Thursday, April 23, 2009

Symbolism in writing

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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?

To a certain extent, it is true that modern fiction is without much symbolism. Most of the times, a story is told rather than anything implied.
The reader has the freedom to interpret the meaning of a piece of literature. Discussing a poem, story, novel or essays with other readers also shows us that certain something which we otherwise might have ignored.

In early literature, symbolism was implied via allegory, which kind of hits us on our face. Allegory is not symbolism in a true sense. It limits us and our perceptions. Symbolism in the strict sense, has to be implied. Allegory is alluded to. Signs, motifs, imagery are all part of it. At the conscious level. In a piece of literature, characters, story and plot have to be cohesive for it to make sense, and symbolism in not really apparent for the average reader. If understood in a proper way, symbolism takes the story to a higher level.

Most of Fitzgerald's works are very symbolic. Take for instance, The Great Gatsby or Tender is the Night. Shakespeare can't be read without the allusion to symbolism. One just has to read Othello or Hamlet. Both are replete with symbolism.
Poe has made use of crows as motifs in many of his works in various ways. Kafka excelled it it. Read Metamorphosis and you will know all about it. I also think that Marquez's work is very symbolic. you can notice that picking any of his books, novellas or his short stories.

Most poetry, be it ancient, medieval, victorian or modern-has symbolism in it. Keats, Coleridge or Dante are but a few examples. Dante's Inferno symbolically alludes to the underworld. Without it, it would read like plain prose and no poetry lover is going to read that. I myself write poetry and make use of symbolism. All the time. Metaphorically speaking.

And one more thing I must mention here. The present day reader is in too much of a hurry. He/She prefers it all in black and white. Reading through symbolism is time consuming. Therefore, modern writers know that and don't make use of motifs, symbols or signs. Not in the strict sense. So why not give what the reader wants, demands. However, comics, fantasy authors, make use of symbolism and very beautifully too. We only need to keep our minds open a bit.