We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is the Connection between Symbolism and Allegory?

By Laura Metz
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The connection between symbolism and allegory is that both use symbols. Every allegory must use symbols, but not all stories with symbolism are allegories. Symbolism can also have many figurative meanings within a work, but an allegory allows only one literal understanding and one metaphorical.

Any writing that uses symbols is a work of symbolism. Symbols are specific objects, settings, characters, or actions that represent an abstract idea or person. Some meanings are restricted to their context, while others have become commonplace and cliché from overuse. Examples include the heart symbolizing love or the four leaf clover symbolizing good luck.

Symbolism and allegory are different because an allegory is composed entirely of symbols, while a work with symbolism may only have one symbol. An allegory is a complete story of any type which can be understood both literally and figuratively. Novels, short stories, poems, or plays can all be allegories.

The simplest examples of allegories are often fables. Literally, Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” concerns two animals having a race. As a metaphor, this children’s story is about two ways of living and working, and the eventual reward of persistence. In an allegory, every character, action, object, and setting is also a symbol for something abstract.

Like Aesop’s fables, the majority of allegories are intended for use as ethical instruction. Everyman is a morality play written by an anonymous author in the late fifteenth century, and uses both symbolism and allegory. The title character, a symbol for humans in general, learns he is about to die, so he attempts to take something with him: friends, family, knowledge, or even his five senses. In the end, a character called Good Deeds is the only one willing to accompany him through death.

Some stories use symbolism and allegory to help the reader understand an abstract idea through obvious character names, such as Good Deeds in Everyman. Similarly, the protagonist in John Bunyan’s seventeenth century novel Pilgrim’s Progress is named Christian. Characters such as Obstinate, Faithful, and Despair, act as symbols for the trait named.

Allegories are common in religious writings. Examples include Everyman, Pilgrim’s Progress, Dante’s The Divine Comedy, and C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. Perhaps better known are the parables from the New Testament, such as the story of the Prodigal Son.

Not all allegories are religious or moral. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a political allegory. Other allegories provide a different perspective on life, such as Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Masque of Red Death” and Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By literally45 — On Oct 08, 2014

SarahGen-- Absolutely.

I'm not an expert on Shakespeare but we just read Hamlet in class recently. Hamlet has a lot of allegory and symbolism, some more apparent, some not so much. One opinion is that the deceit, lies and deaths in Hamlet are an allegory for a war-struck country or a society which is becoming morally corrupt. Hamlet's mother marries his uncle. The play's setting is Denmark in the 14th century and it's about to be invaded by Norway. So Hamlet's mother's status could be an allegory for the state of the country, or the motherland.

There is also symbolism. The skull that Hamlet holds up in the graveyard obviously symbolizes death and the afterlife. And it is said that the flowers Ophelia handed out in one scene symbolizes her innocent or virginity.

The thing with allegory and symbolism is that they can be very open to interpretation. So sometimes, it's difficult to know whether the writer really meant that or something else.

By SarahGen — On Oct 08, 2014

I have a class assignment on symbolism and allegory. Shakespeare uses both symbolism and allegory correct? Does anyone know any examples for these in Shakespeare's works?

By SteamLouis — On Oct 08, 2014

I love stories with allegory. Allegory, thanks to its extensive use of symbolism, creates layers within a story. The story becomes deeper, more meaningful and more entertaining for the reader or audience.

When we read or watch a story that is simple and straightforward, there isn't much excitement. It becomes mundane and predictable. But stories with allegory get the audience to think. It pushes their limits of imagination and allows each person to construct his or her own understanding of the story. So the piece of work becomes a personal one.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.