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Allegory: Definition, How It Works and Examples In Writing

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Allegories are literary devices that can be impactful and immersive.

Many famous stories are complex allegories that say one thing but mean another.

As a writer, knowing what an allegory is and how to utilize it can help enhance your writing and tackle challenging topics.

This article will explore how allegory is used, explain the different types of allegory, and showcase several famous examples.

What Is an Allegory?

An allegory delivers its message via storytelling, instead of explaining the lesson or message directly.

Essentially, an allegory stands for a concealed idea, usually a moral or lesson.

Most allegories are in literature, but they can also be visual art and music.

Also Known As:

  • Apologue
  • Emblem
  • Fable
  • Myth
  • Moral
  • Symbolization
  • Tale
  • Typification  
  • Parable
  • Extended metaphor

Simple Definition: How to Explain an Allegory to a Child

Simply put, an allegory is a story with characters and events that represent real ideas or situations.

Why Is an Allegory Used?

Allegories simplify large and complex ideas or help shift perspective.

Sometimes perspective on a topic is skewed by personal factors and environmental effects.

But when translated into an allegory, it’s easier to look at the topic through an impartial lens.

Types of Allegories

There are four main types of allegories, each of which stems from Medieval literature, itself derived from the Bible and the classics.

  • Anagogical Allegories: An anagogical allegory focuses on how one story can relate to the future or the past. Anagogical allegories often act as prophecies based on past events.
  • Literal Allegories: Literal allegories are the simplest type, as the interpretation of events in a story is for historical purposes and does not contain a hidden meaning or lesson.
  • Moral Allegories: One of the most frequently used forms of allegory. Moral allegories are one of the most common types, as they use a story to tell the reader how they should act and what code of moral ethics they should follow.
  • Present (Typology) Allegories: A present or typological allegory deals with the spiritual meaning of a piece and uses more symbols and complex analogies to convey its message. Present allegories are often the hardest to understand and interpret, whereas literal allegories are usually the easiest.

How Do You Identify an Allegory?

To identify an allegory, look for motifs and themes, specifically moral ones that run throughout the story.

There may also be references to clue you into what symbols mean and who or what they represent.

How Do You Use an Allegory In a Sentence?

You can’t technically accomplish a complete allegory in a single sentence.

But an allegory is like an extended metaphor.

An example of a short allegory is the common saying concerning teaching a man to fish rather than gifting him a fish.

That conveys the idea that helping someone be self-sufficient is better than sustaining them yourself.

What Is the Most Popular Example of an Allegory?

It’s debatable what the most well-known example of an allegory is.

However, George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is a powerful allegory for the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The short novel uses animals on a farm to represent the various individuals involved in this period of Russian history.

Other Famous Examples of Allegories

Some allegories transcend time and seem to be always relevant.

1. The Bible

Many people interpret the Bible as an allegory.

One of the most popular examples is the story of Cain and Abel, which teaches about the severity of our actions.

2. Platos’ Allegory of the Cave

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a short tale of men chained to a wall in a dark cave who believe the fire behind them is the sun until they are finally free and venture outside.

This allegory conveys the nature of knowledge versus belief.

3. Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables feature tales like The Tortoise and the Hare, an allegory communicating that working carefully will yield more success than rushing.

Other Modern Examples of Allegories

Below are nine prime examples of modern allegories used in literature and films.

Examples of Allegories in Literature

The famous works of literature below have a deep allegory behind the story.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This novel is an allegory for Christian and Puritan beliefs or their hypocrisy.

It suggests those who sin are not always the worst, and those who persecute sinners are often sinners themselves.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The allegorical meaning of Moby Dick is hotly debated, as it’s a layered story.

But one of the most common interpretations is that Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the whale is an allegory for the foolishness of men chasing what they can never have.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The central theme of this novel is the struggle between the descent into savagery and the climb toward civilization.

Golding questions the authentic civility of humans and whether or not they will fall into chaos and violence when left to their own devices.

Examples of Allegories in Movies

Like literature, movies convey a story, but the characters and plot points often symbolize hidden concepts.

The Matrix

Many assume The Matrix concerns technology, but the movie is a transgender allegory.

Neo’s struggle between the digital self and the authentic self represents gender affirmation.

Don’t Look Up

Don’t Look Up is an allegory for humanity’s inaction concerning climate change.

The devastating meteor hurtling toward Earth is ignored and dismissed by governments and the general population, capturing the disbelief people have in science.

The Truman Show

The Truman Show delivers the same message as Plato’s Allegory of the Cave!

Truman believes his studio setting is the real world.

When he begins to question his reality and search for the truth, leading him to finally exit the studio, he is allegorically leaving the cave he was chained to.

Examples of Allegories for Children

Aesop’s Fables are accessible and effective, but modern kid movies are often allegories.

Inside Out

Inside Out is one of the most literal examples of an allegory, as human emotions, memories, and ideas take physical form as characters.

Through the characters’ journey, children learn that change is often challenging but positive.


Wall-E has several layers of allegorical narratives.

Alone on the earth, the main protagonist can be seen as the biblical Adam, eventually joined by another robot called Eve!

The film also tackles climate change and the future of humanity.


Zootopia tackles issues like equality and societal expectations of determined groups.

Zootopians assume predators are dangerous and prey is weak, rather than seeing individuals for who they are.

Notable Writers Who Used Allegories

You can find allegories in movies, TV shows, and visual art.

But literature is where the allegory flourishes and many famous writers utilized this among other literary devices.

Below are three iconic writers who loved to use allegories to discuss heavy topics and offer a unique perspective on a controversial topic.

1. George Orwell

As mentioned, Orwell’s Animal Farm is one of the most notable allegories in history.

His use of animals within a farm setting allows him to explore the argument that most governments are, by nature, corrupt.

But he utilizes allegories in most of his work, including 1984, The Road to Wigan Pier, and Coming Up for Air.

Most of his allegories concern politics, censorship, and freedom.

2. Edmund Spenser

Edmund Spenser was a prominent literary figure who lived in the 1500s.

He wrote famous allegories like The Faerie Queene and Amoretti.

His allegories were typically veiled critiques of those in power.

Some scholars have interpreted The Faerie Queene to be an allegory of the concept of allegory itself.

3. Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley authored iconic works like Frankenstein’s Monster and Mathilda.

She uses allegories to communicate queer topics, political issues, and concerns about the ethical implications of scientific and technological progress.

What Is the Opposite of an Allegory?

The opposite of an allegory is something nonfigurative or nonmetaphorical.

Super literal stories that say precisely what they mean are the opposing concept of an allegory.

Allegory Vs. Metaphor

Allegories and metaphors are very similar.

The main difference is that allegories are a complete narrative with a hidden meaning, while a metaphor is a single sentence or short segment equating two things that seem unrelated.

For this reason, you can’t “use an allegory in a sentence” as an allegory requires a comprehensive story, unlike a metaphor.

Other Related Literary Devices to Know

Any type of writer you are can benefit from the use of literary devices.

Several kinds of literary devices have similar applications to the allegory:

  • Logos: The term logos as a literary device refers to the presence of logic and reasoning to execute a persuasive and informed opinion in writing or rhetoric.
  • Theme: A theme is the central point and subject of the piece. Themes typically recur throughout a work of literature or film, giving the story an underlying meaning.
  • Antithesis: An antithesis is a contradictory idea that can reverse something previously mentioned. Persuasive writing will often use an antithesis to further prove their thesis by contrast.
  • Soliloquy: A soliloquy, a popular literary device used by writers like Shakespeare, involves a character delivering a lengthy speech directed at seemingly no one. Soliloquies can be recited to the self or despite the presence of an audience.
  • Anaphora: An anaphora is a literary device that helps emphasize a concept, where repetitive words and phrases are at the beginning of sentences and clauses near each other. It’s common in poetry.

Writing Tools To Help You Out

If you want some tips for writing, check out these writing tools!

1. Writing Helpers

Helpers for writing things can edit, structure, and even complete pieces for you.

They aren’t as comprehensive as AI writing software, as you need to contribute something for the writing helper to work on.

These tools can assist writers in adjusting their tone or boosting their vocabulary.

2. AI Writing Software

AI writing software can write whole articles and stories for you!

This software has extensive applications and can help people who need to produce quality content for their blogs or website.

The AI software can even help you brainstorm things to write about.

3. Grammar Checkers

Grammar checking tools are brilliant devices for writers who need a little guidance with the technical side of writing.

Even if you have an excellent grasp of grammar, it’s always beneficial to have software that can double-check your work.

These tools can aid you, whether the issue is something simple like a comma out of place or something more complex like sentence structure.

4. Content Creators

Content creators usually know how to write a blog post!

If you have a blog or website and need content, you can recruit content creators to develop engaging blog posts for you.

Many content creators will ghostwrite blog posts, copy, and similar types of content.

Frequently Asked Questions

Allegory is a versatile literary device, so you might still have plenty of thoughts about its use.

Below are frequently asked questions with more examples of allegories.

Is the Three Little Pigs an allegory?

The Three Little Pigs has been interpreted as an allegory for failure.

However, some scholars have given the children’s fable modern interpretations, giving it an underlying allegorical meaning to reflect their analysis of the Three Little Pigs.

How is the Lorax an allegory?

Dr. Seuss wrote the Lorax as an allegory about uncontrolled greed and consumerism having a damaging impact on the environment.

The story shows how corporate manufacturing and massive industries are destroying the planet for profit.

Wrapping Up

Allegories will always be used in storytelling to convey heavy topics using lighter concepts.

The Russian Revolution was so complex that many could not understand it until Orwell used the structure of a farm and its animals to critique and explain the reality.

The use of allegory as a potent literary device results in iconic stories but also makes significant and intricate concepts more accessible to the average person.

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