Allegory: Definition, Types, and Examples

Allegory: Definition and Types

Allegory is a literary device in which events, actions, characters, settings, or objects represent specific abstractions or ideas. It operates on two levels: the surface narrative, which is a standalone work, and the deeper emphasis on the abstract ideals represented by the work's elements. While many allegories aim to provide moral, ethical, or religious lessons, not all have this goal.

Types of Allegory

There are four major types of allegories:

  • Classical Allegory: Stories from ancient Greece that use animals and objects to teach lessons about human existence. Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" is a prime example.
  • Biblical Allegory: Stories in the Bible conveying Christian teachings and themes, often involving the struggle between good and evil.
  • Medieval Allegory: Works portraying unity in Christianity and conveying moral lessons.
  • Modern Allegory: Contemporary stories using animals and elements to represent modern themes. Examples include "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Animal Farm."

Common Examples of Allegory in Fable Form

Fables are a common form of allegory, featuring anthropomorphic characters that behave like humans and convey moral lessons. Some examples include:

  • The lion and the mouse
  • The tortoise and the hare
  • The city mouse and the country mouse
  • The fox and the grapes
  • The grasshopper and the ants

Examples of Biblical Allegory

Two forms of Biblical allegory include interpretations of the Bible and literary works invoking Biblical themes. Examples are:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)
  • The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
  • The Prodigal Son (Biblical parable)
  • The Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan)

Famous Examples of Allegory

Allegory is found in many famous literary works, including:

  • The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
  • Siddhartha (Hermann Hesse)
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)
  • Everyman (attributed to Petrus Dorlandus)
  • No Exit (Jean-Paul Sartre)

Difference Between Allegory and Symbolism

While allegory and symbolism are related, allegory is a complete narrative with elements that represent broader concepts, while symbolism involves using elements as symbols within a literary work. Symbolism is essential to allegory but can also be present in non-allegorical works.

Allegory vs. Metaphor

Allegory is a complete narrative with symbolic elements, while a metaphor is a smaller figure of speech often contained within a single sentence. An allegory can have multiple metaphors, but a metaphor alone does not become an allegory.

Writing Allegory

Writing allegory involves presenting abstract ideas through narratives and symbols that enhance understanding for readers. An effective allegory must work on two levels: as a standalone narrative and as a representation of broader themes or concepts.

Examples of Allegory in Literature

Allegory is present in many literary works, such as:

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Synonyms of Allegory

Synonyms for allegory include parable, emblem, story, tale, myth, saga, fable, and apologue.

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