Bedford/St. Martin's virtuaLit Interactive Fiction Tutorial Notebook VIEW SEND
Fiction in Depth Approaches and Contexts
Select a StoryElements of FictionCultural ContextsCritical Approaches
Plot
Character
Setting
Point of View
Style, Tone, and Language
Theme
Symbolism, Allegory, and Image



DEFINITION OF SYMBOLISM, ALLEGORY, AND IMAGE

An image is a sensory impression used to create meaning in a story. For example, near the beginning of "Young Goodman Brown," we see Faith, Brown's wife, "thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap." While visual imagery such as this is typically the most prominent in a story, good fiction also includes imagery based on the other senses: sound, smell, touch, and taste.

If an image in a story is used repeatedly and begins to carry multiple layers of meaning, it may be significant enough to call a symbol. Symbols are often objects, like a toy windmill or a rose, or they may be parts of a landscape, like a river. While a normal image is generally used once, to complete a scene or passage, a symbol is often referred to repeatedly and carries meanings essential to the story. Some symbols are universal, like water for cleansing, but others are more culturally based. In some African societies, for example, a black cat is seen as good luck. Fiction writers use preexisting cultural associations as well as meanings drawn from the context of the story to create multiple levels of meaning. Faith's pink ribbons in "Young Goodman Brown" carry cultural connotations of innocence and purity, but the fact that the wind plays with the ribbons in one key image also brings to mind temptation, alluring chaos, the struggle with natural forces. Red is also a significant color in the story's final temptation scene, with its basin of "water, reddened by the lurid light? Or was it blood?" Faith's pink ribbons carry, of course, a tinge of red.

An allegory is a work of fiction in which the symbols, characters, and events come to represent, in a somewhat point-by-point fashion, a different metaphysical, political, or social situation. In Western culture, allegories have often been used for instructive purposes around Christian themes. For example, in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, a protagonist named Christian goes on a journey in which he encounters complicating characters and situations such as Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Vanity Fair, and the Slough of Despair, thus depicting the struggles of a Christian trying to stay pure. In some ways Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" is structured as an allegory, as is evident in the character Faith, the Devil offering his snakelike staff, the temptation scene, and so on. Hawthorne skillfully manipulates the conventions of allegory, however, to resist a fixed meaning and create an ending that is open to interpretation.

visual imagery: Imagery of sight
aural imagery: Imagery of sound (e.g., the soft hiss of skis)
olfactory imagery: Imagery of smell (e.g., the smell of spilled beer)
tactile imagery: Imagery of touch (e.g., bare feet on a hot sidewalk)
gustatory imagery: Imagery of taste (e.g., the bland taste of starchy bananas)


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