The Art of Allegory

According to Fred White in The Daily Writer “Every aspiring writer should read an allegory now and then because it illustrates, in a vivid way, the essence of storytelling.”

Ok, well you know me, I do like to learn stuff, I’m always up for a challenge and that there statement Mr White, is pure fighting talk! 😉

So what is an allegory? I knew about allegory in paintings, so I kinda knew what it was, but, in fiction? Hmmmm, nope, can’t think that anyone’s every mentioned it to me before now. I hadn’t even considered it.

My first stop, Wikipedia, says “a device in which characters or events represent or symbolise ideas and concepts. As a literary device, an allegory in its most general sense is an extended metaphor.”

Ahhhhh, I see…I think lol

A story where things and people represent something entirely different, ie, an idea or philosophy. The story conveys a deeper meaning (has 2 meanings) and the characters are usually personifications of ideas such as charity, greed, hope and envy.

Image from dtldobsvtn’s Blog post on Allegory

So as far as examples go, George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a good one. The farm animals represent Communist Russia. The pigs are the government, the dogs, the police and the rest of the animals symbolise the working class. Another is John Bunyans The Pilgrims Progress

The Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz said “An allegory is not meant to be taken literally. There is a great lack of comprehension on the part of some readers.”

Hmmmmm….ok, it does sound quite fascinating, but bloody hard work! Lol. I’m not sure I would be up to it that’s for sure 😉

So have you ever written an allegory? Is it something you would try?

There’s a great article on the Writerly Life site which tells you how to write one if you fancy giving it a go. Me, I think I’ll just stick to stories with one meaning 😉

31 thoughts on “The Art of Allegory

  1. Interesting concept. I have a character who represents a social phenomenon–but the things he does echo the phenomenon. So maybe he’s more like an extended metaphor, since it’s not in contrast to the larger meaning? Something to puzzle over… I generally don’t get these things when reading until someone points them out. So it’s probably a little crazy on my part to write one!


  2. Good post, Vikki. I prefer to write allegorically, though I try to stray away from the allowing the allegory define my work. That tends to get stilted. Animal Farm is a great example, because how neat is it to read about a farm where animals talk and make rules and government!


  3. I was thinking, before I got to it in the post, that Animal Farm is an obvious example, and a good one also. I sometimes try this in short fiction or even poetry attempts, but not on a large scale.


  4. I was just thinking of writing a post about allegories! Not too long ago I finished the novel The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which I absolutely loved…..and it completely changed my dislike for allegories in general, lol!


  5. I think a lot of the classics (ancient Greeks etc) have characters that ‘represent something’ and a lot of comic book characters represent an idea as well – Superman is idealism, Spiderman is the struggle to deal with the responsibility that comes with power, etc.


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