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Symbolism and Allegory

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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.

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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 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 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
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Symbols in Literature
Writers use symbols to suggest layers of meaning that a simple, literal statement could never convey speak more powerfully to the readers emotions and imagination make their stories rich and memorable

Symbols in Literature
Quick Check
The most prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread on it. . . . An pergne 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? . . . Its a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!
from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

What might the cake symbolize in this passage?

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

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Allegory
Allegorya story in which characters, setting, and actions stand for something beyond themselves, such as abstract ideas

moral qualities
historical figures or events

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

Allegory
Characters and places in allegories often have names that reveal their symbolic significance: Characters Death Vanity Good Deeds Ignorance Places Celestial City Vanity Fair Hill of Difficulty Valley of Fear

Allegory
Quick Check
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 do you think Everyman, the main character of the allegory, stands for?

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

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

Practice

A. Think about the great number of symbols were surrounded by in everyday life. For starters, identify what the items below stand for. Then, see if you can explain the basis for the symbolwhy is this symbol appropriate for what it stands for? A snake An eagle An owl A white flag

Spring
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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]

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