An allegory falls in line with the moral of a story. While an allegory is a story, poem, or picture, it’s used to reveal a hidden meaning or message, like the moral. Allegories are exciting because they use characters and events to convey a meaning. They don’t just come right out and say it.
It’s fun to sniff out the artist’s intent and see what you can walk away with after you’ve read a piece of writing or studied a piece of art. It’s safe to say the creator’s intent is always to inspire, whether that’s to elicit an emotional response or get you to think about something in a new or different way.
Allegory in Literature
The beauty of literature is that it’s jam-packed with rhetorical devices. An author never needs to bluntly state their intended moral. Rather, they can express it through moving scenes, jarring dialogue, and inventive characters. Let’s take a look at a few great examples of allegory in literature.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell is a political allegory pertaining to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of communism. It outlines the different classes in society through the depiction of animals. For a deeper dive into Animal Farm, check out Examples in Books of Allegory.
- Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel is an allegory for the monumental pain and suffering experienced by victims of the Holocaust.
- Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser is a moral allegory where each character represents a virtue or a vice. Specifically, the Red-Cross Knight represents holiness, Lady Una stands for goodness and the one true faith, Una's parents symbolize the human race, and the dragon represents evil.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is a religious allegory. In it, we find that Aslan the lion represents Christ or God, the White Witch represents evil, and Edmund represents Judas as the betrayer.
- The Lord of the Flies by William Golding presents allegories about society, morality, and religion, to name a few. Specifically, the island represents the whole world, the conch stands for law and order, and the fire represents hope and destruction.
- The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe is an allegory for death. The moral is no man escapes death.
- Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan is a spiritual allegory. It tells the story of a man’s journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, representative of the journey to Heaven.
- Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an allegory using the Devil's staff to defy God and eat the forbidden fruit.
Allegory in Art
Visual art is a method of sharing ideas without using a single word. Everything from the colors on the canvas to the actual depiction tells a story and is intended to sway a mood.
Allegory in Movies
Every story has a moral and, surely, every screenplay has a moral. Movies are more than an exciting sequence of events. Even the greatest action films are more than death defying stunt after stunt. Bravery, loyalty, and tenacity can be expressed in nearly any genre. Here are some examples in film:
- In Avatar, Pandora Woods represents the Amazon rainforest, a sanctuary from industry and development, which has no regard for nature but to pillage it for its bankable resources.
- Blade Runner represents the relationship between mankind and technology. It exacerbates technology’s ability to leave the world devoid of human interaction.
- Fight Club is an allegory for nonconformity. A man bored with his job meets another man, attracted to violence, and they go on to create an underground world that would never be categorized as “normal” human behavior.
- Network represents the many ways in which mass media controls people. This is clearly seen in the opening and closing shots containing four television screens.
- The Seventh Seal is a blatant allegory for death. In fact, death appears to the knight and challenges him to a life or death game of chess.
- In The Wizard of Oz, the lion represents cowardice, while the scarecrow stands for the agrarian past, given his lack of a brain. The tin man represents the technological future, given he has no heart.
- Wall-E is a moral-based allegory that teaches people to protect the Earth. The entire movie revolves around Wall-E and Eve, who are trying to save an abandoned Earth. In the end, the humans plant a green stem and water it, symbolizing their commitment to save the planet.
- Zootopia is a film steeped in allegories pertaining to tolerance and equality. In fact, the society, as a whole, is made up of predators and prey. And when a little bunny, Judy Hoops, fulfills her lifelong dream to become a police officer, the chief of police expresses major concern in her ability to do her job, based on her slight figure.
Hidden Messages Abound
Aren’t we always trying to “read” people and understand the world around us? Every time we dive into a new novel or settle down for a Netflix marathon, we’re bound to come upon allegories. We’re all sleuths in our own right, trying to make sense of the world around us. The arts simply act as another envoy to life’s intrigues.
Think about your favorite book or film. Can you pinpoint the allegory? If so, share your thoughts in the comments below!