When studying the English language, you may well stumble upon the concept of allegory. But what is this? It is certainly something that you will hear in everyday speech but most notably something that you will likely read in a variety of texts. In this article, we are going to discover exactly what allegory is as well as finding out how it is used by taking a look at some examples of literature and conversations in which it features.
What Is Allegory?
An allegory is a form of art, whether that be a picture or a story which gives us it’s meaning through the use of symbols, many people would consider allegory to be an extended type of metaphor. When used as a literary device, a writer may use an allegory in order to convey a message based on morals, history, politics, spirituality, and other such subjects.
The actual word allegory derives from ancient Greek and is translated to mean ‘implying something’ and this translation further helps us understand its function.
When used as a form of figurative language, the allegory can make a useful in addition to things such as motivational speeches, informative speeches or spoken lessons because it is used to convey meaning in a more understandable way and one which is easier to relate to. However, it is not very common that you will hear allegory in spoken language as it is more often used in literature.
Examples of Allegory in Conversation
As we mentioned previously, allegory may be used in a variety of different spoken contexts especially those which are designed to teach you something. It is less common to see allegory in spoken language although there are some times it would be used. We are now going to take a look at some examples of how allegory might fit into day to day speech.
- A famous allegory was used by George Bush in a speech that he made where he used the concept to talk about certain countries which were thought to pose a danger to the rest of the world, by referring to them as the ‘axis of evil’ he made an allegory out the story he was telling.
- A notable person who uses allegory in his stories was Jesus Christ, his parables were all allegories, which he taught in spoken lessons to his followers. One such example is the story of the mustard seed in which Jesus talks about a mustard seed as a symbol for the human faith.
Examples of Allegory in Literature
Allegory is a very common feature of many pieces of written work. An author may use an allegory to add various layers to the piece of work that they are writing and can give the story a multidimensional feel. This is done by explaining situations with a deeper meaning rather than just their literal meaning. Allegory is also a great way to allow a writer to put across their own personal views on subjects such as politics and religion.
- In the novel Animal Farm, written by George Orwell we see allegory taking place in the famous line “All the animals were equal, but there were a few that were more equal than others.” In this story, the animals are a symbolic representation of various parts of Russia during its civil war.
- A very famous allegory comes in the form of the Tortoise and the hare, this story uses the animals to teach the lesson that slow and steady will win the race, with the tortoise being the symbol for slow.
- Dr. Seuss writes an allegory in his story Yurtle the turtle in which he uses allegory to refer to Adolf Hitler and his totalitarian ideas.
- In a more recent literature piece, the series of books called The hunger games uses allegory to symbolise the obsession that we have with TV and how it can numb us inside.
- The Allegory of the cave by Plato is thought to be one of the most famous allegories in all history. The story talks about some people who are chained inside a cave and can see the outside world via the shadows it casts on the cave wall. One day, one of the people leaves the cave and sees what is on the outside but when they return to tell the others about what they saw, they do not believe it, they only believe what they have seen on the wall to be true. The allegory was written to symbolise how a philosopher struggles to share his ideas to people who do not think that same as he.
- An excellent example of allegory is in the story of The Wizard of Oz, where each of the characters represents a personality trait such as bravery or intelligence, One could go even further and say that the scarecrow is also a symbol of the agricultural past whilst the tin man represents what is to come in the form of technology in the future.
- The movie Wall-E is an allegory which uses the characters and storyline to symbolise what will happen is humans do not protect the planet on which we live.
- In Faerie queen written by Edmund Spenser, we see allegory being used to talk about vices and virtues, the author uses the characters to convey these ideas. For example, he uses a dragon to represent evil and a knight to represent holiness.
- Yann Martel wrote Beatrice and Virgil as a way to use allegory to talk about the pain and devastation which was caused by the horrors of the holocaust victims.
Allegory is something that you are very likely to encounter whilst reading or listening to the English language. By looking at these examples, we have been able to grasp a better understanding on how an allegory might work and this makes it easier for us to identify them.
An allegory is a great way to add depth to a story or a piece of writing as well as delivering the opinions of the writer in a less literal fashion. The same can be said for spoken language when you will often see the use of allegory in various speeches which enable the speaker to add new layers to the content of what is being said.