Now we will watch several video clips. Please follow the instructions on your worksheet.

introduction to symbolism
Introduction to Symbolism
  • Symbolism = an ordinary object, event, person, or animal to which we have attached extraordinary meaning and significance.