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Symbolism: Symbolism, How It Works & Examples In Writing

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Symbolism is one of the most crucial literary devices a writer has in their arsenal.

You can use it to evoke strong emotions, create a mood, and add layers of meaning to a story.

  • But what is symbolism?
  • How does it work?
  • And why should you use it in your writing?

Let’s look at symbolism and see how you can start using it in your writing.

What Is Symbolism?

Symbolism is a figure of speech that uses symbols to represent ideas, concepts, or emotions.

A symbol can be an object, a person, a place, or an event.

For example, the cross is a symbol of Christianity.

The flag is a symbol of patriotism.

Also Known As:

  • Analogy
  • Metaphor
  • Comparison

Simple Symbolism: How To Explain Symbolism to a Child

You can use symbolism to add depth and meaning to a story.

For example, imagine you’re reading a story about a woman trying to find her way in the world.

She comes across a crossroads and has to decide which path to take.

The author could make the crossroads a symbol of the woman’s life choices.

Why Is Symbolism Used?

Symbolism adds atmosphere and suggests ideas.

When used correctly, symbolism can make your writing more powerful and evocative.

Types of Symbolism

Symbolism comes in three main types.

You can use these symbols to add depth and layers to your writing.

  • Emotional Symbolism: You can use emotional symbolism to evoke emotions in the reader. For example, if you’re writing a scene where a character feels sad, you could use a desolate area to symbolize sadness. Another example of emotional symbolism is using a furious animal to represent anger.
  • Religious Symbolism: Employing religious symbolism allows you to represent religious concepts or ideas. For instance, if you want to suggest that a character becomes lost, you could use the symbolism of a labyrinth. Or, you might use the symbolism of a cross to represent the character’s journey to find redemption.
  • Romantic Symbolism: Using romantic symbolism is a way to reveal love and passion. If two characters are in love, you could use the symbolism of a rose to represent their love. Or, you could use the symbolism of a heart to symbolize the characters’ passion for each other in a text.
  • Color Symbolism: Depending on culture, color symbolism may vary. Bear in mind your intended audience if you wish to use color symbolism. For example, purple has royal significance and black usually symbolizes death.

How Do You Identify Symbolism?

When you’re reading a piece of writing, look for symbols that repeat throughout the text.

You might see objects, colors, or numbers used as symbols.

If you’re reading a novel and you keep seeing the number three, it could represent the Holy Trinity.

Or, if you’re reading a story and the color black pops up continuously, it could symbolize death or darkness.

Also, look for symbolism in the names of characters or places.

For instance, “Eve” might represent temptation, while “Adam” might represent innocence.

Finally, look for scenes that seem to represent a larger concept.

For instance, a scene where two people keep fighting might represent the broader concept of good vs. evil.

How Do You Use Symbolism in a Sentence?

You can use symbolism in various ways.

The most common way to use symbolism is to associate an object with a certain idea or feeling.

For example, if you’re writing about love, you might symbolize it with a heart.

Here is a different example of using symbolism in a sentence: After Lily’s mom died, she stopped wearing the necklace her mom gave her.

The necklace symbolizes her love for her mother, and after she died, Lily couldn’t bear to wear it.

What Is the Most Popular Example of Symbolism?

One of the most popular examples of symbolism is the use of color.

You can use colors to symbolize many things.

For example, red can symbolize blood, love, or anger.

The use of a cross to represent Christianity is another popular example of symbolism.

People use the cross as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and redemption.

Other Famous Examples of Symbolism

No matter what type of writer you are, it is helpful to research other ways to use symbolism.

Here are three additional ways you can use this literary device within various types of content.

1. Dove

The dove is a symbol of hope. It is often seen as a messenger of peace.

Consider using it if you are writing about a character going through a tough time and needing some hope.

Or, you might use a dove to represent the hope for peace in the world.

2. Anchor

The anchor symbolizes stability and security.

It is often used as a tattoo design to represent someone’s strength during tough times.

You might use an anchor symbol when writing a blog post explaining a time when you went through a lot of changes but managed to remain stable.

3. Phoenix

The phoenix is a symbol of rebirth.

You can use it to represent someone who went through hardship while coming out stronger on the other side.

You might use the phoenix symbolism when writing an inspirational blog post about overcoming adversity.

Other Modern Examples of Symbolism

Let’s look at other symbolic examples that relate to our modern world.

Try using some of these examples to add depth to your writing.

Examples of Symbolism in Literature

Literature provides us with an opportunity to study symbolism via the following examples.

  • “The Catcher in the Rye”: The title of the book is symbolic of Holden’s desire to catch children before they fall off a cliff and into adulthood. As well, the ducks in the pond near the Central Park Lagoon are a symbol of innocence.
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird”: The mockingbird is a symbol of innocence. Atticus Finch tells his daughter, Scout, “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
  • “The Great Gatsby”: One of the most important symbols in the novel is the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. It symbolizes Gatsby’s hope and his dreams for the future.

Examples of Symbolism in Poetry

You can detect symbolism in poetry as well.  

  • “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot is a poem that includes symbolism throughout. One example is the use of April as a symbol of rebirth.
  • “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe includes many symbols, such as the raven itself, which symbolizes death.
  • “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes includes symbolism in the objects mentioned, such as the rope, which symbolizes the highwayman’s impending death.

Examples of Symbolism in Art

Art is another way to study symbolism.

  • The paintings of Vincent van Gogh often included symbolism. One example is “The Starry Night” which includes a cypress tree that van Gogh considered a symbol of death.
  • The Statue of Liberty is one of the most well-known symbols in the United States. It represents freedom and liberty for all.
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is one of the most famous paintings in the world. The symbolism in the painting relates to the model’s mysterious smile.

Notable Writers Who Used Symbolism

Over the years, plenty of excellent writers have used symbolism to spice up their writing.

Let’s look at three examples and explain how they used this literary device.

William Golding

William Golding used symbolism extensively in his novel “Lord of the Flies.”

The title itself is a symbol (the flies represent the savagery of humanity).

In addition, the conch shell represents order and civilization while the pig’s head represents savagery and barbarism.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” is another novel known for its symbolism.

In this book, the central character, Sethe, has a baby that dies.

She then tries to kill her other daughter by cutting her throat.

The baby’s tombstone is later revealed to have the words “Beloved” carved into it, representing the guilt that Sethe feels for murdering her child.

Robert Frost

Symbolism is also present in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” poem.

The two roads represent the choices that we make in life.

The speaker in the poem chooses one road over the other, and this decision symbolizes the path that he will take in life.

What Is the Opposite of Symbolism?

Are you looking for a literary device that gives you a different way to express your ideas?

Why not look at the opposite of symbolism?

You can use the brutal honesty literary device to do so.

It allows you to tell it like it is without any symbolism or sugarcoating.

Symbolism vs. Brutal Honesty

There is a big difference between symbolism and brutal honesty.

Symbolism is often used to make things more poetic or to add another layer of meaning.

Brutal honesty, on the other hand, is straightforward and to the point.

For instance, let’s say that you want to write about the current state of the world.

You could use symbolism to describe it in a more flowery way.

Or, you could opt for brutal honesty and say that the world is a messed up place.

It’s up to you which literary device you want to use in your writing.

Other Related Literary Devices To Know

Are you having fun thinking about how symbolism can help you come up with interesting things to write about?

Let’s try a few more examples of different literary devices to try.

  • Metaphor: A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two things that are not alike.
  • Simile: Using a simile, you can compare two things using the words “like” or “as.”
  • Allegory: An allegory is a story in which the characters and events represent something else, such as an abstract idea.
  • Archetype: An archetype is a character, setting, or situation that recurs across different stories.
  • Hyperbole: A hyperbole is an exaggeration for emphasis. Use it to make a point or to add humor to your writing.

Writing Tools To Help You Out

Once you learn how to write a blog post, you must continue researching how to improve.

Improving your writing skills is a part of that process.

Another way is to start using writing tools that will help you save time and money while putting your blog together.

  • Writing Helpers: Writer helpers are tools that make it easier to write by supporting writers with various tasks. Some writing helper services organize and edit your content and finish it based on what you tell them.
  • AI Writing Software: You can use AI writing software to speed up the drafting process. These tools will write some of the content for you. After that, you will want to refine it to make sure it reads well.  
  • Grammar Checkers: A grammar checker is a valuable tool that will help you avoid making mistakes in your blog posts. Running your content through a grammar checker allows you to fix errors before you hit publish.
  • Content Creators: Content creators are tools that help you generate ideas for your blog posts. If you struggle to find topics to write about, a content creator can give you suggestions based on your niche.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you still have a few questions about symbolism?

Use the following answers to help you with further understanding of the topic.

What part of speech is symbolism?

The word symbolism is a noun. It refers to the use of symbols to represent ideas or concepts.

It will help you to further engage with the reader by making your writing more interesting.

What does symbolism mean in literature?

Symbolism is often used in literature to give a deeper meaning to the events that take place.

It can help to make a connection between the characters and the reader.

Wrapping Up

Symbolism represents one of the most powerful tips for writing that bloggers use to enhance their writing.

By understanding the different types of symbolism and how they work, you can use them to create more vivid and memorable images for your readers.

In addition, you can use symbolism to convey deeper meanings or emotions that aren’t always possible with plain language alone.

When using symbolism in your writing, make sure that you remain clear about what each symbol represents and avoid overusing them.

With a little practice, you can use symbolism to add depth and power to your writing.

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