What Exactly Is Symbolism? Examining Literature Examples

Is it possible that you may improve your essay by simply modifying a few phrases in order to make it more fascinating and exciting? If you want to improve your work in a sophisticated way, symbolism is a wonderful instrument to use. This article will discuss symbolism and how to use it in your writing effectively.


What Exactly Is Symbolism?

Symbolism is a tool that allows you to give something a deeper meaning and a distinct quality by using symbols to do so. Characters are deeply ingrained in our speech without our awareness of it because they enrich our conversation, make sentences more elaborate, and vividly exemplify topics we discuss.

Consider the following examples:

  • A dove symbolizes peace.
  • A black cat represents ill-luck.
  • A white flag signifies an offering of reconciliation.

The majority of symbols are universal and may be comprehended by people from all walks of life and all walks of life. Although some of them are universal, others are culturally particular, and one must exercise caution so as not to offend someone or come across as misunderstood.


How Is Symbolism Employed in Literature?

Particular objects and terms represent things that are not literal in their meaning. Symbolism is typically used to give more profound and more significant sense to events, objects, and characters throughout the text and unify them and provide certain connotations. Authors employ symbolism to graphically represent difficult topics and to demonstrate a thread of certain recurring themes across their writing. Because most of the symbols are buried inside the text, they force the reader to think critically about what they are reading. It piques the reader’s interest in the symbolic use of one or more objects as symbols. If the subject matter of a book or an essay offends some readers, symbolism might be used to assist them to understand what is being said. As opposed to publicly discussing problematic matters, it can assist in communicating concepts that an author desires to address through the lens of a symbol, rather than directly addressing those ideas.

The use of symbolism in a piece of writing can also be done for the purpose of creating several levels of meaning in a story. This connotation is literal, yet it also conveys a more profound message. Beyond just delivering the story, it engages the reader on an emotional level by connecting him or her with the main characters. Reading these concealed symbolic connections and meanings, on the other hand, provides readers with an opportunity to peep into the writer’s head and gain an understanding of the objectives he had when he produced them.

What’s important to remember is that symbolism allows a writer to convey a notion to his or her readership in a poetic style that does not expose the concept immediately, leading the reader into a world full of gorgeous possibilities and convoluted connections.


Types of Symbolism in Literature

Numerous literary devices assist writers in employing symbolism in their works:



An allegory is a literary device that can be used to aid in the usage of symbolism in a story. The term is analogous to a metaphor in that it expresses the meaning of the thing rather than an exterior trait of similarity. The reader understands how a situation or problem at stake fits into the history of the world, art history, or a specific culture through the associations that allegory creates with the characters in writing.

William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” is an excellent example of literary allegory. A group of youngsters who have been abandoned on a lonely island owing to a plane catastrophe are shown in the passage as an allegory for society. A fictional island serves as a metaphor for the entire globe, while the conch shell represents law and order and the fire signifies devastation. With their role and character, each child represents a particular societal flaw, depicting people’s weaknesses in institutions such as religion, politics, morality, and many others.



Metaphor is a sort of figurative language that illustrates a subject’s traits by comparing them to something else, emphasizing their similarities or differences, or by contrasting them.

This scene from William Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy “As You Like It” serves as an excellent illustration of the use of metaphor:

It is said that “the whole world is a stage, and all the men and women are only players; they all have their exits and entrances…”

In this paragraph, he compares human life to a performance on a theatrical stage. Like anything else in life, a stage can have a variety of different plays performed on it. The space, like life, will come to an end sooner or later. He explains nature’s complicated and challenging laws, such as human mortality, by using this simple comparison. The final sentence alludes to people’s relationships and their significance in each other’s lives as “exits” and “entrances,” respectively, in the context of their respective lives.



The archetype is yet another literary device that is used to describe a human behavioral pattern that is typically universal throughout the world and may be used and understood in a variety of cultural contexts, such as in science fiction. The archetype can also be a specific location in space and time, as well as a common topic that all world people can relate to. Folk art and fairy tales are full of archetypes that have made their way into literature from their original forms.

The archetype of the hero is well-known and often employed. Some characteristics that define a hero are their mysterious birth circumstances, struggle and proving everyone who doubted them wrong, tragic events throughout their lives, and complicated and dangerous adventures. In J.K. Rowling’s series, Harry Potter, the main character is an excellent example of an archetype. In the Harry Potter book series, he was orphaned by Lord Voldemort, the ruthless dark wizard, and he battled him throughout the novel.



It is a figure of speech used when one thing is assigned some characteristics of another and is compared to it. The words “as” or “like” are commonly used to compare the two. It may sound similar to a metaphor, but a metaphor only implies something is identical to something else, whereas a simile expresses it directly. A great example of a simile can be found in Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”:

“A group of elderly American ladies leaning on their canes piled up in front of me like the towers of Pisa,” says the author.

When Nabokov remarks that canes remind him of the Tower of Pisa in this line, he is alluding to the Italian structure known as the Tower of Pisa, which is skewed to one side. Using this exquisite simile, the artist exhibits his intricate method of expressing himself regarding his education and development. Still, most importantly, it provides the reader with another visual of how these canes made him feel and how they might appear.



In writing, hyperbole exaggerates a person’s traits or characteristics, such as power, beauty, wealth, influence, strength, and many others. Magnification has a comic effect to help readers visualize the text’s strong points. In Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness,” the following passage serves as an example of hyperbole:

“I had to sit in the train station for ten days, which seemed like an eternity.”

The character used the metaphor of eternity to illustrate how uncomfortable, stressful, and draining it was for him to be detained in the station for ten days. Given the circumstances, it seemed like a considerably longer period of time than ten days.



An allusion is a reference to another mythological, religious, or historical person that is implied or references to them without directly acknowledging them. The use of allusion allows an author to present his content in a more complicated manner than would otherwise be possible. Various rhetorical figures necessitate the incorporation of preexisting knowledge and the association of the character or problem with external references by the audience.

For “Fahrenheit 451,” author Ray Bradbury makes reference to a historical catastrophe that occurred near the city of Pompeii, Italy, in 79 A.D. when a volcano called Vesuvius erupted and murdered the entire population, leaving the town completely buried in ash.

In the words of the author, “Mildred bolted from the parlor like a native fleeing an eruption of Vesuvius.”

This clear allusion further indicates that Mildred was fleeing something dreadful as quickly as she could because it would have killed her if she had not — just like every other citizen of Pompeii — and that she was not alone in her fear.



Conventional Symbols in Literature

Some literary symbols have been so firmly ingrained in the society that they have become conventional — something that is obvious to practically anybody since they immediately conjure up images and moods when they are discussed in casual conversation.

Anger, blood, love, and passion are just a few of the powerful emotions and characteristics that colors are often associated with. Blue represents calmness and peace of mind, while green represents wealth, envy, and nature; white represents purity, innocence, and spiritualism; and purple represents royalty, to name a few.

Seasons are typically associated with a person’s age: spring represents youth and freshness, the beginning of something new; winter represents older adults or even death, the pinnacle of one’s life; summer represents the pinnacle of development, the prime of one’s life; fall represents decay, negative change, middle life, and the process of growing older.

There are numerous other examples of symbolism in everyday life: Light represents good, hope, and freedom; darkness represents bad luck, tragedy, evil, and the unknown; wind represents change in life, speed, transition, inability to change things, and destruction; and a rainbow represents hope for the better.

Some objects and animals can also carry symbolic meaning: a dove represents peace; a snake represents evil; a horse represents phallic sexuality; a ring represents fidelity and happiness; a broken mirror represents bad luck and misfortune, and a chain represents unity or imprisonment.


Symbolism in Writing: How to Use It

As we’ve seen, there are various literary tools available to help you use symbolism in your writing. Understanding their purpose and using them as examples will help you incorporate them into your essay more effectively. In writing, symbolism serves a variety of functions.

When you use symbolism in your writings, one of the things you may do is to infuse them with emotion. In Ellie Wiesel’s novel “Night,” the concept of night, with its darkness and mystery, is used to depict the negative feelings, sadness, despair, and death experienced by captive Jews in a concentration camp during World War II.

Another role it could perform in your paper is to link together different ideas. Throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, the color green suggests wealth and lust for money, a desire to get rich regardless of moral issues, a luxurious lifestyle, and grandeur.

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

“Mockingbirds do nothing except singing their hearts out for us, and that is all they do. That is why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird in the United States.”

The best time to include symbols in your essay is after you have finished writing and can look for places where they can be best incorporated out of the entire body of text. Symbolism should not be your primary focus when writing. Instead, concentrate on the story’s and characters’ strong points. Symbolism is simply a way to enhance an already vital piece. It only enhances the story, bringing it to life and highlighting its complexity to the reader.



It is not difficult to incorporate symbolism into your writing. Metaphor, allegory, hyperbole, allusion, archetype, and all of the other literary devices discussed in this article are excellent tools for turning your essay into a work of art. A simple comparison of one thing to another can significantly improve the text, demonstrate your semantic abilities, and make the text look beautiful overall, much like a flower. Do you see what I did there? I’m guessing it’s not that difficult.