BTT: Symbolic? Or Not?

Booking Through Thursday
Question suggested by Barbara H:

My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.
It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

When I was still in school, I found it interesting to know the symbolisms behind the things in a story… or at least, symbolisms that scholars think are behind the story.

In some cases, there are really those. Like George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, or quite a few of the literary classics like Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” or even that of Shakespeare’s works. Not to mention the Greek classics like “Odessy” or “Illiad” (which both gave me headaches when I read the original text. Kudos to my English teacher Mrs. Fernandez who was so patient with the class for years).

In modern times, however (by modern I mean from late 1800’s to present), I do think that most books are straight to the point and rarely do use symbolism, especially in fiction. Sometimes though, especially those that are based on old myths and legends, symbolism occurs but not in the way old literary works do — lengthy descriptions or flowery words to describe something small. More like, a mention of an object here and there that refers to something that has a relevant (if obscure or not so obvious) meaning to the story. However, whether the reader would recognize it is another thing.

Not thatI didn’t enjoy those English classes. As I mentioned, my teacher (this was high school) was very good, and patient with us. Reading the text is hard, but when it finally dawns upon us what the writer was trying to say, it was quite enlightening. Makes me amazed at the power of words… and thankful that it has evolved to something more simple. In a way, I wouldn’t exactly call it as symbolism, but rather, it’s really just how they wrote (or spoke, even) in those old days.

Oddly enough, I read English text a bit more easily that I read old Tagalog ones. But that’s another story. 🙂


  1. I agree. It’s really more of how one interprets it. When I read, sometimes I make a connection why the author used a certain element or something… because it represents something else. If the author was aware of it or not, I’m not so sure 😀

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