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Symbolism and Allegory: Decoding Hidden Meanings in Literary Works

While literature can be a form of entertainment for many, it can also be a home for symbolism and allegory. The reason for that is they are excellent ways of helping the author to be able to send a much deeper message to its readers.

At times, this information can be hidden, meaning the readers need to look deeper at the writing and study it to find the concealed meaning inside. It is also important to note that these are two opposing approaches, and readers must use different tactics to decipher them.

Symbolism – working to unwrap what isn’t said

A true cornerstone of literary expression is Symbolism. It can use many literary devices, from characters to actions, special events and times, and even objects. Any of these can be used as a signal for something more than what they are literally there for. The symbols are crafted within the texts and are meant to be a connection or, say, a bridge between the real world and the abstract world. The abstract world is one with a blend of concepts and emotions that can tie back to the real world through the use of these shared symbols.

The best way to see these symbols can be through famous examples such as the Mockingbird in To Kill A Mockingbird. The mockingbird is a symbol of innocence, and eventually, the mockingbird is killed, symbolizing that innocence is being destroyed and eliminated.

Another classic example is Moby Dick, which has a boat captain looking for a specific white whale to kill. Yet, in essence, this white whale symbolizes the captain’s relentless pursuit and obsession, as well as chasing something that is unknowable and most likely unattainable.

While there is a literal aspect in both of these examples, it is up to us, as the reader, to dive deeper into the actual meaning and bring a new layer of concept into the conversation. The action on the surface level can be enough for entertainment purposes, but the symbols beneath help with our critical thinking and getting a better understanding of what they were meant to represent.

Allegory – building a journey and adventure into the abstract

Allegory is a much more expressive form of Symbolism and goes beyond just a focal point of Symbolism to get its message across. It is meant to convey a much more broad message that typically covers morality or even political climates. The characters and the story itself are intended to represent these abstract ideas and can be a mirror image of the specific topic that’s being explored.

A classic example that’s also quite a short read is Animal Farm. It’s the story of animals on a farm and comes off as cute and innocent, but it is actually a cleverly veiled critique of totalitarianism and, some even say the Russian Revolution. It starts simple enough with animals who can speak and discuss their rights and that there should be a revolution. The pigs in the story are the leaders of the said revolution, but eventually, they become the corruption of the ruling class that they were looking to overthrow in the first place.

Allegory helps to, at times, simplify and make complex situations more digestible by being able to put it in a story-like case where the reader is then able to transport themselves from the print on the paper to the more abstract message that is hiding behind the words themselves.

Interpreting these meanings

This is the ultimate quest for the reader. Whenever a book is picked up and read, it’s up to the reader to become the investigator and search for those hidden and more profound messages. It may even require, at times, a few rereads to better understand what the author was trying to say. It can be difficult as the stories are meant for entertainment purposes, and looking for hidden meanings embedded either through Symbolism or allegory can be difficult initially. Some authors and writers intend these meanings to be found while others are purely subjective to individual people.

Yet when these are discovered, the reader needs to focus on the symbol or allegory and consider the overall context of these literary tools as a whole. Work on the associations and connections throughout the story, and you will unveil the true meaning behind the writing itself. Some of the messages can be profound and resonate with the reader and would not have been seen without this different perspective. This factor really enhances the appeal and worth of writing and putting it into a less literal setting has a lasting impact.

Why not just be clearer in the writing?

Symbolism and allegory are all about literature enrichment. There is plenty of dry content out there that may describe the situation in a clearer way than an allegory. Still, the idea is about adding a layer of complexity to the writing and narrative as well as exploring universal themes. It’s also used as a literary tool to help display complex emotions and challenge the status quo of social norms.

It gets the reader to see a concept or idea through a different point of view, and thus helps to open the reader’s mind to additional context and meaning. It can also be quite fun for a reader to search for symbolism or allegory in literature where possible.

In the end

These techniques showcase just how important literary works continue to be and even in modern times where the medium may have changed. Yet when authors can do it properly and readers end up picking up on the clues and direction the author is taking them, it becomes a fantastic reading that enriches our personal lives. We can open up our thinking by taking in different writing and understanding it from all its less obvious elements.

It’s not about rushing to find out what happens in the end or getting different content quickly. It’s taking a slower route of focus to get the message hidden in the story itself.