What Is Symbolism Reviewing Examples in Literature

Have you ever considered changing just a few lines in your essay to make it more entertaining and interesting? Symbolism is an excellent tool for improving your paper in a sophisticated manner. In this article, we will discuss symbolism and how to effectively use it in your own writing.


  • What Is Symbolism?
  • Symbolism in Literature: How Does It Work?
  •  Different Types of Symbolism in Literature
    • Metaphor
    • Simile
    • Allegory
    • Archetype
    • Allusion
    • Hyperbole
  • Literature’s Typical Symbols
  • Techniques for Using Symbolism in Writing
  • Conclusion
  • Writing Help

What Is Symbolism?

Symbolism is a tool that uses symbols to give objects a deeper meaning and a different quality. Symbols are deeply ingrained in our speech without our being aware of it because they enrich our conversation, make sentences more elaborate, and vividly exemplify topics we discuss.

For instance:
A dove represents peace, a black cat represents bad luck, and a white flag represents a peace offering.

Most symbols are universal and can be understood by people from all over the world. However, some of them are culturally specific, and one should exercise caution to avoid offending anyone or being misunderstood.

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Symbolism in Literature: How Does It Work?

Certain objects and terms represent things that are not literal in their meaning. Symbolism is typically used to give deeper and more significant meaning to events, objects, and characters throughout the text, as well as to unify them and give certain connotations. Authors use symbolism to visually express complex concepts and to show a thread of certain recurring themes in their writing. Because most symbols are hidden in the text, they force the reader to engage in critical thinking. It piques the reader’s interest in the metaphorical use of one or more objects as symbols. If the subject matter of a book or an essay offends some readers, symbolism can help. It can aid in the expression of ideas that an author wishes to address through the lens of a symbol, as opposed to openly discussing contentious issues.

Another reason a writer might use symbolism in his work is to create multiple levels of meaning in his story. This meaning is not only literal, but it also has a deeper meaning. Aside from simply telling the story, it connects the reader with his story on a different, emotional level. Readers, on the other hand, enjoy discovering these hidden symbolic ties and meanings because it allows them to peer into the writer’s mind and get a sense of what intentions he had when he created them.

The bottom line is that symbolism allows a writer to introduce a concept to his audience in a poetic way that does not reveal the concept right away, luring the reader into his world full of beautiful implications and complicated ties.

Different Types of Symbolism in Literature

There are numerous literary devices that assist writers in employing symbolism in their works:



Metaphor is a type of figurative language that demonstrates a subject’s characteristics through comparison with something else, their similarity or contrast between them. A great example of a metaphor can be found in William Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy “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 …”

In this passage, he compares human life to a stage. A stage, like anything else in life, can have a variety of different plays performed on it. The play, like life, will come to an end sooner or later. He explains the complicated and difficult laws of nature, such as human mortality, by using this simple comparison. The final phrase refers to people’s relationships and their significance in each other’s lives as “exits” and “entrances.”



In this passage, he compares human life to a stage. A stage, like anything else in life, can have a variety of different plays performed on it. The play, like life, will come to an end sooner or later. He explains the complicated and difficult laws of nature, such as human mortality, by using this simple comparison. The final phrase refers to people’s relationships and their significance in each other’s lives as “exits” and “entrances.”

“Elderly American ladies leaning on canes listed towards me like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

Nabokov says in this passage that ladies’ canes remind him of the Tower of Pisa, a building in Pisa, Italy, that is tilted to the side. This lovely simile demonstrates the artist’s elaborate way of expressing his thoughts, how educated and developed he is, but most importantly, it provides the reader with another visual of how these canes made him feel and how they might appear.



An allegory is another literary device that aids in the use of symbolism. It is similar to a metaphor in that it expresses the meaning of the object, rather than an external characteristic of likeness. The reader gains an understanding of 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 a good example of literary allegory. There, he compares society to a group of children who have been stranded on a deserted island as a result of a plane crash and are attempting to survive. The island in the book represents the entire world, the conch symbolizes law and order, and the fire signifies destruction. Each child, with his or her role and character, represents a particular societal flaw, depicting people’s flaws in institutions such as religion, politics, morality, and many others.

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Another literary device used to represent a human behavioral pattern that is usually universal throughout the world and can be applied and understood in many cultures is the archetype. The archetype can also be a location in space and time, or a common theme shared by all citizens of the world. Many archetypes originated in folk art and fairy tales and found their way into literature.

The hero is a well-known and widely used archetype. Some of the 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. Harry Potter, the main character in J.K. Rowling’s series, is a great example of an archetype. He was orphaned by Lord Voldemort, the cruel dark wizard, and fought him throughout the book series.


An allusion is used to imply or refer to another mythological, religious, or historical figure without explicitly mentioning them. The use of allusion enables an author to deliver his text using complex language. Various rhetorical figures require readers to incorporate prior knowledge and associate the character or problem in question with external references.

Ray Bradbury uses a reference to a historical tragedy that occurred in 79 A.D. near the city of Pompeii, Italy, when a volcano called Vesuvius erupted and killed the entire population, leaving the city covered in ashes, in his book “Fahrenheit 451.”

“Mildred ran from the parlor like a native fleeing an eruption of Vesuvius.”

By using this explicit allusion, Bradbury explains that Mildred was fleeing something terrible as fast as she could, because it would have killed her if she hadn’t — just like every other resident of Pompeii.


In writing, hyperbole is used to exaggerate a person’s trait or characteristic, such as power, beauty, wealth, influence, strength, and many others. Hyperbole has an amusing effect when used to help readers visualize the text’s strong points. A line from Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is an example of hyperbole:

“I had to wait in the station for ten days — an eternity.”

To express how painful, worrying, and exhausting it was for the character to be stuck in the station for ten days, he compares it to an eternity. It was only ten days, but given the circumstances, it felt much longer.

Literature’s Typical Symbols

Some literary symbols have become so deeply embedded in culture that they have become conventional — obvious to almost anyone, because they instantly conjure up images and moods when they are mentioned.

Colors are often associated with powerful emotions and characteristics, such as anger, blood, love, or passion; blue — calmness and peace of mind; green — wealth, jealousy, nature; white — purity, innocence, spiritualism; and purple — royalty, among many others.

In most cases, seasons are associated with age: spring — youth and freshness, the beginning of something new; winter — elderly people or even death, the pinnacle of one’s life; summer — the pinnacle of development, the prime of life; fall — decay, negative change, middle life, 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.

Techniques for Using Symbolism in Writing

As we’ve seen, there are a variety of literary tools available to help you use symbolism in your own writing. Understanding their function and examples allows you to incorporate them into your essay. Symbolism serves many purposes in writing.

Adding emotion to your essays is one of the things you can do with symbolism. The concept of night, its darkness and mystery, is used as a symbol of negative emotions, tragedy, despair, and death suffered by incarcerated Jews in the concentration camp in Ellie Wiesel’s “Night.”

Another function it could play in your paper is to connect themes. The color green is used throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” to suggest wealth and lust for money, a desire to get rich regardless of moral issues, a luxury lifestyle, and grandeur.

You might also be interested in reading The Great Gatsby through the eyes of Daisy Buchanan. ‍

Another thing a person can do with symbolism is define a character. The character of Tom in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is suggested to be innocent because he was hurt, but he, like a mockingbird, is harmless.

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

The best time to include symbols in your essay is after you have finished writing and can look for places where it 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 strong piece. It only serves to enhance the story, bringing it to life and highlighting its complexity to the reader.


It is not difficult to incorporate symbolism into your own 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 greatly 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.

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