Symbolism is the practice or art of using an object or a word to represent an abstract idea. An action, person, place, word, or object can all have a symbolic meaning. When an author wants to suggest a certain mood or emotion, he can also use symbolism to hint at it, rather than just blatantly saying it.
Symbolism in Literature
Symbolism is often used by writers to enhance their writing. Symbolism can give a literary work more richness and color and can make the meaning of the work deeper.
In literature, symbolism can take many forms including:
- A figure of speech where an object, person, or situation has another meaning other than its literal meaning.
- The actions of a character, word, action, or event that have a deeper meaning in the context of the whole story.
Metaphors As Symbolism
A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses symbolism.
- It compares two things that are not similar and shows that they actually do have something in common.
- In a metaphor, there is an additional meaning to a word. This makes it an example of symbolism.
Examples of symbolism that take the form of metaphors include:
- Time is money: This is symbolic because it warns you that when you spend your time, you are giving up the opportunity to be doing something else with that time (just as when you spend your money, you give up your chance to do something else with the money). Further, like money, time is not infinite.
- Life is a roller-coaster: This is symbolic because it indicates that there will be ups and downs in life that you have to weather.
- He is a rock: This is symbolic because it signifies that he is strong and dependable.
- Love is a jewel: This is symbolic because it suggests that love is rare and pressure.
Allegory As Symbolism
Sometimes symbolism takes the form of a literary tool called an allegory. Allegory is an extended use of symbolism and metaphors. A story, a poem, or even a whole book can be an allegory and the symbolism will permeate throughout.
One example of an allegory is the monologue from Shakespeare in “As You Like It.”
“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,”
This is symbolic of the fact that people are putting on a show and that they play many roles over the course of their lives.
Symbolism in Poetry
Many poets used symbolism to deepen the meaning of their poems. Here is an excerpt from William Blake's “Ah Sunflower.” In it, Blake refers to life cycle and uses sunflowers to represent humankind and that they desire everlasting 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;”
Symbolism in Everyday Life
Our language contains an immense number of symbols whose intended meaning or significance is well-known and accepted by the majority. Of course, many of these do wind up in books, magazines, stories, and other written works.
Symbolism is found in colors:
- Black is used to represent death or evil.
- White stands for life and purity.
- Red can symbolize blood, passion, danger, or immoral character.
- Purple is a royal color.
- Yellow stands for violence or decay.
- Blue represents peacefulness and calm.
Objects are often used to symbolize something else:
- A chain can symbolize the coming together of two things.
- A ladder can represent the relationship between heaven and earth or ascension.
- A mirror can denote the sun but when it is broken, it can represent an unhappy union or a separation.
Flowers as Symbols
Even flowers can have a symbolism:
- Roses stand for romance.
- Violets represent shyness.
- Lilies stand for beauty and temptation.
- Chrysanthemums represent perfection.
Symbolism, as you see, can be found almost anywhere. Any time there is something that represents more than its literal meaning, this can be an example of symbolism.
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"Examples of Symbolism." YourDictionary, n.d. Web. 21 September 2018. <http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-symbolism.html>.
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