SYMBOLS IN FICTION English Compostion 2
Defining symbolism • A symbol, in literature, is any object, image, character, or action (something physically
present in the story) that suggests meaning beyond itself.
• Another way of saying this: A symbol is something real that represents a “big idea”
• Symbols in everyday life are very common. Consider a flag, like the American flag. It is a physical object that represents “big ideas” to people: maybe justice, freedom, or as association with the American military. The physical value or literal meaning of all flags (American, Texas, French) is essentially the same – they’re colored fabric stitched together. But the meaning of the American flag is bigger than the physical flag itself.
• The same is true with literary symbols. Authors intentionally include objects or images in their stories to represent bigger ideas and relate to the overall meaning of the story.
• In “Everyday Use,” the quilt is a symbol of the bonds and connections between the characters, and of the importance of family legacy.
The importance of symbols
• Symbols in literature enhance our understanding of the material. Imagine the story “Everyday Use” with no quilt, or the story “The Lottery” with no black box.
• Symbols can sometimes have more than one meaning, which allows readers to create their own understanding of a story. Things are more meaningful to us when we read and interpret them than they are when someone just says “here’s the meaning….”
• Symbols, when included in stories, usually help point us to the theme, or overall meaning of the story.
How to identify symbols
• Consider items that are described in great detail – in a way that stands out to you.
• Consider how important an item is to the events and characters.
• Consider what items are repeatedly referred to, related to the title, or important to the main character.
• Not all items are symbols, and not all stories make deliberate use of symbolism. Symbols are important to the author and the story, so they should be pretty clearly important as you read the story.
• For example, if a character simply walks through a door, it may not be a symbol. If a character describes a door in great detail and references it repeatedly, and walks through it when they make an important choice, it’s definitely a symbol!
Symbols in stories we’ve read…
• “The Lottery” – The black box is referred to many times, plays an important role in the events of the story, and is described in great detail. The color black relates to the “darkness” of the lottery, and of course is a color often associated with death.
• “Everyday Use” – The quilt is the central item in the story and is dearly important to two of the characters. It represents a family’s connections (how people are “stitched” together), and the importance of the past and of a family legacy (it is an heirloom being passed down). These ideas of family and the past and closely tied to the story’s overall meaning.
• When you read the stories in this lesson, consider how important the symbols are to the meaning of the stories.
- Symbols In fiction
- Defining symbolism
- The importance of symbols
- How to identify symbols
- Symbols in stories we’ve read…