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What Symbolism in Writing Is and How to Use It for the Best Effect

Date published: | Lisa Barlow

What Symbolism in Writing Is and How to Use It for the Best Effect BuyessayfriendCom

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The Use of Symbolism in Writing

Symbolism in written and oral communication uses symbols in the form of images or words that convey a hidden idea. Our everyday life involves a lot of symbols that help us understand our environment better. They can be colors, flags, signs, or icons. For example, when we want to find a restroom in a public place, we look for pictures of a man or woman on the door. The green color symbolizes permission, so when we see it on the crossing, we understand that it is safe to go.

Symbolism is widely used in literature, too. Writers often use it to communicate their messages or ideas to readers. It helps the visualization of some objects or emotions. It can be a straightforward illustration or a set of words that describe the author’s vision.

How Does Symbolism Work in Writing?

This device is helpful when the author wants to associate the words with specific concepts, people, or events. It can be either general or specific. For example, in ‘Night’ by Elie Wiesel, the night is the overall symbol of death and loss of faith in people who try to survive in a Nazi concentration camp.

Authors like to use symbolism as a powerful literary device that helps make their images more vivid and impressive for readers. Such well-known literary devices as metaphor or allegory are often considered as certain kinds of symbolism. They are used to communicate ideas that, for some reason, cannot be expressed literally.

An allegory is a complete literary work, for example, ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell. Or symbolism can be an inseparable part of a story, such as in verse ‘Fire and Ice’ by Robert Frost, where both concepts symbolize destructive human emotions.

Characteristics of Symbolism

The most important characteristic feature of symbolism is the use of an image that means something different from its literal understanding. When the author intends to focus readers’ attention on it, this image is repeated throughout the story. For example, when we read about someone’s deep black eyes, we imagine a cruel or reserved person.

Symbolism can be featured in names. It is characteristic of J.K. Rowling Harry Potter series. For example, Knockturn Alley is associated with nighttime, darkness, and evil. When you know nothing about the story when you start reading it, you can see the symbolism in names only when you read it to the end.

When Is Symbolism Appropriate?

Authors prefer to use symbolism in their works when they cannot find the proper literal expression of their ideas. Let’s compare these two sentences:

– He looked at his watch and understood that he had lost a lot of time by then.

+ He looked at his watch, and its dark face reminded him of the void where all his days and nights had sunk in vain.

The second sentence expresses the idea of wasted time better due to the symbolic dark color of the watch’s face. When you include symbols in your written work, it does not mean that you are going to avoid literal descriptions. The main role it plays in the text is making these literal descriptions more vivid and emotionally understandable.

Every kind of fiction uses symbolism. Non-fiction works can contain it, too, for example, blog posts and essays. It can be encountered in song lyrics, television, and visual arts. However, academic writing does not support the use of symbolism if it is not about this literary phenomenon. If you write an academic essay about the use of symbolism in the works of a certain author, you can use this device to illustrate your points of view.

Symbolism Types

The types of symbolism are the ways authors use symbols in their work.

Symbolism of Color

Colors are often associated with emotions and psychology. For example, we perceive red as a symbol of prohibition, anger, or passion. Blue is related to peaceful environments. Colors can also be associated with some events, settings, or reactions to them.

Symbolism of Animals

There are many animal symbols that are well understood by everyone. For instance, a dove is a symbol of peace, while an eagle is a symbol of freedom and courage. You often see a lion as a symbol of royalty or bravery or an owl symbolizing wisdom and knowledge.

Common Thing Symbolism

Many objects of our everyday life can become symbols in literature. For example, an apple is usually a symbol of temptation, while a skull symbolizes danger.

Some symbolic images may differ in their perception by culture. Yellow is associated with joy and happiness in the USA. At the same time, the Japanese see it as a symbol of courage or loyalty. Be aware of misunderstandings that may emerge on this basis. The Japanese writer dresses the character in yellow when they want to demonstrate its courage and strength, while Americans may think that this character is light-minded and playful.

How Is Symbolism Used

Symbolism can often be apparent in the story. For example, the One Ring in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is the symbol of fame, the central theme of the novel. In other cases, symbolism is hidden. It sends readers the message of how to perceive something subconsciously.

That is why, before using symbolism, ask yourself what message – straightforward or hidden – you would like to communicate to your readers. If you want to say that your personal story about finding the lost keys is about something bigger than simply a big relief in the situation, think about how to express this hidden meaning. If your idea is to show that this person is not worth anyone’s trust, pick out images or colors that will demonstrate it.

You can show that some things from our everyday environment are not exactly what we know about them and can produce unexpected conclusions by using symbolism for this purpose. Make the allusions, like ‘a pair of slippers one mindlessly slips into at night’ in your personal essay to show that you are not a girl that can be underestimated only because of your gender. Personify water, flowers, butterflies, or trees to show someone’s love for nature or strive for freedom and self-expression.

When Symbolism Can Be False

The image used by the author in the text can remind you of the symbol of something but, in fact, it does not have any extra meaning. It is called false symbolism. For example, Tolkien has often argued that his ‘Lord of the Rings’ has nothing to do with the allegory of World War the Second. However, people continue to believe that it is such an allegory.

If you want to convey your thoughts and opinions straightforwardly, do your best to protect your readers against making the wrong assumptions about what you mean. It is important for new writers. You can explain what you have meant by your symbols many times. Though, as soon as your work is published and read by many, you lose control over its possible interpretations.

Examples of Symbolism

We can find many examples of symbolism not only in literature but in other fields of human life, too. Every sphere of life may have its symbols. We may not even think about that when coming across them. For example, do you know why NASA’s mission to the Moon was called Apollo? Apollo is the name of the ancient Greek god of light. According to the myth, Apollo rides the chariot to the Sun. The overall vision of human missions to the Moon was to focus on the monumental scale of scientific progress that can bring light to humanity.

Let’s consider other examples of symbolism in different fields:

  • green in Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ as the symbol of wealth and well-being;
  • the ‘memento mori’ conceptual pieces of art and tiny objects as a symbol of human mortality;
  • water as a symbol of life in many literary works and architectural constructions;
  • the unusual shape of the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku symbolizes the cultural tradition and readiness to overcome problems.

There are many other examples in architecture, fine arts, literature, cultural traditions, and everyday items that symbolize something important for those who see and use them.

Final Thoughts

Now, when you know what symbolism in writing is, you can think about other examples of its use. You can introduce it into your writing work to convey your thoughts and ideas to your readers. However, you need to be clear and straightforward if you do not want other people to misunderstand you and give their interpretations of what you want to tell them.