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Allegory, Symbolism & Typology in Literature

Writers have a number of literary traditions and tools of language at their disposal, and each will shape these much-used elements to fit their own specific themes and interests. Among the methods used are those which make language and character serve the task of representing ideas, the clash of ideas, and the power of imagery to represent ideas. Allegory is a way of shaping a story so that the characters and the setting are developed so as to have both a literal meaning on the primary level and a secondary meaning on the next level. Symbolism is the use of the literary symbol, or the use of an object so that the attributes of the object become a substitute for some idea or entity with special significance. Typology is subtly different from symbolism and is in fact often used as a synonym for symbolism, but it refers more specifically to the representation of things by objects in the sense of representing an entire class or type in one symbolic representation or character. The working of these three linguistic representations can be seen in the novels and short stories of two American authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville.

These three elements are not mutually exclusive and often occur in the same piece of fiction, sometimes to such a degree that it is difficult to separate them into their different aspects. They occur with regularity in the works of both Hawthorne and Melville, writers of the same era who indeed knew one another well. Both writers invest their fiction with deeper meaning that is accessed through an understanding of symbolism and allegory. The use of allegory entails particular problems in maintaining a sense of reality in the surface story while making clear the underlying attributes of the characters and the situation that also interact to convey a message:

The writer of allegory habitually seeks to indenture his fiction (be it in prose or poetry) to an extrinsic reality; his aim is to esta...

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Allegory, Symbolism & Typology in Literature. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:27, January 20, 2019, from