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Symbolism Group Work


  • The practice of representing things by symbols or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character. 



  • The study of symbolism really began to become prominent in the late 18th century.
  • The Symbolism Manifesto, published by Jean Moreas, was an important step.
  • Baudelaire, Poe, and other writers greatly influenced the study of symbolism.
  • In more modern times, theorists like Kristeva, Derrida, and Barthes have greatly enhanced and developed the advanced literary study of symbols.  


How, What, Why, Huh

  • Symbolism gives literature more detail and depth, enhancing plot, theme, and characters. 
  • Authorial intent may differ from what a reader observes during close reading. Your mileage will vary. This is too bad for the author.
  • Religious, cultural, and temporal factors can influence how a symbol is read or intended by a reader/author. Knowing and understanding contemporary historical/political/literary/scientific issues will greatly aide your understanding of a text.  
  • Getting a head start on understanding symbolism and symbols will great accentuate your upper level and/or graduate level literary study.  



  • Traditional / universal: items whose symbolic value has been used or seen in previous literature (i.e. flags symbolizing patriotism or allegiance to a group)

  • Original / unique: items whose symbolic value either has never been seen before or has never been used in this way (i.e. a family heirloom)

  • Simile: comparisons between unlike things using “like” or “as” (i.e. “She ran as fast as lightning”)

  • Metaphor: comparisons between unlike things without using “like” or “as” (i.e. “My life is one long roller coaster ride”)

  • Conceit: when a simple metaphor extends throughout an entire work of literature (see Donne’s “The Flea”)

  • Metonymy: representing a thing by referring to something associated with it (i.e. “the crown of England”; “another meeting with the suits”)

  • Analogy: drawing a comparison between things to make one of them clearer and more recognizable

  • Allusion: making reference to something from history as a means of establishing familiarity (i.e. literary, Biblical, religious, historical, biographical)

  • Allegory: a story which, in its entirety, has metaphoric value

  • Parable: a shorter story or tale which is allegorical and contains a moral or message 

  • Fable: a short allegorical story utilizing animals as characters

  • Fairy tale: an allegorical story containing fantastic events and unrealistic settings 

  • Archetype: a character which is modeled after an established literary form (see Understanding Literary Archetypes

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