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Understanding Literary Symbolism

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Gretchen Philbrick

on 22 January 2017

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Transcript of Understanding Literary Symbolism

A SYMBOL is an object/word/idea that stands for, or represents, something else (usually an abstract idea). In literature authors often use different symbols to represent a particular concept.
How can we determine a symbol's meaning as we read?

Please write down these tips.

Here are some recognizeable symbols.
preexisting knowledge
It is necessary to realize that we bring an individual history to our interpretation of symbols.

These are the different ways we might interpret a literary symbol:
philosophical inclination: what you
believe about life/people may influence your understanding.
gender: men and
women may interpret symbols differently
race: race may play a part in how we construct meaning.
educational attainment: your education level may change how you interpret.
class: social class (working, upper, middle) changes how you make meaning.
So when you're reading, listen to your instincts; those symbols probably mean something.
Let's see if we can interpret the meanings of some more complex symbols. These are examples of universal symbols. What does universal mean?
Color can have meaning also...
Writers use the symbolic language of color to convey meaning!
What about blue?
What does yellow
mean to you?
What about the color red?
White has many possible meanings. Think of rituals and religious interpretations. What rituals or ceremonies use white? Why?
Literary symbols are not as easy to recognize or
understand. Symbols can have more than one meaning and require a lot
of analyzing to figure out.

We need to be like detectives when we read!
Symbols which are universally accepted as meaning the same thing are called archetypal symbols.
Whether it be a season, a color, a shape, a geographical landscape, an animal, or a weather condition, chances are the author may be using it to advance additional meanings. Remember, the greater your exposure to literature, the greater the understanding you will have when you encounter these symbols in other works.
Symbols are often culturally specific. You need to
be aware of the cultural context of symbols. Here's an example:
What is this?
Are you sure?
Look at the edge of this image

Green is another color with several meanings. What is the symbolic meaning of green? Talk to your partner and write it on your board.
What do you already know about symbolism?
What is this symbol?
What does it mean?
How do you know?
Do most of you recognize this symbol? Why is that?
What is this?
Why don't you know what it is?
How about this symbol?
Quick ... While traveling in a country other than the U.S., you need to make a restroom visit. Which symbol leads you to the right facility?
*How come every time a character is mentioned a particular color is referenced?
*Why do clouds appear whenever the character talks about his or her love life?
*Why does this image/color/object keep appearing in the story?

Pay attention to your inner dialogue!!
*Think about what your cultural background has taught you about symbols.
*Have you ever received red roses? What was the sender trying to "tell" you with this symbolic gesture?
Symbols can be "universal" or "contextual."
Contextual symbols rely on what is
written in the story in order to help construct meaning.
Universal symbols can be understood outside of a particular setting or circumstance.
Names of characters are symbolic:
Sylvia in "The White Heron."
Sylvia loves nature and animals.
Sylvia=Sylvan=Associated with the forest

USING your whiteboard, create a symbol that represents you or something about you.

What kind of image would symbolize you?
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