Symbolism is a technique used in literature when some things are not to be taken literally. The symbolism can be an object, person, situation, events or actions that have a deeper meaning in context. This technique can enhance writing and give insight to the reader.
Symbolism in Poems
- In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”, the black bird stands for death and loss.
- In William Blake’s “Ah Sunflower”, the sunflower represents people and the sun represents life:
Ah Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveler’s journey is done;
- In William Wordsworth’s “She Dwelt Amoung Untrodden Ways” innocence and beauty are shown with these phrases:
"A violet by a mossy stone" and "Fair as a star, when only one is shining in the sky."
- In Sara Teasdale’s “Wild Asters”, ‘spring’ and ‘daisies’ are symbols of youth and ‘bitter autumn’ is a symbol of death:
In the spring, I asked the daisies
If his words were true,
And the clever, clear-eyed daisies
Now the fields are brown and barren,
Bitter autumn blows,
And of all the stupid asters
Not one knows.
- In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the albatross can be seen as standing for a burden you must bear:
Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
Symbolism in Books, Plays & Screenplays
- In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the letter 'A' symbolized adultery.
- In Shakespeare’s As you Like It, ‘stage’ symbolizes the world and ‘players’ symbolize men and women:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
they have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
- In Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, ‘Wuthering’ represents the wild nature of the inhabitants:
My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it; I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath a source of little visible delight, but necessary.
- In Elie Wiesel’s novel Night, night is used throughout the book to represent death, darkness, and loss of faith.
- In the movie The Wizard of Oz, the storm symbolizes high emotions and occurred when those emotions were present.
- In the movie trilogy Star Wars, Luke was dressed in light colors and Darth Vader was dressed in black, showing good vs evil
- In Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, a plant on the windowsill symbolizes needs and hope, like a plant needs the sun to grow, we have needs.
- In Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the Grinch steals the symbols of Christmas, like trees, presents and food, to find out in the end Christmas was more than those things.
- In Hansel and Gretel, bread symbolizes comfort and bread crumbs symbolize the way home.
- In Elizabeth Barret Browning’s Aurora Leigh, women’s work is symbolized as being undervalued:
The works of women are symbolical.
We sew, sew, prick our fingers, dull our sight,
Producing what? A pair of slippers, sir,
To put on when you're weary.
- In the Lone Ranger, silver bullets represent justice by law:
A symbol which means justice by law. I want to become known to all who see the silver bullets that I live and fight to see the eventual defeat and proper punishment by law of every criminal in the West.
Symbolism in Harry Potter
Here are examples of symbolism in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling:
- Harry’s scar is like a badge of honor because he survived a battle. It also stands for emotional sensitivity, since it hurts when someone directs hate towards him.
- The name of Albus Dumbledore: Dumbledore means bumblebee in Old English and he liked to hum. Albus means "white” which may symbolize a white wizard or good wizard.
- The Golden Snitch represents the spiritual enlightenment every ‘seeker’ aims for.
- Veritaserum: ‘verity’ means truth and ‘serum’ means fluid, so this potion makes people tell the truth.
- Knockturn Alley: Knockturn sounds like nocturnal and the Dark Arts are practiced at night.
These examples of symbolism in literature show how a few words can provide a much deeper, and different, meaning.