What Is an Allegory?
When I was a student and the teacher asked me to write an allegorical story, I often looked to various sources to help me. But before we get into those sources, do you know exactly what an allegory is?
Dictionary.com defines an allegory as “a poem, play, picture, etc. in which the apparent meaning of the characters and events is used to symbolize a deeper moral or spiritual meaning.” In other words, your story should reflect a moral or spiritual underlying theme. For example, think of stories you’ve read with the most symbolism and meaning in your English classes? A few books or stories should stand out such as Of Mice and Men, Moby Dick and Young Goodman Brown.
Let’s take a closer look at John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. As English teacher Trent Lorcher points out in his Of Mice and Men allegorical lesson plan, the characters in the story represent common roles in society. Lennie, though big and strong physically, was mentally weak and too pure to exist in this world. Meanwhile, Curley’s wife, represents the broken dreams of women with her sad, superficial life.
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the White Whale is an allegory for things in life that are out of human control, such as nature and the sea. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, the character of Young Goodman Brown is a well-intentioned man who tries to resist the evil present in the forest. However, his faith is shattered as he realizes those around he believed to be good are actually corrupt. There are several allegories in the story, such as the forest as a place of evil, and his wife, Faith, representing religious feeling. he name Young Goodman Brown is an overt allegory for all good, young men and their fall from innocence.
To create your own allegory, you must think of what deeper moral or spiritual meaning you want to reflect in your story.
Framework of Allegory
First, choose the type of allegory you want to write. Is your allegory a short story, novella, novel, play or poem?
Second, think of what moral lesson, deeper meaning or spirituality you aim to convey to your reader. For example, will you write about current times of the War in Iraq? You can create a character in turmoil who is an allegory for the war. Perhaps your main character and his wife are involved in a scathing divorce. It pits the husband on one side and the wife on the other, thus creating enemy lines. Once the lines are drawn, perhaps your characters can become violent.
Third, there should be a moral lesson. How will the characters learn and what lesson will the reader take away? In keeping the with the divorce example, the characters could kill each other as their child witnesses the aftermath. This is an allegory for the senseless violence of all wars and how innocent victims suffer. Or the couple could finally divorce and go their separate ways, unable to move on with their lives. This is an allegory for how war always stays with us and the soldier is forever emotionally damaged after battle.
Now that you know the framework of an allegory, think of your own example and use these three steps.
An allegory is also defined as a fable. A fable is a story that tells a blatant moral lesson. Examples of famous fables are The Tortoise and the Hare or The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Many times, fables use animals for characters and they serve as moral lessons for children. Parents recite them to children to teach them what to do and what not to do.
Fables are a bit different from an allegorical story because they are overt in their teaching. Symbolism is not hidden. Moral instruction is out in the open for a child to understand the lesson.
If you want to write a fable, you must make sure it’s a very easy lesson to understand. For example, if you want to write about why stealing is wrong, you could put two animal characters in a stealing situation. A bear could take honey from a bee’s honeycomb without asking the bee first. The bee stings the bear in defense. The bear learns to ask for honey first, otherwise he will feel the sting of the bee every time he steals.
To write a great fable, take a look at Aesop’s Fables for research.
One of the best ways to become inspired is to read how others did it! Some well-known allegorical books include Pilgrim’s Progress, Animal Farm, Life of Pi and The Alchemist. Think about a concept or idea that is important to you and the best way to represent it non-literally. Soon you’ll create a complex and fascinating allegorical story others will want to read.
- Definition of allegory on Dictionary.com — http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/allegory
- Photo 1 (Moby Dick): A. Burnham Shute — en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Moby_Dick_p510_illustration.jpg
- Photo 2 (soldiers): PD-USGOV-MILITARY-ARMY — en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Band_of_Brothers,_101st_in_Iraq.jpg
- Photo 3 (Aesop): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aesopnurembergchronicle.jpg