You might already be familiar with some of the many literary devices writers use, but what is symbolism in English?

Symbolism in literature is a symbolic language tool where an image, object, idea, or symbol is used to represent something other than its literal meaning. It is a common technique used by writers in fiction and non-fiction texts to emphasize a theme or make a point about the nature of a story.

Symbols are often hidden within the plot of a story, and readers must analyze the meaning of a text to find them. This makes symbolism an advantageous feature of literature when used well.

Symbolism is a more advanced figurative language that pupils aren’t expected to know at the primary school level, but it still exists all around us – even in early children’s literature. This makes it a valuable topic to know about for any age group. If your curious children want to know why the villain of a story wears dark clothes or even why eggs are associated with Easter, this Wiki will come in handy!

How is symbolism used?

Now that we know the answer to ‘what is symbolism in English?’, let’s talk about why writers use it.

In terms of narrative, symbolism helps the author communicate deeper and more nuanced concepts, adding additional layers of meaning to a story without necessarily explaining it.

In classic and popular literature, the color black is used as a symbol of death. Therefore, if an author chooses to dress their character in this color, it could symbolize ill fate or something dreadful. Alternatively, if an author has his character present another character with a red rose, we would typically see that representing a feeling of love.

As well as feelings and emotions, symbolism can be used to communicate abstract ideas that take some close reading to figure out. A well-known example is a green light in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. While, on a literal level, the light is a lantern at the end of Daisy and Tom’s dock, it represents Gatsby’s desire to be with Daisy and to be a part of ‘old money’ society. This shows us how symbolism allows a small object to having a symbolic meaning that’s much bigger than itself!

What are familiar symbols and meanings in literature?

By now, we’ve found the answer to ‘what is symbolism in English?’ and discovered why writers use it. However, many standard pieces of symbolism pop up in many different works of literature. Here are a few examples:

  1. Colors are often used as common symbols in literature. For example, black represents death, green represents jealousy or nature, white represents innocence and purity, and red represents passion, fury, and desire.
  2. Birds are also common symbols. They can mean freedom and a desire for change.
  3. Specific birds can also be used as symbols. For example, doves are used as a symbol of peace, and ravens are symbols of doom or loss.
  4. A broken mirror can symbolize lousy luck or some separation. This was a frequent symbol in classic texts.
  5. An open door can highlight a transition or change in a character’s life.
  6. The weather can also be used as a symbol in a story. However, when the weather is used as a metaphor, this is known as a pathetic fallacy.
  7. Masks can highlight betrayal and hidden intentions. In superhero stories, masks represent the difference between public and private life. But, as stated above, common symbols can still mean different things depending on the level.

Other common symbols and meanings in the literature include:

  • A heart = love, life, and vitality
  • A black cat = superstition, and deviousness
  • A snake = evilness, and trickery
  • A clock = the passage of time, or time is lost
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