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Allegory

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Allegory

An allegory is an extended form of personification which uses characters and events in a seemingly unrelated surface story to express an underlying message. In this article, we will explore what an allegory is, how an allegory is formed, and some examples of allegory.

Allegory

An allegory is an extended form of personification. An allegory is when an abstract concept is expressed in the form of a character or object. An allegory uses a broader narrative, often in the form of a character, to express an idea or teach a lesson. An allegory can be seen as an extended metaphor. The hidden meaning of allegories is often vastly different to the surface story in the text. You could write an allegory about a moral theme or idea or a historical event.

Allegory: an allegory is when an abstract concept is expressed in the form of a character. An allegory uses a broader narrative, often in the form of a character, to express an idea or teach a lesson.

Personification: personification is when an abstract concept is expressed as though it were alive or as though it had human attributes.

Examples of an Allegory

A well-known example of an allegory in literature is John Bunyan's Christian allegorical text The Pilgrim's Progress (1678). This fictional text is considered a prominent work in theological fiction and serves as a well-known example of allegory.

The text documents the pilgrimage of Christian, the protagonist, from his hometown 'City of Destruction', which represents the human world, to the 'Celestial City' which represents heaven. After reading 'the book in his hand' - which is the Bible but is not referred to as such - Christian believes God will destroy the city as it is plagued with sin. He then sets out on this pilgrimage to seek deliverance.

As Christian embarks on his journey, he overcomes physical obstacles such as the 'Slough of Despond', which many pilgrims fail to cross due to their fears and doubts. He also encounters symbolic settings, such as the 'Village of Morality', where people lived according to the Ten Commandments and which one can find in the Bible.

These features all represent broader ideas than what they initially seem. For example, the Slough of Despond represents the doubts and fears that Christians may experience regarding their faith. The Village of Morality represents an ideal community where Christians follow the Ten Commandments.

Allegory pilgrim walking studysmarterPilgrim walking, pixabay.com

Other examples of allegorical texts are:

  • The Somonyng of Everyman (1510) - Unknown author: The character Everyman represents humans as they come face to face with death and final judgment, and also personifies abstract qualities of beauty, good deeds, and knowledge. Everyman is used to express these abstract concepts.

  • Animal Farm (1945) - George Orwell: The allegory in Animal Farm (1945) is centred around the animals, who can speak, and their experience on the farm, as the story represents the events and people of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

  • The Faerie Queene (1590) - Edmund Spenser: The characters in this epic poem, specifically the Arthurian knights, are used as an allegory to explore vices and virtues. For example, the Red Cross Knight represents Holiness.

Difference between Allegory and Metaphor

A metaphor compares two seemingly unrelated things to express an idea. An allegory uses a broader narrative, often in the form of a character, to express an idea or teach a lesson. Both metaphors and allegories are types of figurative language. An allegory can be seen as an extended metaphor.

Here is an example of a metaphor:

'The wind wailed and the sky was overcome by the weeping widow that was the rain.'

This metaphor related the rain to a weeping widow. This is a metaphor because it expresses two seemingly unrelated things - the rain and the idea of a grieving widow - to express how the rain is pouring down and how it sounds.

Here is an example of an allegory using a similar scenario of pouring rain:

It always rained after she attended these meetings. The rain would first trickle, like a dripping tap, then patter, then pour and pour and pour. It reminded her of herself in a way, how she'd feel after these meetings. It wasn't a comforting rain, it wasn't a refreshing rain.

In this example, the rain is used to reflect the greater idea of how the narrator is feeling. It expresses how the narrator feels about the meetings she has to attend. It contributes to the broader narrative of the possible development the main character has with her feelings about these meetings.

Allegory raining night StudySmarterRain pouring outside on a dark night, pixabay.com

Difference between Allegory and Symbolism

Symbolism is when an object, occurrence or action represents something beyond itself. Symbolism specifically uses symbols to do this, for example, a crown representing a monarch. An allegory is different from symbolism because it makes extensive use of symbolism through characters or objects, and with the addition of symbols, to express a broader meaning.

Here is an example of symbolism:

'As he took his dying breath on his throne, the King's crown was knocked off his head and clattered to the floor.'

The King's crown is symbolic of the monarchy. As the King is dying, his crown falls to the floor and this is reflective of the current state of his monarchy. His monarchy is also dying or has been toppled from its stronghold of power.

Here is an example of an allegory using the crown as a symbol:

He walked along the grand hallways and saw the walls littered with little golden crowns, like the King's crown. This wasn't the first or only instance he had seen these little golden crowns dotting the kingdom. They seemed to be everywhere, woven into every fabric you could purchase at the markets. The King's own brand and he wanted it seen, and known, and felt.

This allegory uses the symbol of a King's crown. Crowns generally symbolise monarchy. This example shows how frequently and symbol of the King's crown is present in the kingdom. This extensive use of symbolism contributes to the broader idea of the King's insistence on making his power in the kingdom felt by the people. The symbolism here adds to the greater allegory of the monarchy's demise.

Allegory crown emblem StudySmarterCrown emblem, pixabay.com

Types of Allegory

  • Classical allegory: You can think of classical allegories as some of the best-known allegories found in classical literature. For example, The Allegory of the Cave in Plato’s Republic (Book 7) (approx. 380 BC) represents how people live in the world and perception of reality in contrast to one’s interpretation of reality. There are people living in the Cave, and the only objects they see are the shadows on the cave wall, which are reflected by the light of a fire behind them. These people do not see the objects directly with their own eyes.

Allegory Plato's cave StudySmarterPlato's Cave, freepik.com

  • Biblical allegory: Biblical allegories are specific to themes and teachings which can be found in the Bible. An example of this is Aslan, ruler of the kingdom of Narnia, in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956). Aslan represents Jesus Christ, and the allegory explores parallels such as Jesus’s sacrifices, betrayal, and resurrection, as Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund, one of four protagonists, who represents Judas. Aslan experiences betrayal at Edmund’s hands, and is later resurrected as the ruler of the kingdom of Narnia.

Allegory Narnia StudySmarterThe Chronicles of Narnia books, pixabay.com

  • Modern allegory: Modern allegories in literature are allegories that are not explicitly presented as such, but one can interpret them to be allegorical works, although they may not have been intended to be seen as such. A popular example is whether the events in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) serve as an allegory for World War 1.

Allegory  Lord of the Rings StudySmarterArtefact from The Lord of the Rings, pixabay.com

How do Symbols function within an Allegory?

Symbols can be used as a tool when creating an allegory. An object, occurrence, or action can be used to represent an abstract meaning or idea. For example, a book representing knowledge, or a crown representing a monarch. An allegory constructs a broad narrative that can be consistent throughout the text.

How to identify an allegory

An allegory will contain a broader message or lesson that is explained through objects or characters. The message of an allegory often has a moral aspect to it, where it may mean the reader has to think beyond the surface-level plot to find it. The moral lesson isn't always obvious and the writer may sometimes leave room for interpretation.

How to write your own Allegory

To write your own allegory, consider the following:

  • Choose a moral theme or idea or a historical event that you want to explore. What opinion do you want to express about this theme or event? This is your underlying message.

  • Construct a surface story by choosing characters that you want to represent specific moral themes or specific occurrences in your chosen historical event. Consider how you can construct a setting to help you express your underlying message.

  • Your chosen surface story should be vastly different to your underlying message. This is how an allegory works - it should not be explicit but should require some thinking and inferences from the reader.

Allegory - Key Takeaways

  • An allegory is an extended form of personification. An allegory is when an abstract concept is expressed in the form of a character. An allegory uses a broader narrative, often in the form of a character, to express an idea or teach a lesson.
  • The hidden meaning of allegories is often vastly different to the surface story in the text.
  • A metaphor compares two seemingly unrelated things to express an idea, while an allegory uses a broader narrative, often in the form of a character, to express an idea or teach a lesson. Both metaphors and allegories are types of figurative language.
  • An allegory is different from symbolism because it makes extensive use of symbolism through characters, and with the addition of symbols, to express a broader meaning.
  • Symbols can be used as a tool when creating an allegory. An object, occurrence, or action can be used to represent an abstract meaning or idea. An allegory constructs a broad narrative that can be consistent throughout the text.
  • Three types of allegory are classical allegory, biblical allegory, and modern allegory.

Frequently Asked Questions about Allegory

An allegory is an extended form of personification. An allegory is when an abstract concept is expressed in the form of a character or object. An allegory uses a broader narrative, often in the form of a character, to express an idea or teach a lesson. 

  • John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) explores the allegory of the pilgrim that protagonist, Christian, takes from his hometown , 'City of Destruction', which represents the human world, to another city, 'Celectial City', which represents heaven.
  • George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) depicts animals, who can speak, and their experience on the farm, as an allegory for the events and people of the Russian Revolution of 1917. 
  • The Somonyng of Everyman (1510)- Unknown author: The character, Everyman, represents humans as they come face to face with death and final judgement, and also personifies abstract qualities of Beauty, Good Deeds and Knowledge. Everyman is used to express these abstract concepts. 
  • The Faerie Queene (1590)- Edmund Spenser: The characters in this epic poem, specifically the Arthurian knights, are used as an allegory to explore vices and virtues. For example, the Red Cross Knight represents Holiness. 

Symbolism is when an object, occurrence or action represents something beyond itself. Symbolism specifically uses symbols to do this, for example, a crown representing a monarch An allegory is different from symbolism because it makes extensive use of symbolism through characters to express a broader meaning.   

Symbols can be used as a tool when creating an allegory. An object, occurrence or action can be used to represent an abstract meaning or idea. For example, a book representing knowledge, or a crown representing a monarch. An allegory constructs a broad narrative that can be consistent throughout the text.  

You could write an allegory about a moral theme or idea or a historical event.  

Final Allegory Quiz

Question

What is an example of an allegory?

Show answer

Answer

  • John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) explores the allegory of the pilgrim that protagonist, Christian, takes from his hometown , 'City of Destruction', which represents the human world, to another city, 'Celectial City', which represents heaven.
  • George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) depicts animals, who can speak, and their experience on the farm, as an allegory for the events and people of the Russian Revolution of 1917. 
  • The Somonyng of Everyman (1510)- Unknown author: The character, Everyman, represents humans as they come face to face with death and final judgement, and also personifies abstract qualities of Beauty, Good Deeds and Knowledge. Everyman is used to express these abstract concepts. 
  • The Faerie Queene (1590)- Edmund Spenser: The characters in this epic poem, specifically the Arthurian knights, are used as an allegory to explore vices and virtues. For example, the Red Cross Knight represents Holiness. 

Show question

Question

What is the difference between allegory and symbolism?

Show answer

Answer

Symbolism is when an object, occurrence or action represents something beyond itself. Symbolism specifically uses symbols to do this, for example, a crown representing a monarch An allegory is different from symbolism because it makes extensive use of symbolism through characters to express a broader meaning.  

Show question

Question

How do symbols function within an allegory?


Show answer

Answer

Symbols can be used as a tool when creating an allegory. An object, occurrence or action can be used to represent an abstract meaning or idea. For example, a book representing knowledge, or a crown representing a monarch. An allegory constructs a broad narrative that can be consistent throughout the text.  

Show question

Question

What could you write an allegory about?


Show answer

Answer

You could write an allegory about a moral theme or idea or a historical event. 

Show question

Question

What is the difference between allegory and metaphor?


Show answer

Answer

 A metaphor compares two seemingly unrelated things to express an idea. An allegory uses a broader narrative, often in the form of a character, to express an idea or teach a lesson. 

Show question

Question

What is an example of the use of allegory in Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave in Republic (Book 7) (~380 BCE)?


Show answer

Answer

The allegory represents how people live in the world and perception of reality in contrast to one’s interpretation of reality.

Show question

Question

How do you create your own allegory?


Show answer

Answer

  • Choose a moral theme or idea or a historical event that you want to explore. 

  • Construct a surface story by choosing characters that want to represent specific moral themes or specific occurrences in your chosen historical event.

  • Your chosen surface story should be vastly different to your underlying message. 

Show question

Question

What are three types of allegory?


Show answer

Answer

Three types of allegory are classical allegory, biblical allegory, and modern allegory.

Show question

Question

What is an allegory?

Show answer

Answer

An allegory is an extended form of personification. An allegory is when an abstract concept is expressed in the form of a character or object. An allegory uses a broader narrative, often in the form of a character, to express an idea or teach a lesson.

Show question

Question

What is personification?


Show answer

Answer

Personification is when an abstract concept is expressed as though it were alive or as though it had human attributes.

Show question

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