April 23, 2009

BTT- symbolism?

Posted in BTT, memes at 5:08 am by reviewsonbooks

Today’s question from Booking Through Thursday is about symbolism. Here’s the question:

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?

I too had a horrible time starting in high school in those darn English classes where you would be subjected to read what I thought were strange boring books and delve into their deeper meaning supposedly uncovering the real truth and hidden meanings behind certain words, phrases or characters.

What I’ve learned and my opinion?

1. Some books have deeper meaning, some do not, and the best way to really say if it did have a bunch of symbolism in it is to ASK THE AUTHOR! I do truly think some authors did place some hidden meanings in some of their works but I also believe that some did not and were simply writing a tale, end of story.

2. I also learned that books are much better when reading  just for reading sake, (you know the FUN of it) rather than trying to spend hours delving into and tearing apart different meanings. People can spend countless of hours debating over what a book/character etc. truly means and no one is going to really win the argument, so why bother?

Now do writers nowadays write with symbolism? I’m sure there are some authors who try to have symbolic characters or messages in their books but since I am not currently analyzing any of my reads for deeper meaning and I am thankfully not being subjected to attending a high school English class I cannot think up any particular authors. Perhaps when a modern book becomes a classic many years from now and children will be tortured into reading it, we will find out if there are any authors out there.



  1. Jo said,

    I remember poring ove every word too! But I think the story is the most important part, because without that no-one would read it, even f they wanted to extract deeper meaning!

  2. Yes, the story is important. The characters are important. However, certain books without the symbolism would fall apart.

    With the modern reader having a low threshold, most modern writers don’t make use of symbolism. Exceptions are there and those authors are very popular. Those very modern authors. Case in point is, Neil Gaiman. He is one of the most read, most loved author of the present times. And he makes use of signs, motifs and symbols. Lots of it.

    In our daily speech too, we make use of veiled references, signs etc. If it is not symbolism, than what is?

    I wouldn’t say, symbolism will go out or authors will become scarce. It depends how one makes use of it and in what way the reader prefers it.

    Anyway, this BTT made me go out of my usual way of thinking. And that is what is important.

  3. Janet said,

    I’m a believer in reading for pleasure, too. I think we’re influenced by symbolism more than we might realize, but good books don’t insist on our analyzing them to death to be enjoyed.

  4. Heather said,

    Quick example of modern-day symbolism: (I’ve been throwing this one around) is Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. If you think that’s really a 500-page book about comics than you missed the point (although you probably still enjoyed reading it because Chabon is just that talented). The book’s a lot deeper and I personally find it FUN to do more than just read at the surface. Also, I enjoy discussing symbolism in my library’s book club, but never with the intent of “winning a debate,” so maybe that’s why I find it fun.

    Literature is subjective and noone (other than the author) will ever know it’s intended purpose, but we can all know it’s actual outcome in our lives.

    Good post.

  5. JLS Hall said,

    Good answer. Of course, sometimes it’s possible for a book to have deeper meanings that even the author isn’t aware of! All fiction is symbol to a certain extent, and all readers find different meanings in it. But these days, I read mainly for pleasure, so fortunately I don’t have to do much in the way of analysis.

  6. Jessica said,

    I usually just read for entertainment, but since I have started my blog I feel like I am always looking for the bigger picture and arguing with myself about the symbolism of a book or what I feel the theme is.

  7. Carol said,

    Great answers! Happy BTT ♥

  8. Barbara H. said,

    We think very much alike. I do believe some books employ symbolism on purpose, but I do think others are just story for enjoyment. For some books the story is the message, not the symbolism behind the story.

  9. Bluestocking said,

    I really like this weeks’ question.


  10. Matthew said,

    I think only careful, meticulous readers could read into these symbols. In most cases, readers would understand the story without fully grabbing the symbols, but the level of appreciation would be compromised. Toni Morrison would be the prime example. Not all books are endowed with layers of meaning and implications, but symbolism can be a great device to describe things that are very intangible, like death.

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