What is an Allegory? Definition and Examples of Allegories in Writing

Allegory definition: An allegory is a literary device that uses symbolism and metaphor to convey a greater meaning.

What is an Allegory?

What does allegory mean? Writers use allegory to convey complex ideas in similar—and sometimes simpler—forms. Generally, an allegory is a type of extended metaphor that represents a greater idea or concept.

The symbolism in allegories may be direct or vague. When read on the surface-level, an allegory seems like nothing more than a story. It is the reader’s responsibility to recognize the subtleties in the text and connect to a larger issue.

Example of Allegory in Literature

Example of an allegory: Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is widely recognized as an example of Biblical allegory.

whats an allegory meaningThe old man, Santiago (roughly translated to “saint” in English), is tried at sea for three days while he wrangles an enormous, seemingly mythical fish.

Hemingway incorporates the number “three” throughout the text. This number is known to have Biblical connections, most notably that Jesus rose on the third day. It is on the third day that Santiago defeats this giant fish.

Furthermore, toward the text’s conclusion, Hemingway depicts Santiago in such a way that it seems as though he is carrying a “cross” up a hill. Jesus, too, carried his cross.

It is important to note that Hemingway does not utilize allegory to say that his character Santiago is Jesus. Rather, Hemingway is making connections between his character and the story of Jesus. He uses the allegorical nature of his story as a metaphor.

Modern Examples of Allegory

what is a allegory in literatureExample of allegory: Classic allegorical tales include a “good versus evil” concept. While not all “good versus evil” stories are necessary allegories, they may have allegorical elements.

A well-known children’s book (and now film) series, The Chronicles of Narnia, is a Biblical allegory. In the text The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, author C.S. Lewis created the lion, Aslan, to be a Christ-like character. Through the eyes of children, Lewis recreates a world of good-versus-evil where good, inevitably, triumphs.

What is the Purpose of Allegory?

alagory or alegory or allegories definitionAllegories are a tool for authors to communicate a greater purpose in simpler terms. Some ideas are incredibly complex or are considered “off-limits”. When told through an allegory, writers experience certain liberties to openly comment about controversial ideas, including science, religion, politics, and war.

Allegories are not meant to directly parallel another story or truth. Rather, they are a version of that concept, and an author is permitted freedoms to convey his purpose through allegory.

Allegories often provide an alternative view of a complex idea. Authors use allegory when they wish to express commentary about a complex topic. Through allegory, readers may consider diverse approaches to popular themes and concepts.

Allegory Examples in Literature

Example of allegory: Perhaps the most famous example of allegory is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave from his text The Republic.

In this allegory the speaker depicts two worlds, one of intellect and insight (the light, outside the cave) and one of ignorance and obedience (the dark, inside the cave).

Utilizing the traditional symbolic concepts of light and dark, Plato demonstrates how most citizens behave—chained to ideas, inside the cave, where they believe they are experiencing truth. Plato reveals that, in fact, the cave is merely a shadow of the truth.

This allegory is a commentary on society at large. Plato utilized this method to reveal his thoughts on politics, education, and human behavior.

Summary

What is allegory? Allegories are literary devices that are symbolic in nature.

When we define allegory, we find that it is a type of extended metaphor that uses a storyline to represent a greater concept. Allegories are used to provoke thought or provide insight to a complex or controversial topic.