Is it a symbol? Sure It is

Ch.12 How to Read Literature Like A Professor


Devin Brown

Stephanie Harris

3rd Block

Ch. 12 Is That A Symbol

When is Something a Symbol?

The answer is simple, something is an symbol when you believe it stands for something or represents it. A symbol is something that represents something else: something that stands for or represents so mething else, especially an object representing an abstraction. This text is focused around how to identify and find your own use of a symbol and how it expresses the meaning behind the symbol to the readers

Allegories Are Not Symbols

  • An Allegory is a literary device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas or concepts. Or a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.
  • "in general a symbol can’t be reduced to standing for only one thing. If they can, it’s not symbolism, it’s allegory. Here’s how allegory works: things stand for other things on a one-for-one basis" (Faste 55)
  • Allegories and symbols are similar in the terms that they show the deeper meaning of the phrase. That is where the similarity between allegories and symbols stops as symbols can represent a cause or mood or action. While allegories are set in the stones of literature and are characterized directly and firmly to show off the meaning behind the words.
  • The students need to know that allegories while used in the same context as symbols, are more like a direct explanation of the phrase or object. Compared to symbols which can be interpreted in different ways from different point of views.
  • For example the entirety of the book Animal Farm by George Orwell is a direct allegory, as it refers to the Russian Revolution clearly and in great detail. The book plays on the irony that a revolution to get rid of a tyrannical ruler led to the installation of a new government system that grew corrupt and even worse than the first. The reader can clearly make the connections categorizing the book itself as an allegory.

Is It A Symbol? Sure It Is.

  • A Symbol is something that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible
  • "Symbols, though, generally don't work so neatly. The thing referred to is likely not reducible to a single statement but will more probably involve a range of possible meanings and interpretations" (Faste 55)
  • when asking if something is a symbol you have to realize that a symbol can correlate with a multitude of things from the readers point of view. So anything you think is a symbol is in fact a symbol
  • When something has a multitude of meanings that is an symbol. Students need to know this so that they can apply it to future papers.
  • "No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?" (Animal Farm 105)
  • For example when Napoleon persuades them to let him make decisions for them it symbolizes the rise of a corrupt government that will form into a Totalitarian regime, to put it basically it represents control over others

Symbolic Action

  • Symbolism is often used by writers to enhance their writing. Symbolism can give a literary work more richness and variety and can make the meaning of the work deeper.
  • Everyone thinks of symbols as an object to represent something or to have a deeper meaning, yet that is only partially true. Symbols can be anything from movie scenes, TV shows, books, dialogue, emotions, and actions.
  • Someones actions can have very deep and sly meanings to them that can leave the reader guessing add depth and wonder to the text
  • "The other problem with symbols is that many readers expect them to be objects and images rather than events or actions. Action can also be symbolic. Robert Frost is probably the champion of the symbolic action, although his uses of it are so sly that resolutely literal readers can miss the symbolic level entirely" (Faste 58-59)
  • for example this can be used to show a character doing something but not reveal his true intentions until later.
  • this can help students with understanding the characters without dialogue

A Symbol Can Have A Double Meaning

  • Sure a symbol represents something but it can also represent two different things or two completely opposite things from a different perspective.
  • This shows students that by looking at a symbol from a different perspective that a symbol can have a completely different
  • For example the great windmill in the book Animal Farm. The great windmill is a giant windmill that the animals in the story were constructing themselves so that they increase the income for the farm thus bettering the lives of all the animals on it. For the common animals it represents the need for food for the animals and their hopes for the future, yet for the pigs it represents their control and manipulation of the other animals. The pigs later use of the windmill for commercial gain symbolizes their greed and betrayal of the other animals.


  • Split into groups of two or three
  • Each person has their own piece of paper
  • Read the excerpt from the book Animal Farm and on your own sheet of paper write down what you believed was a symbol and what did it symbolize
  • Then compare symbols with your partner and see what you both got the same and if you had the same symbol but with a different meaning

Works Cited Page

  1. Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading between the Lines. New York: Quill, 2003. Print.
  2. Orwell, George. Animal Farm;. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1954. Print.