Symbolism in Literature: What Symbolism Is, and How to Use It In Your Writing

Sean Glatch  |  November 5, 2023  |  4 Comments

symbolism in writing

Symbolism describes the use of concrete images to convey abstract ideas. Because this literary device is widely open to interpretation, and because many readers form different relationships to concrete objects, this is one of the more slippery elements of literature to both understand and convey to an audience. Nonetheless, understanding symbolism, and knowing what is a symbol, are crucial to writing good poetry and prose.

What makes symbolism particularly tricky is understanding how an image is being employed in the text. For example, fire can represent destruction and evil, but it can also represent regrowth and the cycles of life. So, this article demystifies the complexities of symbolism in literature. Along the way, we’ll look at symbolism examples in poetry and fiction, before moving towards how to represent abstract ideas in your work.

What is symbolism in literature, and how do you wield it? Let’s define this slippery concept.

Symbolism Contents

What is a Symbol?

Symbolism in literature, symbolism in poetry.

  • Universal Symbolism: Does It Exist?

Wielding Symbolism in Your Writing

Symbolism definition: what is symbolism in literature.

Symbolism refers to the use of representational imagery : the writer employs an image with a deeper, non-literal meaning, for the purpose of conveying complex ideas.

In literature, symbolism is the use of a concrete image to represent an abstract idea.

For example, the heart is often employed as a symbol of love. Obviously, love is more complex and full-bodied—it doesn’t just sit in the chest—but we constantly refer to a loving person as “having a big heart,” or a person who lost their love as “heartbroken.”

Sometimes, a symbol is the stepping stone for an extended metaphor . If the heart represents love, what does it mean when a heart is iced over, or two hearts beat in the same chest, or someone has the heart of a deer? While a good symbol can certainly stand on its own, it also creates opportunities to play with ideas in a way that abstract language prevents us from doing.

That said, a symbol is not a metaphor. Symbolism uses a relevant image to convey a relevant idea, whereas a metaphor compares two seemingly unrelated items. Unlike metaphors and similes, symbolism employs a symbolic image repeatedly through the text, with the intent of being a central image and idea of the text.

The trickiest part of understanding symbolism in literature is knowing which images are symbols, and why. To answer this, we must first dive deeper into the images themselves. What is a symbol?

A symbol is an image whose figurative meaning is much deeper than its literal one. It is an object, often ordinary and commonplace, that has been imbued with extraordinary significance.

What is a symbol: an image whose figurative meaning is much deeper than its literal one.

Some symbols are culturally specific. An example of a symbol that varies by culture is that of a marriage proposal. While many countries use engagement rings as a symbol of being betrothed,  the people of Wales often uses “ lovespoons ” to signify one’s partnership. In Thailand, a marriage proposal might be signified by a thong mun —gifts made out of gold.

Other symbols are either more universal, or else easily inferred from the text. For example, in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a green light represents all that is unreachable to Jay Gatsby. He sees a green light on the other side of the sound, where his love interest, Daisy, lives. Not only is Daisy unreachable, but so is everything she and the green light represents: the (perceived) stability and decadence of the American Dream.

Perhaps there is also symbolism in the color green itself: it is the color of money, and the “go” color of stoplights. This last interpretation is certainly laden with irony , because chasing his dreams is exactly what kills Jay Gatsby.

Because the green light is so far away from Jay, and because he’s never able to touch it (or Daisy, for that matter), it obviously represents some sort of unreachability. Because this image recurs throughout the novel, it is a clear example of symbolism—so much so, that the green light has become nearly universally understood, to the point that Lorde has a song inspired by the symbol.

Symbolism Examples

Symbolism operates slightly differently in poetry than in prose, primarily because of the differences in word choice and length in poetry vs prose . A symbol tends to recur in prose, in such a way that it becomes a motif or builds towards a broader theme . Each recurrence of the symbol complicates the idea that the image represents.

Because poetry tends to be shorter, it also tends to employ symbols more economically. Symbolism in poetry may be harder to interpret or understand, as the poem does not provide as much context for the reader, and thus requires the reader to make more inferences and interpretations.

As such, we’ll look at symbolism examples differently in prose and poetry. The below symbolism examples come from published works of literature.

“Big Mother” by Anya Ow

Read this short story here, in Strange Horizons .

Central symbol: Big Mother, a mythical snakehead fish.

What it represents: The loss of childhood innocence.

Symbolism examples in the text: Catching snakehead fish seems to be a rite of passage into adulthood: the oldest boy is obsessed with catching them. What’s more, when an uncle finds out that the children have caught snakeheads, he trusts them with his favorite rod. When the oldest boy misses out on catching Big Mother, he becomes obsessed with capturing this symbol of adulthood. Then, when he does catch Big Mother, she ensnares him. The only way to ensure the oldest boy’s safety is to bargain their current lives for their future ones.

Analysis: Big Mother represents the complicated relationship people have to adulthood. The children all glorify her at first, but the eldest children realize the sacrifice they must make to save themselves from her wrath. This darkens the moods of the eldest children, as they come to understand the permanence of adulthood, the fragility of innocence. What at first seems mystical and fantastic about the real world is actually laden with terror.

The fact that the river is paved over further complicates this theme. While the characters are saved from the fate they sealed, they also catapult further into a world that replaces magic and mystery with the practical and mundane.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

You can read the full play here, from Project Gutenberg.

HAMLET: Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kiss’d I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? Quite chop-fallen? Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come. Make her laugh at that.

HAMLET: No, faith, not a jot. But to follow him thither with modesty enough, and likelihood to lead it; as thus. Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer-barrel?

Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away. O, that that earth which kept the world in awe Should patch a wall t’expel the winter’s flaw. But soft! but soft! aside! Here comes the King. The Queen, the courtiers. Who is that they follow? And with such maimed rites? This doth betoken The corse they follow did with desperate hand Fordo it own life. ’Twas of some estate. Couch we awhile and mark.

Symbol: Yorick’s skull.

What it represents: The inherent meaninglessness of life.

Symbolism examples in the text: Although many symbols recur through their texts, this symbol occurs exactly once. In Act V Scene I, Prince Hamlet comes across the skull of Yorick, his former jester. This encounter occurs towards the end of the play, after Hamlet’s depression, nihilism, and helplessness have radically altered his perspective of the world.

Analysis: Hamlet’s contemplation of Yorick’s skull reveals his belief that our lives are inherently meaningless. That Yorick used to make people laugh matters little, because now he can make people laugh no more. He is fated to the same end that the likes of Alexander and Caesar were fated towards, too. Hamlet’s contemplation here is especially meaningful, given that he is trying to avenge his father’s murder. Because he is visited by his father’s ghost, Hamlet tries to believe that a person’s life can have meaning after death; but, his father cannot avenge himself, so what meaning is there left to have, unless we, the living, remind ourselves of it?

It is strange to have an important symbol occupy such a small space in as long a text as Hamlet. The importance of this symbol stems partially from its endurance in pop culture: Yorick’s skull has inspired many novels, poems, songs, and works of art. Additionally, it is a memento mori , or reminder of death, which is a prominent theme in European artwork in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The full text of Jane Eyre can be retrieved here, from Project Gutenberg.

Symbol: The Red Room.

What it represents: The childhood obstacles Jane must overcome to achieve a life of happiness and freedom.

Symbolism examples in the text: We encounter the Red Room in Chapter 2. Jane is locked inside the Red Room by her unfair aunt after Jane stands up for herself against John Reed, her cousin. The Red Room is also where Jane’s uncle died. Jane and her cousins believe that the room is haunted by this uncle, so when Jane is locked inside, she first focuses on the injustice of it all, but then becomes so consumed by fear, and by her belief that her uncle might rise up from the dead, that she blacks out. Jane references this episode several times later in the novel, often to reflect on her journey.

Analysis: The color red is no accident: it represents anger, passion, fear, and intensity. Jane experiences all of this when her aunt imprisons her at only ten years old. The obvious symbolism here is that pure, righteous Jane is imprisoned inside the angry, intense wrath of her unloving family, but the novel encourages us to explore this further. The Red Room represents Jane’s ambivalent relationships to adults: they are always authoritarian, always ready to punish, and always ready to trap Jane inside their own worst impulses.

One possible interpretation of the color red is that it represents period blood, and thus the transition from childhood to adulthood. Jane is forced to be an adult before she’s ready, maturely handling the emotions of other adults when she’s still an innocent child.

Madeleine Wood argues that the Red Room continues to affect Jane, because her relationships to adults as a child manifests itself in her relationships to men as an adult. Remember, the society Jane grew up in was heavily patriarchal: grown women had to always defer to men as authorities. Yet, Jane desires freedom more than anything else, both as a child and as an adult, so the institutions of marriage and the patriarchy fundamentally challenge her freedoms. When she reflects on the Red Room as an adult, it is always juxtaposed to her relationship with a man. She even thinks about the Red Room after walking out on Rochester, an important suitor of hers in the novel.

Only when Jane is comfortable with herself and confident in her freedom is she able to find love and happiness, thus overcoming the burden symbolized by the Red Room.

“My Heart Leaps Up” by William Wordsworth

Retrieved here, from Academy of American Poets . 

My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man; So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die! The Child is father of the Man; And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety.

Here’s an example of poetry with symbolism in which the symbol is employed only once, but very effectively. The rainbow represents the kind of natural beauty that children are best at admiring. If you remember observing nature as a child, you might remember being moved by a rainbow, or by a forest, or a desert, or by any number of beautiful things that abound on this Earth. Wordsworth asserts that “The Child is father of the Man” precisely because children are inspired by natural beauty in a way that adults are not. We have much to learn from kids and their relationship to our planet, and as an adult, this poem’s speaker hope to worship this beauty—”bound each [day] to each [day] by natural piety.”

“City Lake” by Chelsea DesAutels

Retrieved here, from The Slowdown.

Almost dusk. Fishermen packing up their bait, a small girl singing there’s nothing in here nothing in here casting a yellow pole, glancing at her father. What is it they say about mercy? Five summers ago this lake took a child’s life. Four summers ago it saved mine, the way the willows stretch toward the water but never kiss it, how people laugh as they walk the concrete path or really have it out with someone they love. One spring the path teemed with baby frogs, so many flattened, so many jumping. I didn’t know a damn thing then. I thought I was waiting for something to happen. I stepped carefully over the dead frogs and around the live ones. What was I waiting for? Frogs to rain from the sky? A great love? The little girl spies a perch just outside her rod’s reach. She wants to wade in. She won’t catch the fish and even if she does it might be full of mercury. Still, I want her to roll up her jeans and step into the water, tell her it’s mercy, not mud, filling each impression her feet make. I’m not saying she should be grateful to be alive. I’m saying mercy is a big dark lake we’re all swimming in.

This poem tells you precisely what the central symbol represents: the lake symbolizes mercy. Yet, the two have no easy relationship, and the poem constantly complicates the concept of mercy itself. Rather than highlight the grace of mercy—how wonderful it is to be saved—this poem reminds us that mercy is just a form of chance: random with whom it saves and with whom it doesn’t. No matter how well the narrator “steps carefully” through the lake, she can never predict how and why anyone receives mercy.

“Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson

Retrieved here, from Poetry .

Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess – in the Ring – We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us – The Dews drew quivering and Chill – For only Gossamer, my Gown – My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground – The Roof was scarcely visible – The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet Feels shorter than the Day I first surmised the Horses’ Heads Were toward Eternity –

This poem employs a lot of symbols, most notably in the third stanza. The images used each signify a different stage of life. The school represents childhood. The fields of gazing grain represent adulthood—grain is fertile, in its prime, and it “gazes” upwards towards the sky. The setting sun represents old age. Though each of these symbols are employed only once, they are certainly evocative in the context of Death personified, as the poem suggests each of us are on a horse drawn carriage towards the afterlife.

Universal Symbolism: Does it Exist?

The theorist Erich Fromm divides symbolism into three categories: conventional, accidental, and universal symbolism.

Conventional S ymbolism is closely related to concrete imagery. Essentially, it is the use of images which everyone in a particular language can understand. When I say “light bulb,” you imagine some sort of glass bulb with a filament inside. We might have different mental images, but we agree on the same meaning. This is a non-interpretive form of symbolism, and in semiotics , we’re essentially referring to the sign, signifier, and signified.

Accidental S ymbolism might be best described as specific to a certain person. We form relationships to objects all the time: some positive, some negative. A character might form a specific relationship to an object, and that relationship will continue to affect this character throughout the story. For example, let’s say your character won the lottery using a $5 bill they found on the street. They might assume that every time they find a $5, something lucky is about to happen, making that $5 bill a symbol of luck.

Finally, Universal Symbolism refers to images which, over time, have developed a symbolic meaning that we all instantly recognize. These symbols are understood across time and culture: a heart represents love, the sky represents limitlessness, and a fire represents power—or destruction, or rebirth, depending on how it’s employed.

However, don’t be misled by the word “universal”—it is better to see these categories as postmarks along a spectrum, as few, if any, symbols would actually be understood by every person in the world.

Additionally, don’t assume that “universal” is automatically better. Because these symbols are well understood, they are also often cliché . It is important to employ imagery in fresh, interesting ways, using the context of your work to discover new and surprising relationships between images and ideas. Often, using a poem or story to expand upon the accidental symbols (of your life or the lives of your characters) will result in more impactful imagery.

Lastly, you may be interested in the idea of the “ objective correlative .” An objective correlative is a device that makes an abstract idea concrete in the context of a piece of literature. An obvious example of this is the mirror in The Picture of Dorian Gray , which represents Dorian’s soul as it becomes corrupted by vanity. T. S. Eliot, who popularized the term, argues that a work of literature should arrange images and symbols precisely so that they evoke a certain meaning without telling us the meaning itself. It is, in essence, a way to exercise show, don’t tell .

Here’s some advice for employing symbolism in literature:

  • Be concrete. Use images that are easy to visualize and grounded in everyday reality.
  • Be specific. Show the reader exactly what the symbol looks like. The more physical detail you provide, the easier it is to explore the complexities of what your symbol represents.
  • Prefer the accidental to the universal. There’s no problem with employing universal symbolism, but you should have at least one accidental symbol in your work, as it will often reveal the most about the story or poem you write.
  • Be spontaneous. Don’t write with symbolism in mind, just employ imagery tactfully. Writers often don’t realize what their work means until after they’ve written and revised it; trying to muscle meaning into your work might limit the work’s possibilities.
  • Don’t overthink it. There’s no “perfect image” to represent any particular idea. We all forge our own relationships to different objects. Sure, the heart can represent love. So can the dining table, a lightning strike, the stomach, the ocean, or a pair of shoes.

Make Your Writing Symbolic at Writers.com

Whether you write poetry or prose, the instructors at Writers.com are masters of imagery and symbolism. Receive the benefits of focused feedback and a friendly writing community in any of our upcoming creative writing classes .

' src=

Sean Glatch

' src=

this is great information – I shared it with my Facebook group – The Fringe 999 – we emerging artist and are always looking for information like this – thank you

' src=

Thank you, Laura! I’m glad you found this article helpful. Happy writing!

' src=

Very educational and enlightened. I learned a lot from the article. Thank you.

' src=

Leave a Comment Cancel Reply

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

literary analysis essay example symbolism

Symbolism Definition

What is symbolism? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

Symbolism is a literary device in which a writer uses one thing—usually a physical object or phenomenon—to represent something more abstract. A strong symbol usually shares a set of key characteristics with whatever it is meant to symbolize, or is related to it in some other way. Characters and events can also be symbolic. A famous example of a symbol in literature occurs in To Kill a Mockingbird , when Atticus tells his children Jem and Scout that it's a sin to kill a mockingbird because mockingbirds cause no harm to anyone; they just sing. Because of these traits, mockingbirds in the novel symbolize innocence and beauty, while killing a mockingbird symbolizes an act of senseless cruelty.

Some additional key details about symbolism:

  • Symbolism can be very subtle, so it isn't always easy to identify or understand.
  • It can sometimes be difficult to say whether an author intended for something to be symbolic or not.
  • Symbolism allows writers to convey things to their readers poetically or indirectly rather than having to say them outright, which can make texts seem more nuanced and complex.

Symbolism Pronunciation

Here's how to pronounce symbolism: sim -buh-liz-uhm

Types of Symbolism

A symbol can be a physical object, a character, or an event. Here's a brief overview of how each type of symbolism works:

  • Symbolism through physical objects: Most often, physical objects are used to symbolize an idea or concept, as a way of pointing the reader towards some of the basic themes that a work is dealing with. For example, a poet might write a poem about a flower dancing in the wind in order to convey a sense of innocence, harmony with nature, or sheer happiness.
  • Symbolism through characters: Sometimes, characters themselves can serve as symbols—of a particular virtue or vice, or of a political ideology. For example, in Edmund Spenser's famous allegorical poem, The Faeirie Queene , the female knight Britomart is a symbol of the values of chastity and restraint, traits which many 16th-century readers held in high esteem.
  • Symbolism through events: Events can also be symbolic. For example, while a character's long, wild hair might symbolize a period of youth or innocence, a scene in which the character chops off his or her long hair might symbolize a loss of innocence—or the sacrifices people have to make in the process of becoming a mature adult with responsibilities. While the act of cutting off the hair is neither an object nor a character, but it would still be an example of symbolism.

Identifying Symbolism

Writers employ a wide variety of symbols to deepen the meaning of their work. Some symbols, though, are much easier to identify than others. It's worth recognizing the ways that some symbols can be obvious, while others might be less so. For example, sea glass might be used as a fairly obvious symbol in one text, and a more subtle symbol in another:

  • Sea glass as an obvious symbol: If a character in a story gives her son a piece of sea glass just before she dies, and the son then puts the sea glass on a necklace and wears it every day, that's a pretty clear example of something being symbolic: the sea glass represents the son's relationship with his mother, his grief at her passing, or perhaps even the more general concept of loss. In this example, the author might choose to describe how the son plays with his necklace obsessively in order to convey his ever present grief at the loss of his mother—instead of having to state it outright.
  • Sea glass as a less-obvious symbol: If a character in a story delivers a monologue about sea glass in which they explain how something sharp and broken (a shard of glass) becomes smooth and beautiful only through years of being tossed about on the ocean's currents, it might over the course of the story come to be symbolic for the process of growing up or recovering from trauma—but not every reader will necessarily pick up on the symbolism. In this case, sea glass would be an example of a symbol that might be harder to identify as a symbol within the context of the story.

Is a Symbol Purposeful or Not?

In some cases, particularly when a symbol is subtle, it's not always even clear whether the author's use of symbolism is intentional, or whether the reader is supplying their own meaning of the text by "reading into" something as a symbol. That isn't a problem, though. In fact, it's one of the beautiful things about symbolism: whether symbolism can be said to be present in a text has as much to do with the reader's interpretation as the writer's intentions.

Symbol vs. Metaphor

At first glance, symbolism and metaphor can be difficult to distinguish from one another—both devices imbue a text with meaning beyond its literal sense, and both use one thing to represent something else. However, there are a few key differences between metaphor and symbolism:

  • Metaphors compare two different things by stating that one thing is the other (e.g., your eyes are heaven). This doesn't happen in symbolism, where the relationship between a symbol and what it represents is not stated explicitly and one thing is not said to be the other thing. Instead, a symbol stands for or represents something else.
  • Whereas a metaphor is used to compare one thing to another based on shared characteristics, symbols can but don't need to have any characteristics in common with what they represent. For instance, Annie Proulx's story Brokeback Mountain ends with one character taking in the smell of a shirt that was once worn by his lost love. The shirt doesn't have any characteristics in common with the lover—it symbolizes him only insofar as it once belonged to him.

Symbolism and Allegory

An allegory is a work that conveys a moral through the use of symbolic characters and events. Not every work that incorporates symbols is an allegory; rather, an allegory is a story in which the majority of characters and plot developments serve as symbols for something else, or in which the entire storyline is symbolic of a broader phenomenon in society.

For example, the characters in Edmund Spenser's allegorical poem The Faerie Queene are not very complex or deep characters: they're meant to embody virtues or ideas more than they are meant to resemble real people. By contrast, Hester Prynne (the protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne's highly symbolic novel, The Scarlet Letter ) exhibits a great deal of complexity and individuality as a character beyond whatever she may symbolize, so it doesn't really make sense to say that The Scarlet Letter is an allegory about adultery; rather, it's a novel that is literally about adultery that has symbolic aspects. In short, all allegories are highly symbolic, but not all symbolic writing is allegorical.

Symbolism Examples

Symbolism is very common is all sorts of narrative literature, poetry, film, and even speeches.

Examples of Symbolism in Literature

Authors frequently incorporate symbolism into their work, because symbols engage readers on an emotional level and succinctly convey large and complex ideas.

Symbolism in Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain"

The following passage from Annie Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain" describes a character named Ennis's visit to the childhood home of a lost lover named Jack. There, Ennis finds an old shirt of his nestled inside of one of Jack's shirts.

At the north end of the closet a tiny jog in the wall made a slight hiding place and here, stiff with long suspension from a nail, hung a shirt. He lifted it off the nail. Jack’s old shirt from Brokeback days. The dried blood on the sleeve was his own blood, a gushing nosebleed on the last afternoon on the mountain when Jack, in their contortionistic grappling and wrestling, had slammed Ennis’s nose hard with his knee. He had stanched the blood, which was everywhere, all over both of them, with his shirtsleeve, but the stanching hadn’t held, because Ennis had suddenly swung from the deck and laid the ministering angel out in the wild columbine, wings folded. The shirt seemed heavy until he saw there was another shirt inside it, the sleeves carefully worked down inside Jack’s sleeves. It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he’d thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack’s own shirt, the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one. He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack, but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.

Proulx's description of the shirts sounds like it could be a description of the feeling of intimacy shared between lovers: she writes that they are "like two skins, one inside the other, two in one." The shirts symbolize the love the two men shared, but Proulx avoids having to explain Ennis's feelings directly by using symbolism in her description of the shirts, instead.

Symbolism in Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias "

In the sonnet "Ozymandias," Shelley uses the story of an encounter with a decaying monument to illustrate the destructive power of nature, the fleetingness of man's political accomplishments, and the longevity of art.

I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal these words appear: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The symbolism in Shelley's poem transforms the half-sunken monument into a powerful representation of the passage of time. The poem reminds readers that natural forces will put an end to the reign of all empires and the lives of every person, whether king or commoner. In the final lines, the poem juxtaposes two very different symbols: the fallen statue, greatly reduced from its former size, and the huge, barren, and unchanging desert. The statue of Ozymandias is therefore symbolic of man's mortality and smallness in the face time and nature.

Symbolism in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

In Chapter Ten of I nvisible Man , the book's protagonist goes to work at the Liberty Paints Factory—the maker of a paint "so white you can paint a chunk of coal and you'd have to crack it open with a sledge hammer to prove it wasn't white clear through"—where he is surprised to learn that the recipe for the brilliant white paint actually calls for the addition of a few drops of black paint. The symbolism of the black paint disappearing into the white is a direct reference to the "invisibility" of black people in America—one of the major themes of Ellison's book.

"The idea is to open each bucket and put in ten drops of this stuff," he said. "Then you stir it 'til it disappears. After it's mixed you take this brush and paint out a sample on one of these." He produced a number of small rectangular boards and a small brush from his jacket pocket. "You understand?" "Yes, sir." But when I looked into the white graduate I hesitated; the liquid inside was dead black. Was he trying to kid me?

Symbolism in Film

Filmmakers often endow particular objects with emotional significance. These visual symbols may shed light on a character's motivations or play an important role later on in the film.

Symbolism in Orson Welles's Citizen Kane

In the closing scene of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane , the camera pans to a sled with the word "Rosebud" printed on it—the same word that is uttered by the newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane on his deathbed. The movie itself portrays Kane's ruthless efforts to consolidate power in his industry. Yet in his final moments, he recalls the sled associated with the happier days of his youth. The "Rosebud" sled can be described as a symbol of Kane's youthful innocence and idealism, of which he lost sight in his pursuit of power. The sled is one of the most famous symbols in all of film.

Symbolism In Speeches

Orators often turn to symbolism for the same reasons writers do—symbols can add emotional weight to a speech and can stand-in for broad themes and central parts of their argument.

Symbolism in John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address

In the opening lines of his 1961 inaugural address , President Kennedy claims that his inauguration is the symbol of a new era in American history, defined by both reverence for the past and innovation in the years to come:

We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end as well as a beginning—signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

Here, President Kennedy argues on behalf of the symbolic significance of his election, suggesting that his Inauguration Day stands for the progress in America that is soon to come. Though it's not an especially subtle use of symbolism, Kennedy's assertion that his first day in office represents the first of many steps forward for America likely had a considerable emotional impact on his audience.

Symbolism in Barack Obama's Speech on the 50th Anniversary of the Selma Marches

In his speech on the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches , President Obama casts the Edmund Pettus Bridge (in Selma, Alabama) as a symbol of American progress and resilience.

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.

In this example, President Obama paid tribute to the activists who were beaten brutally by state troopers after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge during a 1965 demonstration in Selma, Alabama. Likening their perseverance in the face of police brutality to other prominent examples of American resistance, such as the American Revolution, Obama claims that the demonstrators symbolize a quintessential American trait: a commitment to securing and protecting personal freedom. Thus, in Obama's speech, crossing the bridge can be said to function as a symbol of the long struggle for civil rights.

Why Do Writers Use Symbolism?

It's hard to find a work of literature that lacks any kind of symbolism. Symbolism is an important literary device for creating complex narratives because it enables writers to convey important information without having to state things directly. In addition, the use of symbolism is widespread because it can:

  • Help readers visualize complex concepts and central themes, and track their development.
  • Afford writers the opportunity to communicate big ideas efficiently and artfully.
  • Invite readers to interpret a text independently, rather than be directly told what the author means.
  • Add emotional weight to a text.
  • Conceal themes that are too controversial to state openly.
  • Imply change or growth in characters or themes through shifts in the way that characters interact with particular symbols, or ways in which the symbols themselves change over time.

Other Helpful Symbolism Resources

  • The Wikipedia Page on Symbols : A rather theoretical account of symbolism, which delves into competing definitions of the term that might be more complicated or detailed than is necessary for many readers. Still, the page demonstrates just how pervasive symbolism is in language and thought.
  • Cracked's List of 7 Films With Symbolism You Didn't Notice : Though the author's speculations verge on conspiracy theories at times, at its best, the list demonstrates how artists might use symbols to bury risqué themes in works for popular consumption.
  • The HyperTexts Page on The Best Symbols in Poetry and Literature : The explanations here aren't especially in-depth—certainly not as sophisticated as the symbols they discuss. Still, this is useful as a survey of poems by major writers with examples of concrete, object-based symbolism.

The printed PDF version of the LitCharts literary term guide on Symbolism

  • PDFs for all 136 Lit Terms we cover
  • Downloads of 1935 LitCharts Lit Guides
  • Teacher Editions for every Lit Guide
  • Explanations and citation info for 40,812 quotes across 1935 books
  • Downloadable (PDF) line-by-line translations of every Shakespeare play
  • Juxtaposition
  • Personification
  • Anachronism
  • Blank Verse
  • Static Character
  • Parallelism
  • Formal Verse
  • Anadiplosis
  • Antanaclasis
  • Tragic Hero
  • Flat Character
  • Foreshadowing
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Round Character

The LitCharts.com logo.

The Great Gatsby Symbolism

Symbolism means an artistic and poetic expression or style using figurative images and indirect ideas to express mystical concepts, emotions, and states of mind.  It also refers to symbols writers use to convey specific meanings, and they vary depending on the circumstances. Symbolism in The Great Gatsby carries different meanings to different readers based on their perceptions. Some of the significant symbols used in The Great Gatsby are discussed below.

Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

Gatsby’s Mansion

Gatsby’s grand and lavish mansion symbolizes his high lifestyle. It also shows the inner conflict of Gatsby and foreshadows his loneliness hidden behind his lavish estate. It also symbolizes his unbound love for Daisy. Gatsby uses his new money to buy the grand house, thinking it is similar to the house of the old money taken away from him. Though he progresses a lot in life, ironically his luxurious lifestyle does not bring satisfaction to him. It rather seems a falsifying dream. In fact, he struggles to reach at this position to win Daisy back.

The Green Light

The green light pops up many times in the novel and represents Gatsby’s dream and hope. It also represents everything that haunts him and takes him to the past. It also signifies the green stuff (money), his memories with Daisy and the gap between his past and his present. He deliberately chooses the house in a direction from where he can have the enchanting sight of green light. He loves to stand at the dock to stare at that green light which represents his innermost desire to revive his past. He is hopeful that one day he will win the lost moments. The artificial green light also stands for his artificial and unrealistic aims in life.

The Eyes of T. J. Eckleberg

Another symbol we see in the novel is the eyes of T. J Eckleberg. These are faded bespectacled eyes printed on the billboard over the ‘valley of ashes’.  The eyes represent the commercialism which is the backbone of the American dream. It is clear from the fact of how Gatsby earns a lot of wealth to get Daisy back in life. These eyes also represent the hollowness and solidity in Gatsby’s eyes, for despite having all the glitters in life, his eyes reflect emptiness. To George Wilson, they are the eyes of God that watch over every segment of the society. To Nick, they represent the waste of past which sticks around, though, vanished.

The Valley of Ashes

The valley of ashes is a symbolic place in the novel that first appears in chapter two. Nick goes there to search for his mistress. It is a place between East and West Egg created by dumping the industrial waste. It represents how morality and social code of conduct are dropped out of the industrial society. It also depicts the miserable plight of people like George Wilson who live among the ashes without ambition. This is a highly effective symbol that represents the divide between the poor and the rich class in the society of that time and even the present.

East and West Eggs

East and West Eggs are two fictional villages Fitzgerald has created to represent the different ideas of the new rich and the old rich. East Egg represents the old rich. Tom and Daisy belong to East Egg. It represents the people, who are born rich and are considered classy, with an arrogant stance toward West Egg. West Egg stands for newly rich people like Gatsby. It is the world of those who make their own fortune and are not rich by birth. East symbolizes corruption, whereas West symbolizes goodness.

The name Daisy is also symbolic. A daisy is a flower with white petals and a yellow center. Universally of white color represents purity, chastity, and innocence whereas yellow stands for corruption. Similarly, Daisy appears to be innocent and pure, but her heart is filled with lust, carelessness, and corruption. She lets Gatsby believe that she will leave Tom for him, but later it is found that money is the most important thing for her.

Green Color

Just like the Green Light, Green color runs throughout the novel. It universally represents vitality, wealth and growth. In the novel, green stands for Gatsby’s hope and short life. It symbolizes the bulk of wealth which Gatsby earns to win Daisy back in life. It is the symbol of death too, as Michalis describes the car that kills Myrtle as a green light, though, it is a yellow car. The green light thus represents the false status of dream and hope that win nothing for Gatsby.

Other Colors

Colors are widely used in the novel having deeper meanings. For example, Gatsby’s car and T. J. Eckleberg’s glasses are yellow. It represents the corrupt and false standards of Gatsby and the society of that time. Blue color stands for illusions and falsifying dreams ; Gatsby’s garden is blue, Eckleberg’s eyes are blue, and chauffer’s uniform is also blue. While white color is a symbol of purity, in the novel it symbolizes immorality. Gatsby, Daisy, and Jordan wear white, but none of them is a morally ideal character . The valley of ashes is grey symbolizing hopelessness, or filthy side of the society.

Cars in the novel symbolize the display of vanity. The rich and complex description of Gatsby’s car is an epitome of ostentation and excess. It describes the dominance of commercialism how wealth is the center of attraction for the society.  The car of the drunk man is also symbolic, as he runs his car off the road and breaks the wheel. It represents the careless attitude and ignorance of the rich society.

Clock / Time

The clock in the novel symbolizes the passage of time that has passed and the moments Gatsby wants back. He wins the high living standards to rewind the clock to the times, change what happened between him and Daisy. In chapter five “the defunct masterpiece clock” represents that Gatsby is still living in the past with Daisy, while Daisy has moved on. The end of the novel also signifies the value of time and the dilemma faced by humans; the more we try to escape from the past, the more we get close to it.

Related posts:

  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Great Gatsby Quotes
  • Owl Symbolism
  • Bat Symbolism
  • Fox Symbolism
  • Hamlet Symbolism
  • Symbolism in Advertising
  • Examples of Symbolism in Art
  • Butterfly Symbolism
  • Dragonfly Symbolism
  • Square Symbolism
  • Flower Symbolism
  • Colors Symbolism
  • Crow Symbolism
  • Hummingbird Symbolism
  • Ladybug Symbolism
  • Moth Symbolism
  • Snake Symbolism
  • Star Symbolism
  • Elephant Symbolism
  • Hawk Symbolism
  • Freemason Symbolism
  • Raven Symbolism
  • Bees Symbolism
  • Blue Jay Symbolism
  • Cardinal Symbolism
  • Deer Symbolism
  • Dove Symbolism
  • Pineapple Symbolism
  • Moon Symbolism
  • Rose Symbolism
  • Spider Symbolism
  • Mars Symbolism
  • Water Symbolism
  • Wolf Symbolism
  • Hollywood Symbolism
  • Eagle Symbolism
  • Bird Symbolism
  • Frog Symbolism
  • Green Symbolism
  • Lord of the Flies Symbolism
  • The Scarlet Letter Symbolism
  • Examples of Symbolism In Christianity
  • Examples of Symbolism in Poetry
  • Examples of Symbolism in the Bible
  • Full Moon Symbolism
  • Examples of Symbolism in Song Lyrics
  • Letter to My Great, Great Grandchild
  • Behind Every Great Man There Is A Great Woman
  • To Be Great is to Be Misunderstood
  • The Great Unwashed
  • Great Expectations
  • The Great Storm
  • Great Expectations Quotes
  • Great Expectations Characters
  • 10 Great Metaphors in R&B Songs
  • 10 Great Metaphors from Popular Music
  • Top 6 Great Metaphors in Presidential Speeches
  • After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes
  • Great Metaphor Examples for Kids
  • Great Allegorical Poem Examples
  • 10 Great Metaphors from Popular 2000’s Songs
  • 10 Great Metaphors from Popular Disney Songs
  • 10 Great Metaphors from Popular 1960s’ Songs
  • 10 Great Metaphors from Popular 1970’s Songs
  • 10 Great Metaphors from Popular 1980’s Songs
  • 10 Great Metaphors from Popular 1990’s Songs
  • Symbolism in Branding and Logos
  • Lamb to the Slaughter
  • Big Brother is Watching You
  • If You Can’t Fly, Then Run
  • The horror! The horror!
  • Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree
  • Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald
  • 10 Religious Symbols Of Easter

Post navigation

literary analysis essay example symbolism

literary analysis essay example symbolism

What Is Symbolism? Reviewing Examples in Literature

literary analysis essay example symbolism

Have you ever wondered how to make your essay entertaining and interesting by changing only a few lines? Symbolism is a great tool to improve your paper in a sophisticated way. In this article, we will introduce you to symbolism and ways to use it in your own writing effectively. Let's go deeper with our professional essay writers .

What Is Symbolism?

Symbolism is a tool used to give objects a deeper meaning and a different quality with the use of a symbol. Symbols are deeply rooted in our speech without us noticing because they enhance our conversation, make sentences elaborate and exemplify things we talk about more vividly.

For example: A dove is a symbol of peace, a black cat signifies bad luck, and a white flag means a peace offering.

Most symbols in custom essay writing services are universal and can be understood by people from different countries and backgrounds. However, some of them are culturally specific and one should be careful in order not to offend anyone or be misunderstood.

How Symbolism Is Used in Literature

Certain objects and terms signify things which are different from their literal sense. Usually, symbolism is used in order to give deeper and more significant meaning to events, objects and characters throughout the text, unify them, and give certain connotations. Authors incorporate symbolism to express complicated concepts visually and show a thread of certain ongoing themes in their writing. Since, in most cases, symbols that are used are hidden in the text, they force the reader to engage in critical thinking. It makes the reader wonder about the metaphorical use of one or the other object as a symbol. If the theme of a book or an essay might be sensitive to certain people, symbolism also comes in handy. It can help express ideas that an author wants to address through the prism of a symbol, as opposed to talking about controversial things openly.

Another reason a writer might choose to use symbolism in his work is to create different levels of meaning in his story. This meaning is not only literal, but also deeper. It connects the reader with his story on a different, an emotional level, besides just telling the story. Readers, on the other hand, like to discover these hidden symbolic ties and meanings, because it gives them a chance to peek into the writer’s mind and get a sense of what intentions he had in creating them.

The bottom line is that symbolism lets a writer introduce his audience to a concept in an interesting poetic way that does not give away the idea right away, luring the reader into his world full of beautiful implications and complicated ties.

Read also about the literature review format - our readers find this article fascinating and useful. If you need any help, leave us a request write my paper and we'll help asap.

Need to Break Down Symbolism in Writing?

We’ll tackle it swiftly and with expertise!

How to Analyse Symbolism Step-by-Step

Analyzing symbolism in literature can be a rewarding but complex endeavor. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the process:

STEP 1 – Identify Potential Symbols

Begin by identifying objects, characters, settings, or events within the text that seem to carry deeper meaning beyond their literal interpretation. Look for recurring motifs, imagery, or patterns that are potentially symbolic to you.

STEP 2 – Consider Context

Examine the context surrounding the potential symbols. Consider the historical, cultural, and literary context in which the work was written and the author's background and intentions. Understanding the context can provide valuable insights into the symbolic significance of certain elements.

STEP 3 – Analyze Patterns and Associations

Look for patterns or associations between the potential symbols and other elements within the text. Consider how the symbols interact with characters, themes, and plot developments. Pay attention to any recurring themes or motifs to which the symbols may connect.

STEP 4 – Examine Character Perspectives

Consider how different characters within the text perceive and interact with the symbols. Analyze the symbolism from various character perspectives to understand its significance better. Note any differences or contradictions in how characters interpret the symbols.

STEP 5 – Explore Themes and Motifs

Reflect on the broader themes and themes of the text and consider how the symbols contribute to their development. Analyze how the symbols reinforce or challenge key themes, motifs, or messages the author conveys. Look for thematic connections between the symbols and the larger narrative structure.

STEP 6 – Research Symbolic Interpretations

Research to explore potential symbolic interpretations of the elements you've identified. Consult literary analyses, critical essays, and scholarly interpretations to gain additional perspectives on the symbolism within the text. Consider how different scholars and critics have interpreted the symbols and evaluate the validity of their arguments.

STEP 7 – Draw Conclusions and Make Connections

Synthesize your findings and conclude the symbolic significance of the elements you've analyzed. Consider how the symbols contribute to the overall meaning and interpretation of the text. Make connections between the symbols and the broader thematic concerns of the work, and articulate your insights coherently and persuasively.

STEP 8 – Support Your Analysis with Evidence

Provide evidence from the text to support your analysis of the symbolism. Quote relevant passages, descriptions, or dialogue that illustrate the symbolic significance of the elements you're discussing. Analyze the language, imagery, and narrative techniques employed by the author to convey the symbolic meaning of the elements.

STEP 9 – Consider Alternative Interpretations

Acknowledge and consider alternative interpretations of the symbolism within the text. Be open to different perspectives and interpretations, even if they diverge from your own. Engage with counterarguments and alternative readings to deepen your understanding of the symbolic complexity of the text.

STEP 10 – Reflect and Revise

Reflect on your analysis and consider how your interpretation of the symbolism enhances your understanding of the text. Revise your analysis as needed to clarify your arguments and refine your insights. Continuously revisit and reassess your analysis to uncover new layers of meaning and deepen your appreciation of the text's symbolic richness.

Essay Sample on Symbolism

Our sample essay sheds light on the historical and cultural context of the Symbolism, offering insights that enrich your appreciation and critical analysis of the text.

Major Representators of Symbolism in Literature

Here are some major representatives of symbolism in literature:

  • Edgar Allan Poe

Known for his Gothic tales and poems, Poe often employed symbols to evoke themes of death, madness, and the macabre. Examples include the raven in "The Raven" as a symbol of grief and the pendulum in "The Pit and the Pendulum" as a symbol of impending doom.

  • William Faulkner

Faulkner's works are rich in symbolism, particularly in his exploration of the American South and its complex social dynamics. In novels such as "The Sound and the Fury" and "As I Lay Dying," he uses symbols such as the dilapidated plantation house and the coffin to convey deeper themes of decay, loss, and the passage of time.

  • Herman Melville

In "Moby-Dick," Melville employs symbols such as the white whale, the sea, and the ship to explore themes of obsession, destiny, and the human condition. These symbols serve as potent metaphors for the complexities of life and the pursuit of the unknown.

  • James Joyce

Joyce's modernist masterpiece "Ulysses" is replete with symbols that reflect its characters' inner thoughts and experiences. The recurring motifs of water, mirrors, and music illuminate the themes of identity, memory, and the passage of time.

  • Franz Kafka

Kafka's works, such as "The Metamorphosis" and "The Trial," are characterized by their surreal and symbolic nature, with symbols often representing themes of alienation, bureaucracy, and existential dread. The transformation of Gregor Samsa into a giant insect in "The Metamorphosis," for instance, is a powerful symbol of alienation and societal oppression.

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne's works, such as "The Scarlet Letter" and "Young Goodman Brown," are known for exploring Puritanical themes and symbolism to convey moral and psychological depth. The scarlet letter "A" in "The Scarlet Letter" is a potent symbol of sin, guilt, and redemption. At the same time, the forest in "Young Goodman Brown" represents the dark and mysterious forces of temptation and evil.

  • Gabriel García Márquez

García Márquez, a pioneer of magical realism, often employs symbols and allegory to explore themes of love, power, and the supernatural. In "One Hundred Years of Solitude," the Buendía family's house symbolizes the cyclical nature of history and the passage of time. The yellow butterflies symbolize the fleeting beauty and fragility of life.

Types of Symbolism in Literature

Types of Symbolism in Literature

There are many different literary devices that help writers to use symbolism in their texts:

Metaphor is a type of figurative language that shows characteristics of a subject through comparison with something else, their likeness or contrast between them. A great example of a metaphor can be found at the opening words of “As You Like It”, a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare:

“All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances ...”

Here, he compares human life to a theatre stage. Same as anything can happen in life, a stage can have all kinds of different plays portrayed. The play will also be over sooner or later, the same as life. By making this simple comparison, he explains the complicated and difficult laws of nature, such as human mortality. The last phrase refers to people’s ties and their meaning in each other’s lives as “exits” and “entrances”.

It is a figure of speech used when one thing gets assigned some qualities of the other and is compared to it. The two usually are compared to one another with the use of the word “as” or “like”. It might sound similar to a metaphor, but the latter gives only a slight implication that something is like something else, whereas a simile directly states it. A great example of a simile can be found in “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov:

“Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed towards me like towers of Pisa.”

Here Nabokov says that ladies’ canes remind him directly of the tower of Pisa — a building in Pisa, Italy, that is tilted to the side. This beautiful simile showcases artist’s elaborate way of expressing his thoughts, how educated and developed he is, but most importantly, gives the reader another visual of how these canes made him feel and how they might look like.

Another literary device that helps to use symbolism is an allegory. It is also similar to a metaphor, but expresses the meaning of the object, its significance, rather than an external characteristic of likeness. Through the association that allegory creates with the characters in writing, the reader gets a sense of how a situation or a problem at stake fits in the history of the world, art history, or a certain culture.

A good example of allegory in literature is “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. There he compares society around him to a group of children who are stuck on a deserted island due to a plane crash, and are trying to survive there. The island in the book represents the world itself, the conch is a symbol of law and order, the fire represents destruction. Each child, with his role and character, represents a certain societal imperfection, depicting people’s flaws in the institutions of religion, politics, morality, and many others.

An archetype is another literary device used to represent a human behavioral pattern that is usually universal throughout the world and can be applied and understood in many cultures. The archetype can also be a place in space and time, a certain theme that is shared collectively by citizens of the world. Many archetypes came into literature from folk art and fairy tales.

One of the most common and famous archetypes is the hero. Some of the characteristics defining a hero include mysterious circumstances of their birth, struggle and proving everyone who lost faith in them wrong, tragic events throughout their lives, and complicated and dangerous adventures. A great example of an archetype is Harry Potter, the main character of the series by J.K. Rowling. He was orphaned by the cruel dark wizard Lord Voldemort and fought him throughout the book series.

An allusion is used to imply something or refer to another mythological, religious, or historical character without directly mentioning them. The use of allusion allows an author to deliver his text using elaborate language. Different rhetorical figures force readers to incorporate their background knowledge and associate the character or problem in question with external references.

In his book “Fahrenheit 451”, Ray Bradbury uses a reference to a historical tragedy that happened in 79 A.D. near the city of Pompeii, Italy, where a volcano called Vesuvius erupted and killed the entire population, leaving the city covered in ashes.

"Mildred ran from the parlor like a native fleeing an eruption of Vesuvius."

By using this explicit allusion, Bradbury explains that Mildred was running away from something terrible, as fast as she could, because it would otherwise have killed her — just like every inhabitant of Pompeii.

Hyperbole is used in text in order to exaggerate somebody’s trait or characteristic, such as power, beauty, wealth, influence, strength, and many others. Hyperbole usually has an amusing effect used to help readers visualize the strong points of the text. An example of hyperbole would be a line from Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”:

“I had to wait in the station for ten days — an eternity.”

In order to indicate how painful, worrisome, and exhausting it was for the character to wait in the station for ten days, he compares to an eternity. It was only 10 days but felt much longer given the circumstances.

Conventional Symbols in Literature

Some of the symbols in literature are incorporated in culture so deeply that they became conventional — clear to almost anyone, because they create images and moods instantly after being mentioned.

Colors usually suggest certain emotions and characteristics with powerful meanings: red — anger, blood, love, or passion; blue — calmness and peace of mind; green — wealth, jealousy, nature; white — purity, innocence, spiritualism; purple — royalty and many others.

Seasons in most cases pertain to age: spring — youth and freshness, start of something new; winter — elderly people or even death, the zenith of one’s life; summer — the peak of development, prime of life; fall — decay, negative change, middle life, growing older.

There are many other everyday life things that involve symbolism: light — good, hope, and freedom; darkness — bad luck, tragedy, evil, the unknown; wind — change in life, speed, transition, inability to change things, destruction; rainbow — hope for the better.

Some objects and animals can also carry symbolic meaning: dove — peace; snake – evil; horse — phallic sexuality; a ring — fidelity, happiness; a broken mirror — bad luck and misfortune; a chain — unity or imprisonment.

Need some help with homework? Leave us a notice ' help me with math ' or 'I need physic helper '.

Ways to Use Symbolism in Writing

As we saw earlier, there are many different literary tools that can help use symbolism in your own writing. Understanding of their function and examples helps you embed them in your essay. Symbolism has numerous functions in writing.

Use Symbolism

Some of the things you can create in your essays with symbolism are adding emotion . In “Night” by Ellie Wiesel, the concept of night, its darkness and mystery is used as a symbol of negative emotions, tragedy, despair, and death suffered by incarcerated Jews in the concentration camp.

Another role it might play in your paper is connecting themes . In “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the color green is used throughout the whole book to suggest wealth and lust for money, a desire of getting rich in spite of any moral issues, a luxury lifestyle, and grandeur.


Defining a character is another thing a person might achieve while using symbolism. In Harper Lee’s 'To Kill a Mockingbird' the character of Tom is suggested to be innocent, because he was hurt, but he, like a mockingbird, is harmless.

"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

The best way to include symbols in your essay is to do so once you are done writing and can look for places where it can be incorporated best out of the whole body of text. By no means should symbolism be your main focus of writing. Instead, you should focus on the strong points of the story and its characters. Symbolism is only a beautification of a piece that is already strong. It only helps you to enhance the story, make it alive and vivid, and showcase its complexity to the reader.

It is not extremely difficult to use symbolism in your own writing. Metaphor, allegory, hyperbole, allusion, archetype, and all the other literary devices discussed in this article are great aids to make your essay a beautiful piece of literature. A simple comparison of one thing to another can enhance the text tremendously, show off your semantic skills, and make the text beautiful overall, like a flower. See what I did there? Not that hard, I presume.

We also recommend that you read the article on how to write an essay introduction .

Stressed by Deadlines Looming? 

Take a load off - let us handle all your schoolwork worries while you catch your breath!

What Is the Symbolism in Literature?

How do you analyze symbolism in literature, what is imagery and symbolism in literature.

Adam Jason

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

literary analysis essay example symbolism

Related Articles

The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary

beginner's guide to literary analysis

Understanding literature & how to write literary analysis.

Literary analysis is the foundation of every college and high school English class. Once you can comprehend written work and respond to it, the next step is to learn how to think critically and complexly about a work of literature in order to analyze its elements and establish ideas about its meaning.

If that sounds daunting, it shouldn’t. Literary analysis is really just a way of thinking creatively about what you read. The practice takes you beyond the storyline and into the motives behind it. 

While an author might have had a specific intention when they wrote their book, there’s still no right or wrong way to analyze a literary text—just your way. You can use literary theories, which act as “lenses” through which you can view a text. Or you can use your own creativity and critical thinking to identify a literary device or pattern in a text and weave that insight into your own argument about the text’s underlying meaning. 

Now, if that sounds fun, it should , because it is. Here, we’ll lay the groundwork for performing literary analysis, including when writing analytical essays, to help you read books like a critic. 

What Is Literary Analysis?

As the name suggests, literary analysis is an analysis of a work, whether that’s a novel, play, short story, or poem. Any analysis requires breaking the content into its component parts and then examining how those parts operate independently and as a whole. In literary analysis, those parts can be different devices and elements—such as plot, setting, themes, symbols, etcetera—as well as elements of style, like point of view or tone. 

When performing analysis, you consider some of these different elements of the text and then form an argument for why the author chose to use them. You can do so while reading and during class discussion, but it’s particularly important when writing essays. 

Literary analysis is notably distinct from summary. When you write a summary , you efficiently describe the work’s main ideas or plot points in order to establish an overview of the work. While you might use elements of summary when writing analysis, you should do so minimally. You can reference a plot line to make a point, but it should be done so quickly so you can focus on why that plot line matters . In summary (see what we did there?), a summary focuses on the “ what ” of a text, while analysis turns attention to the “ how ” and “ why .”

While literary analysis can be broad, covering themes across an entire work, it can also be very specific, and sometimes the best analysis is just that. Literary critics have written thousands of words about the meaning of an author’s single word choice; while you might not want to be quite that particular, there’s a lot to be said for digging deep in literary analysis, rather than wide. 

Although you’re forming your own argument about the work, it’s not your opinion . You should avoid passing judgment on the piece and instead objectively consider what the author intended, how they went about executing it, and whether or not they were successful in doing so. Literary criticism is similar to literary analysis, but it is different in that it does pass judgement on the work. Criticism can also consider literature more broadly, without focusing on a singular work. 

Once you understand what constitutes (and doesn’t constitute) literary analysis, it’s easy to identify it. Here are some examples of literary analysis and its oft-confused counterparts: 

Summary: In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the narrator visits his friend Roderick Usher and witnesses his sister escape a horrible fate.  

Opinion: In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe uses his great Gothic writing to establish a sense of spookiness that is enjoyable to read. 

Literary Analysis: “Throughout ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ Poe foreshadows the fate of Madeline by creating a sense of claustrophobia for the reader through symbols, such as in the narrator’s inability to leave and the labyrinthine nature of the house. 

In summary, literary analysis is:

  • Breaking a work into its components
  • Identifying what those components are and how they work in the text
  • Developing an understanding of how they work together to achieve a goal 
  • Not an opinion, but subjective 
  • Not a summary, though summary can be used in passing 
  • Best when it deeply, rather than broadly, analyzes a literary element

Literary Analysis and Other Works

As discussed above, literary analysis is often performed upon a single work—but it doesn’t have to be. It can also be performed across works to consider the interplay of two or more texts. Regardless of whether or not the works were written about the same thing, or even within the same time period, they can have an influence on one another or a connection that’s worth exploring. And reading two or more texts side by side can help you to develop insights through comparison and contrast.

For example, Paradise Lost is an epic poem written in the 17th century, based largely on biblical narratives written some 700 years before and which later influenced 19th century poet John Keats. The interplay of works can be obvious, as here, or entirely the inspiration of the analyst. As an example of the latter, you could compare and contrast the writing styles of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe who, while contemporaries in terms of time, were vastly different in their content. 

Additionally, literary analysis can be performed between a work and its context. Authors are often speaking to the larger context of their times, be that social, political, religious, economic, or artistic. A valid and interesting form is to compare the author’s context to the work, which is done by identifying and analyzing elements that are used to make an argument about the writer’s time or experience. 

For example, you could write an essay about how Hemingway’s struggles with mental health and paranoia influenced his later work, or how his involvement in the Spanish Civil War influenced his early work. One approach focuses more on his personal experience, while the other turns to the context of his times—both are valid. 

Why Does Literary Analysis Matter? 

Sometimes an author wrote a work of literature strictly for entertainment’s sake, but more often than not, they meant something more. Whether that was a missive on world peace, commentary about femininity, or an allusion to their experience as an only child, the author probably wrote their work for a reason, and understanding that reason—or the many reasons—can actually make reading a lot more meaningful. 

Performing literary analysis as a form of study unquestionably makes you a better reader. It’s also likely that it will improve other skills, too, like critical thinking, creativity, debate, and reasoning. 

At its grandest and most idealistic, literary analysis even has the ability to make the world a better place. By reading and analyzing works of literature, you are able to more fully comprehend the perspectives of others. Cumulatively, you’ll broaden your own perspectives and contribute more effectively to the things that matter to you. 

Literary Terms to Know for Literary Analysis 

There are hundreds of literary devices you could consider during your literary analysis, but there are some key tools most writers utilize to achieve their purpose—and therefore you need to know in order to understand that purpose. These common devices include: 

  • Characters: The people (or entities) who play roles in the work. The protagonist is the main character in the work. 
  • Conflict: The conflict is the driving force behind the plot, the event that causes action in the narrative, usually on the part of the protagonist
  • Context : The broader circumstances surrounding the work political and social climate in which it was written or the experience of the author. It can also refer to internal context, and the details presented by the narrator 
  • Diction : The word choice used by the narrator or characters 
  • Genre: A category of literature characterized by agreed upon similarities in the works, such as subject matter and tone
  • Imagery : The descriptive or figurative language used to paint a picture in the reader’s mind so they can picture the story’s plot, characters, and setting 
  • Metaphor: A figure of speech that uses comparison between two unlike objects for dramatic or poetic effect
  • Narrator: The person who tells the story. Sometimes they are a character within the story, but sometimes they are omniscient and removed from the plot. 
  • Plot : The storyline of the work
  • Point of view: The perspective taken by the narrator, which skews the perspective of the reader 
  • Setting : The time and place in which the story takes place. This can include elements like the time period, weather, time of year or day, and social or economic conditions 
  • Symbol : An object, person, or place that represents an abstract idea that is greater than its literal meaning 
  • Syntax : The structure of a sentence, either narration or dialogue, and the tone it implies
  • Theme : A recurring subject or message within the work, often commentary on larger societal or cultural ideas
  • Tone : The feeling, attitude, or mood the text presents

How to Perform Literary Analysis

Step 1: read the text thoroughly.

Literary analysis begins with the literature itself, which means performing a close reading of the text. As you read, you should focus on the work. That means putting away distractions (sorry, smartphone) and dedicating a period of time to the task at hand. 

It’s also important that you don’t skim or speed read. While those are helpful skills, they don’t apply to literary analysis—or at least not this stage. 

Step 2: Take Notes as You Read  

As you read the work, take notes about different literary elements and devices that stand out to you. Whether you highlight or underline in text, use sticky note tabs to mark pages and passages, or handwrite your thoughts in a notebook, you should capture your thoughts and the parts of the text to which they correspond. This—the act of noticing things about a literary work—is literary analysis. 

Step 3: Notice Patterns 

As you read the work, you’ll begin to notice patterns in the way the author deploys language, themes, and symbols to build their plot and characters. As you read and these patterns take shape, begin to consider what they could mean and how they might fit together. 

As you identify these patterns, as well as other elements that catch your interest, be sure to record them in your notes or text. Some examples include: 

  • Circle or underline words or terms that you notice the author uses frequently, whether those are nouns (like “eyes” or “road”) or adjectives (like “yellow” or “lush”).
  • Highlight phrases that give you the same kind of feeling. For example, if the narrator describes an “overcast sky,” a “dreary morning,” and a “dark, quiet room,” the words aren’t the same, but the feeling they impart and setting they develop are similar. 
  • Underline quotes or prose that define a character’s personality or their role in the text.
  • Use sticky tabs to color code different elements of the text, such as specific settings or a shift in the point of view. 

By noting these patterns, comprehensive symbols, metaphors, and ideas will begin to come into focus.  

Step 4: Consider the Work as a Whole, and Ask Questions

This is a step that you can do either as you read, or after you finish the text. The point is to begin to identify the aspects of the work that most interest you, and you could therefore analyze in writing or discussion. 

Questions you could ask yourself include: 

  • What aspects of the text do I not understand?
  • What parts of the narrative or writing struck me most?
  • What patterns did I notice?
  • What did the author accomplish really well?
  • What did I find lacking?
  • Did I notice any contradictions or anything that felt out of place?  
  • What was the purpose of the minor characters?
  • What tone did the author choose, and why? 

The answers to these and more questions will lead you to your arguments about the text. 

Step 5: Return to Your Notes and the Text for Evidence

As you identify the argument you want to make (especially if you’re preparing for an essay), return to your notes to see if you already have supporting evidence for your argument. That’s why it’s so important to take notes or mark passages as you read—you’ll thank yourself later!

If you’re preparing to write an essay, you’ll use these passages and ideas to bolster your argument—aka, your thesis. There will likely be multiple different passages you can use to strengthen multiple different aspects of your argument. Just be sure to cite the text correctly! 

If you’re preparing for class, your notes will also be invaluable. When your teacher or professor leads the conversation in the direction of your ideas or arguments, you’ll be able to not only proffer that idea but back it up with textual evidence. That’s an A+ in class participation. 

Step 6: Connect These Ideas Across the Narrative

Whether you’re in class or writing an essay, literary analysis isn’t complete until you’ve considered the way these ideas interact and contribute to the work as a whole. You can find and present evidence, but you still have to explain how those elements work together and make up your argument. 

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

When conducting literary analysis while reading a text or discussing it in class, you can pivot easily from one argument to another (or even switch sides if a classmate or teacher makes a compelling enough argument). 

But when writing literary analysis, your objective is to propose a specific, arguable thesis and convincingly defend it. In order to do so, you need to fortify your argument with evidence from the text (and perhaps secondary sources) and an authoritative tone. 

A successful literary analysis essay depends equally on a thoughtful thesis, supportive analysis, and presenting these elements masterfully. We’ll review how to accomplish these objectives below. 

Step 1: Read the Text. Maybe Read It Again. 

Constructing an astute analytical essay requires a thorough knowledge of the text. As you read, be sure to note any passages, quotes, or ideas that stand out. These could serve as the future foundation of your thesis statement. Noting these sections now will help you when you need to gather evidence. 

The more familiar you become with the text, the better (and easier!) your essay will be. Familiarity with the text allows you to speak (or in this case, write) to it confidently. If you only skim the book, your lack of rich understanding will be evident in your essay. Alternatively, if you read the text closely—especially if you read it more than once, or at least carefully revisit important passages—your own writing will be filled with insight that goes beyond a basic understanding of the storyline. 

Step 2: Brainstorm Potential Topics 

Because you took detailed notes while reading the text, you should have a list of potential topics at the ready. Take time to review your notes, highlighting any ideas or questions you had that feel interesting. You should also return to the text and look for any passages that stand out to you. 

When considering potential topics, you should prioritize ideas that you find interesting. It won’t only make the whole process of writing an essay more fun, your enthusiasm for the topic will probably improve the quality of your argument, and maybe even your writing. Just like it’s obvious when a topic interests you in a conversation, it’s obvious when a topic interests the writer of an essay (and even more obvious when it doesn’t). 

Your topic ideas should also be specific, unique, and arguable. A good way to think of topics is that they’re the answer to fairly specific questions. As you begin to brainstorm, first think of questions you have about the text. Questions might focus on the plot, such as: Why did the author choose to deviate from the projected storyline? Or why did a character’s role in the narrative shift? Questions might also consider the use of a literary device, such as: Why does the narrator frequently repeat a phrase or comment on a symbol? Or why did the author choose to switch points of view each chapter? 

Once you have a thesis question , you can begin brainstorming answers—aka, potential thesis statements . At this point, your answers can be fairly broad. Once you land on a question-statement combination that feels right, you’ll then look for evidence in the text that supports your answer (and helps you define and narrow your thesis statement). 

For example, after reading “ The Fall of the House of Usher ,” you might be wondering, Why are Roderick and Madeline twins?, Or even: Why does their relationship feel so creepy?” Maybe you noticed (and noted) that the narrator was surprised to find out they were twins, or perhaps you found that the narrator’s tone tended to shift and become more anxious when discussing the interactions of the twins.

Once you come up with your thesis question, you can identify a broad answer, which will become the basis for your thesis statement. In response to the questions above, your answer might be, “Poe emphasizes the close relationship of Roderick and Madeline to foreshadow that their deaths will be close, too.” 

Step 3: Gather Evidence 

Once you have your topic (or you’ve narrowed it down to two or three), return to the text (yes, again) to see what evidence you can find to support it. If you’re thinking of writing about the relationship between Roderick and Madeline in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” look for instances where they engaged in the text. 

This is when your knowledge of literary devices comes in clutch. Carefully study the language around each event in the text that might be relevant to your topic. How does Poe’s diction or syntax change during the interactions of the siblings? How does the setting reflect or contribute to their relationship? What imagery or symbols appear when Roderick and Madeline are together? 

By finding and studying evidence within the text, you’ll strengthen your topic argument—or, just as valuably, discount the topics that aren’t strong enough for analysis. 

literary analysis essay example symbolism

Step 4: Consider Secondary Sources 

In addition to returning to the literary work you’re studying for evidence, you can also consider secondary sources that reference or speak to the work. These can be articles from journals you find on JSTOR, books that consider the work or its context, or articles your teacher shared in class. 

While you can use these secondary sources to further support your idea, you should not overuse them. Make sure your topic remains entirely differentiated from that presented in the source. 

Step 5: Write a Working Thesis Statement

Once you’ve gathered evidence and narrowed down your topic, you’re ready to refine that topic into a thesis statement. As you continue to outline and write your paper, this thesis statement will likely change slightly, but this initial draft will serve as the foundation of your essay. It’s like your north star: Everything you write in your essay is leading you back to your thesis. 

Writing a great thesis statement requires some real finesse. A successful thesis statement is: 

  • Debatable : You shouldn’t simply summarize or make an obvious statement about the work. Instead, your thesis statement should take a stand on an issue or make a claim that is open to argument. You’ll spend your essay debating—and proving—your argument. 
  • Demonstrable : You need to be able to prove, through evidence, that your thesis statement is true. That means you have to have passages from the text and correlative analysis ready to convince the reader that you’re right. 
  • Specific : In most cases, successfully addressing a theme that encompasses a work in its entirety would require a book-length essay. Instead, identify a thesis statement that addresses specific elements of the work, such as a relationship between characters, a repeating symbol, a key setting, or even something really specific like the speaking style of a character. 

Example: By depicting the relationship between Roderick and Madeline to be stifling and almost otherworldly in its closeness, Poe foreshadows both Madeline’s fate and Roderick’s inability to choose a different fate for himself. 

Step 6: Write an Outline 

You have your thesis, you have your evidence—but how do you put them together? A great thesis statement (and therefore a great essay) will have multiple arguments supporting it, presenting different kinds of evidence that all contribute to the singular, main idea presented in your thesis. 

Review your evidence and identify these different arguments, then organize the evidence into categories based on the argument they support. These ideas and evidence will become the body paragraphs of your essay. 

For example, if you were writing about Roderick and Madeline as in the example above, you would pull evidence from the text, such as the narrator’s realization of their relationship as twins; examples where the narrator’s tone of voice shifts when discussing their relationship; imagery, like the sounds Roderick hears as Madeline tries to escape; and Poe’s tendency to use doubles and twins in his other writings to create the same spooky effect. All of these are separate strains of the same argument, and can be clearly organized into sections of an outline. 

Step 7: Write Your Introduction

Your introduction serves a few very important purposes that essentially set the scene for the reader: 

  • Establish context. Sure, your reader has probably read the work. But you still want to remind them of the scene, characters, or elements you’ll be discussing. 
  • Present your thesis statement. Your thesis statement is the backbone of your analytical paper. You need to present it clearly at the outset so that the reader understands what every argument you make is aimed at. 
  • Offer a mini-outline. While you don’t want to show all your cards just yet, you do want to preview some of the evidence you’ll be using to support your thesis so that the reader has a roadmap of where they’re going. 

Step 8: Write Your Body Paragraphs

Thanks to steps one through seven, you’ve already set yourself up for success. You have clearly outlined arguments and evidence to support them. Now it’s time to translate those into authoritative and confident prose. 

When presenting each idea, begin with a topic sentence that encapsulates the argument you’re about to make (sort of like a mini-thesis statement). Then present your evidence and explanations of that evidence that contribute to that argument. Present enough material to prove your point, but don’t feel like you necessarily have to point out every single instance in the text where this element takes place. For example, if you’re highlighting a symbol that repeats throughout the narrative, choose two or three passages where it is used most effectively, rather than trying to squeeze in all ten times it appears. 

While you should have clearly defined arguments, the essay should still move logically and fluidly from one argument to the next. Try to avoid choppy paragraphs that feel disjointed; every idea and argument should feel connected to the last, and, as a group, connected to your thesis. A great way to connect the ideas from one paragraph to the next is with transition words and phrases, such as: 

  • Furthermore 
  • In addition
  • On the other hand
  • Conversely 

literary analysis essay example symbolism

Step 9: Write Your Conclusion 

Your conclusion is more than a summary of your essay's parts, but it’s also not a place to present brand new ideas not already discussed in your essay. Instead, your conclusion should return to your thesis (without repeating it verbatim) and point to why this all matters. If writing about the siblings in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” for example, you could point out that the utilization of twins and doubles is a common literary element of Poe’s work that contributes to the definitive eeriness of Gothic literature. 

While you might speak to larger ideas in your conclusion, be wary of getting too macro. Your conclusion should still be supported by all of the ideas that preceded it. 

Step 10: Revise, Revise, Revise

Of course you should proofread your literary analysis essay before you turn it in. But you should also edit the content to make sure every piece of evidence and every explanation directly supports your thesis as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

Sometimes, this might mean actually adapting your thesis a bit to the rest of your essay. At other times, it means removing redundant examples or paraphrasing quotations. Make sure every sentence is valuable, and remove those that aren’t. 

Other Resources for Literary Analysis 

With these skills and suggestions, you’re well on your way to practicing and writing literary analysis. But if you don’t have a firm grasp on the concepts discussed above—such as literary devices or even the content of the text you’re analyzing—it will still feel difficult to produce insightful analysis. 

If you’d like to sharpen the tools in your literature toolbox, there are plenty of other resources to help you do so: 

  • Check out our expansive library of Literary Devices . These could provide you with a deeper understanding of the basic devices discussed above or introduce you to new concepts sure to impress your professors ( anagnorisis , anyone?). 
  • This Academic Citation Resource Guide ensures you properly cite any work you reference in your analytical essay. 
  • Our English Homework Help Guide will point you to dozens of resources that can help you perform analysis, from critical reading strategies to poetry helpers. 
  • This Grammar Education Resource Guide will direct you to plenty of resources to refine your grammar and writing (definitely important for getting an A+ on that paper). 

Of course, you should know the text inside and out before you begin writing your analysis. In order to develop a true understanding of the work, read through its corresponding SuperSummary study guide . Doing so will help you truly comprehend the plot, as well as provide some inspirational ideas for your analysis.

literary analysis essay example symbolism

Literary Theory and Criticism

Home › Literature › Analysis of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily

Analysis of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on June 12, 2021

Initially published in Forum on April 30, 1930, and collected in These Thirteen in 1931, “A Rose for Emily” remains one of William Faulkner’s most read, most anthologized, and most significant stories. From every imaginable perspective, critics have scrutinized the components of Faulkner’s literary technique: The story has been viewed as an allegory of southern history, a metaphorical depiction of NorthSouth relationships, feminist nightmare or feminist victory, a gothic horror story, a sociological portrayal of individualism squelched or individualism triumphant, a bleak fictional tale of determinism. Faulkner’s uses of structure, tone, point of view, and imagery play key roles in his depiction of Miss Emily Grierson. The fact that readers and critics still engage in interpretive debates over its meaning merely ensures that it will continue to be read.

literary analysis essay example symbolism

Told from the perspective of Jefferson, in Yoknapatawpha County, in a narrative voice that consistently relates the details that “we”—the smug and gossipy townspeople of Jefferson—have observed, the story is intriguing on the level of plot and character alone: Miss Emily has just died, and we learn that she lived alone after her father died and Homer Baron, her Yankee lover, apparently abandoned her. Suspense continues to build when we learn that a mysterious odor emanated from her house at the time that Homer disappeared. Faulkner employs a number of clues to foreshadow both denouement and motivation, including the “tableau” of the imperious father with a horsewhip overshadowing his white-clad young daughter Emily; the portrait of her father that Emily displays at his death, despite his thwarting of her natural youthful desires; her defiant public appearances with the unsuitable Homer Baron; her sense of entitlement; and the arsenic she buys to rid her house of “rats.” Despite these and other devices, however, new generations of readers still react in horror when Emily’s secret is revealed: She not only murdered her lover but slept with his corpse in the attic bridal chamber she carefully prepared.

If Miss Emily is crazy (and most critics agree that she is), Faulkner implies that she has been made so by the constrictions of a father who refused to let her marry and by the conventions of a society that eagerly filled the void at his death. Numerous critics have suggested that behind the gothic horror of necrophilia and insanity in this classic story, Miss Emily Grierson is the oddly modern hero. Indeed, one critic asserts that we cannot understand any of Faulkner’s heroes if we do not understand Miss Emily, for she is the “prototype” of them all (Strindberg 877). As with other troubled Faulknerian protagonists, death literally frees Miss Emily—from patriarchy, from society’s conventions, from sexual repression, from the class structure she was taught to revere, from the useless existence of privileged women of her era, even from the burdens of southern history and slavery: With her death, her black servant, mysteriously complicit in his relation to Miss Emily, walks out of her house at the end of the story. In an interview at the University of Virginia, Faulkner suggested that Miss Emily deserved a rose for all the torment she had endured, and, whatever else they feel, most readers appear to agree with this sentiment.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. 2 Vols. New York: Random House, 1974. Rev. ed., New York: Random House, 1984. Carothers, James. Faulkner’s Short Stories. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1985. Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” In Collected Short Stories. New York: Random House, 1940. Ferguson, James. Faulkner’s Short Fiction. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991. Strindberg, Victor. “A Rose for Emily.” In Reader’s Guide to Short Fiction, edited by Noelle Watson, 577. Detroit: St. James Press, 1993.

Share this:

Categories: Literature , Short Story

Tags: American Literature , Analysis of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily , criticism of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily , essays of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily , guide of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily , Literary Criticism , notes of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily , plot of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily , summary of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily , themes of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily , William Faulkner , William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily , William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily appreciation , William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily criticism , William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily essays , William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily guide , William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily notes , William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily plot , William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily themes

Related Articles

Italo Calvino

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Fences — Literary Symbolism in Fences


Literary Symbolism in Fences

  • Categories: Fences Symbolism

About this sample


Words: 534 |

Published: Mar 16, 2024

Words: 534 | Page: 1 | 3 min read

Table of contents

The baseball bat.

Image of Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Let us write you an essay from scratch

  • 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
  • Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours

Get high-quality help


Dr. Heisenberg

Verified writer

  • Expert in: Literature


+ 120 experts online

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy . We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

No need to pay just yet!

Related Essays

2 pages / 1087 words

2 pages / 895 words

3.5 pages / 1629 words

3.5 pages / 1692 words

Remember! This is just a sample.

You can get your custom paper by one of our expert writers.

121 writers online

Still can’t find what you need?

Browse our vast selection of original essay samples, each expertly formatted and styled

Related Essays on Fences

Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2009). August Wilson's Fences. Infobase Publishing.Elam, H. (1997). The past in August Wilson's Fences. Journal of American Studies, 31(3), 387-398.Gantt, K. E. (1999). Playing in the dark: August Wilson's [...]

The character of Troy Maxson in August Wilson's play "Fences" is a multifaceted individual whose personality is shaped by a combination of strengths, flaws, and life experiences. In this essay, we will delve into the intricate [...]

"Fences," a play by August Wilson, explores the themes of dreams and struggles and their intersection in the lives of the characters. The play offers valuable insights into the human condition, highlighting how unfulfilled [...]

August Wilson's play, Fences, is a powerful exploration of the impact of death and loss on the lives of its characters. Set in the 1950s, the play examines the ways in which death shapes the experiences, relationships, and [...]

Exploring Troy Maxon's Values: Discuss and analyze the core values held by Troy Maxon in August Wilson's "Fences," considering how these values shape his character and decisions throughout the play. [...]

Divides Made By Fences Built By definition, the structure of a fence is said to be a barrier that controls access or prevents escape from a specific area. In August Wilson's Fences, this definition stands for much larger [...]

Related Topics

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and Privacy statement . We will occasionally send you account related emails.

Where do you want us to send this sample?

By clicking “Continue”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.

Be careful. This essay is not unique

This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before

Download this Sample

Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts

Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.

Please check your inbox.

We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!

Get Your Personalized Essay in 3 Hours or Less!

We use cookies to personalyze your web-site experience. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy .

  • Instructions Followed To The Letter
  • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
  • Unique And Plagiarism Free

literary analysis essay example symbolism

Decoding the Symbolism and Performances in the Movie “Signs”: a Detailed Cast Analysis

This essay about M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” explores the film’s use of symbolism and powerful performances to engage the audience in a story filled with existential questions and deep emotional themes. It highlights the performances of Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, who bring to life the characters’ struggles with faith and doubt. The narrative also discusses how symbolic elements like crop circles enhance the film’s profound exploration of humanity, faith, and family.

How it works

In the intricate world of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” symbolism intertwines with exceptional acting to create a captivating narrative full of intrigue and depth. This film invites viewers to explore a complex story replete with hidden meanings and significant discoveries, presenting a narrative landscape rich with existential questions and deep emotional resonance.

Central to this cinematic masterpiece is Graham Hess, played by the compelling Mel Gibson. As a former priest who is struggling with his crumbling faith after a devastating personal loss, Graham is at the core of the film’s examination of the rough terrain of belief and skepticism.

Gibson delivers a nuanced performance, with every look and movement reflecting the turmoil of a man lost in doubt.

Contrasting with Gibson’s reserved intensity, Joaquin Phoenix plays Merrill, Graham’s impulsive younger brother, with fervent energy and indomitable spirit. Phoenix brings a rough-hewn charm and steadfast determination to Merrill, adding a vital balance to the screen. The chemistry between Gibson and Phoenix is electrifying, enhancing the film’s dynamic tension.

Throughout the film, mysterious symbols such as crop circles and trembling glasses of water emerge, each bearing enigmatic significance that challenges conventional interpretation. These symbols serve as a call from Shyamalan to look deeper, to explore the inner workings of the human psyche where fear meets faith in a dramatic clash.

Amidst these profound themes, Rory Culkin’s portrayal of Morgan, Graham’s son, stands out with its portrayal of vulnerability and innocence. Culkin brings a delicate touch to the role, highlighting the poignant contrast between youthful naivety and the darkening forces around him. Abigail Breslin, as Bo, Morgan’s younger sister, shines brightly with innocence and a subtle intuition of the looming dangers.

The interplay among the characters, against the backdrop of impending dread, adds layers of depth to their interactions with each other and the symbolic elements around them. Directed masterfully by Shyamalan and brought to life through powerful performances, “Signs” is more than a genre film—it’s a profound exploration of faith, family, and the essence of humanity.

As the film concludes, the intertwined journeys of its characters offer a narrative of resilience and redemption, leaving the audience in contemplation of the profound impact cinema has on exploring and illuminating the human condition.


Cite this page

Decoding the Symbolism and Performances in the Movie "Signs": A Detailed Cast Analysis. (2024, May 21). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/decoding-the-symbolism-and-performances-in-the-movie-signs-a-detailed-cast-analysis/

"Decoding the Symbolism and Performances in the Movie "Signs": A Detailed Cast Analysis." PapersOwl.com , 21 May 2024, https://papersowl.com/examples/decoding-the-symbolism-and-performances-in-the-movie-signs-a-detailed-cast-analysis/

PapersOwl.com. (2024). Decoding the Symbolism and Performances in the Movie "Signs": A Detailed Cast Analysis . [Online]. Available at: https://papersowl.com/examples/decoding-the-symbolism-and-performances-in-the-movie-signs-a-detailed-cast-analysis/ [Accessed: 4 Jun. 2024]

"Decoding the Symbolism and Performances in the Movie "Signs": A Detailed Cast Analysis." PapersOwl.com, May 21, 2024. Accessed June 4, 2024. https://papersowl.com/examples/decoding-the-symbolism-and-performances-in-the-movie-signs-a-detailed-cast-analysis/

"Decoding the Symbolism and Performances in the Movie "Signs": A Detailed Cast Analysis," PapersOwl.com , 21-May-2024. [Online]. Available: https://papersowl.com/examples/decoding-the-symbolism-and-performances-in-the-movie-signs-a-detailed-cast-analysis/. [Accessed: 4-Jun-2024]

PapersOwl.com. (2024). Decoding the Symbolism and Performances in the Movie "Signs": A Detailed Cast Analysis . [Online]. Available at: https://papersowl.com/examples/decoding-the-symbolism-and-performances-in-the-movie-signs-a-detailed-cast-analysis/ [Accessed: 4-Jun-2024]

Don't let plagiarism ruin your grade

Hire a writer to get a unique paper crafted to your needs.


Our writers will help you fix any mistakes and get an A+!

Please check your inbox.

You can order an original essay written according to your instructions.

Trusted by over 1 million students worldwide

1. Tell Us Your Requirements

2. Pick your perfect writer

3. Get Your Paper and Pay

Hi! I'm Amy, your personal assistant!

Don't know where to start? Give me your paper requirements and I connect you to an academic expert.

short deadlines

100% Plagiarism-Free

Certified writers


  1. How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

    Table of contents. Step 1: Reading the text and identifying literary devices. Step 2: Coming up with a thesis. Step 3: Writing a title and introduction. Step 4: Writing the body of the essay. Step 5: Writing a conclusion. Other interesting articles.

  2. Literary Techniques: Symbolism

    Symbolism is a common technique used by composers. Read this post to learn about the literary technique of symbolism. We provide a step-by-step guide to help you learn to identify and analyse symbolism in your HSC texts. See examples and learn how you should discuss symbolism in your essays.

  3. How to Write a Symbolism Essay

    Universal Symbols. A universal symbol is one that would be recognized within a culture or ideology; for example, an eagle symbolizes freedom. An example from literature from Moby Dick is Ahab's search for the white whale. Because this quest occurs throughout the book, you can identify it as a symbol; a journey almost always mirrors life, and you can interpret the symbol according to how the ...

  4. Symbolism in Literature: What Symbolism Is, and How to Use It In Your

    The below symbolism examples come from published works of literature. Symbolism in Literature "Big Mother" by Anya Ow. Read this short story here, in Strange Horizons. Central symbol: Big Mother, a mythical snakehead fish. What it represents: The loss of childhood innocence. Symbolism examples in the text: Catching snakehead fish seems to ...


    The term regularly used for the development of the central idea of a literary analysis essay is the body. In this section you present the paragraphs (at least 3 paragraphs for a 500-750 word essay) that support your thesis statement. Good literary analysis essays contain an explanation of your ideas and evidence from the text (short story,

  6. How to Analyze Symbolism in 8 Easy Steps How To

    Follow these 8 easy steps to analyze symbolism in literature. 1) Take notes. Keep track of objects, characters, and ideas. This is the only way to ensure you can connect the description of a ...

  7. Symbolism

    Symbolism is a literary device in which a writer uses one thing—usually a physical object or phenomenon—to represent something more abstract. A strong symbol usually shares a set of key characteristics with whatever it is meant to symbolize, or is related to it in some other way. Characters and events can also be symbolic.

  8. How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay: Definition, Tips, Examples

    Literary Analysis Essay Topics. Before you commence the assignment, it's important to find a great topic. For your inspiration, our writers shared 20 literary analysis essay ideas that you can develop in a written form within the framework of your current task. Symbolism in "The Great Gatsby." Character development in "Hamlet."

  9. Writing 101: What Is Symbolism? Symbolism Definition and Examples in

    A rose is simply a plant growing in the dirt. The reason, of course, is that over the course of many generations, a rose's symbolic meaning has evolved to include amorous concepts. An object, concept, or word does not have to be limited to a single meaning.

  10. Hamlet Symbolism with Examples and Analysis

    Symbol #1. Ghost. The appearance of the ghost of Old Hamlet in the very first scene of the play symbolizes tough times are coming ahead. It signifies the presence of supernatural powers like the three witches of Macbeth. However, it represents the difficult times ahead for Hamlet as well as Claudius, making the revelation that Claudius is the ...

  11. How to Write a Literary Analysis: 6 Tips for the Perfect Essay

    These 4 steps will help prepare you to write an in-depth literary analysis that offers new insight to both old and modern classics. 1. Read the text and identify literary devices. As you conduct your literary analysis, you should first read through the text, keeping an eye on key elements that could serve as clues to larger, underlying themes.

  12. Symbolism

    Here are some common examples of symbolism in everyday life: rainbow-symbolizes hope and promise. red rose-symbolizes love and romance. four-leaf clover-symbolizes good luck or fortune. wedding ring-symbolizes commitment and matrimony. red, white, blue-symbolizes American patriotism. green traffic light-symbolizes "go" or proceed.

  13. Symbolism in Hills Like White Elephants

    Published: Mar 13, 2024. Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants" is a masterful work of fiction that employs symbolism to convey deep and complex themes. Set in a train station in Spain, the story revolves around a conversation between an American man and a young woman, identified only as "the girl," as they wait for a train.

  14. The Great Gatsby Symbolism with Analysis

    Symbol #2. The Green Light. The green light pops up many times in the novel and represents Gatsby's dream and hope. It also represents everything that haunts him and takes him to the past. It also signifies the green stuff (money), his memories with Daisy and the gap between his past and his present.

  15. PDF Writing a Literary Analysis

    serves as a symbol for a mother, or motherly figure. The increasingly sporadic visits to the tree by the boy symbolize a child's decreasing dependency on their mother as they grow up. Example: Through his use of figurative language, particularly symbols and metaphors, Shel Silverstein portrays the sacrificial nature of a mother's love.

  16. The Kite Runner Symbolism Analysis: [Essay Example], 598 words

    The Kite Runner Symbolism Analysis. Symbolism is a powerful literary device that authors use to convey deeper meanings and themes within their works. In Khaled Hosseini's novel, "The Kite Runner," the use of symbolism is prevalent and serves to enhance the overall narrative. This essay will delve into the various symbols present in the novel ...

  17. Symbolism Definition and Examples in Literature

    For example: A dove is a symbol of peace, a black cat signifies bad luck, and a white flag means a peace offering. Most symbols in custom essay writing services are universal and can be understood by people from different countries and backgrounds. However, some of them are culturally specific and one should be careful in order not to offend ...

  18. Beginner's Guide to Literary Analysis

    Step 1: Read the Text Thoroughly. Literary analysis begins with the literature itself, which means performing a close reading of the text. As you read, you should focus on the work. That means putting away distractions (sorry, smartphone) and dedicating a period of time to the task at hand.

  19. Analysis of William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily

    Analysis of William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on June 12, 2021. Initially published in Forum on April 30, 1930, and collected in These Thirteen in 1931, "A Rose for Emily" remains one of William Faulkner's most read, most anthologized, and most significant stories. From every imaginable perspective, critics have scrutinized the components of Faulkner's literary ...

  20. Literary Symbolism in Fences: [Essay Example], 534 words

    August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fences, is a masterful work of literary art that uses symbolism to convey deeper themes and meaning. Throughout the play, Wilson employs various symbols to represent different aspects of the characters' lives and struggles. These symbols not only enhance the overall narrative but also provide ...

  21. Decoding the Symbolism and Performances in the Movie "Signs": a

    Essay Example: In the intricate world of M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs," symbolism intertwines with exceptional acting to create a captivating narrative full of intrigue and depth. This film invites viewers to explore a complex story replete with hidden meanings and significant discoveries, presenting

  22. Symbolism Essay

    Symbolism In Literature. literature, and for works of fiction especially, authors will often utilize a literary device known as symbolism, in order to further engage readers and add a deeper layer of meaning to their story. Any object, person, or situation, can be used as a symbol provided it represents an additional concept or abstract idea ...