Thursday, April 23, 2009

Booking Through Thursday-April 23, 2009

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?

Symbolism, plain and simple, destroys any book for me. I'm fine if the symbolism is there and I'm not aware of it, but the moment it's pointed out and analyzed, it's gone, dead, not even gonna try to like it anymore. It is the main reason I despise analyzing books in class. Not everything has a deeper meaning, most stories were written for the stories. It is also the very reason I love modern fiction so much more, because authors are finally realizing, hey, it's what is told that counts, not what's hidden beneath. I love them for it.

I would like to direct you to this Facebook group, joined by Laurie Halse Anderson herself.

So my answer? Symbolism exists only if you look for it. You can get symbolism out of anything, and more than likely, it will be complete and utter rubbish you're pulling out of nowhere, but if you want to call it symbolism, well then, symbolism it shall be. Some stories really are better with the symbolism, but if it's relevant to the story and something you should be catching, you will. It's the so-called "symbolism" that's hidden way, way, way beneath the surface and often coaxed out by high school english teachers and professors that just ticks me off.

I prefer not to look for symbolism and just enjoy my stories for what they are, the way the author intended it to be read.

ETA: Was about to mention poetry, but would have been late for school had I done that. I'm fine with symbolism in poetry. In fact, poetry without symbolism is pretty bad poetry, unless it is written by Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss, and even they have some pretty heavy symbolism at times. However, this kind of symbolism isn't the impossible-to-determine, grasping-at-straws kind, and is easier to notice (Robert Frost, for instance).


  1. Even when you don't look for it, symbolism can hit you right on your head! Take for instance, poetry!

    Symbolism in writing

  2. I think that any time you walk away having read a book (just for the fun of the story) and you thought about the book a day later or remembered something, you've experienced symbolism (whether you want to admit it or not). The reason I think this is that what you read about never actually happened; yet, it's affecting your life on some level (perhaps small). That is the definition of symbolism.

    I think a problem with English curriculum is that symbolism is never taught (and it's a learned skill). The book "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" by Foster is brilliant. Also, there is a limit to how far the symbolism goes and digging too deep actually transitions the discussion from literary analysis to psychoanalysis.


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