The Usage of Symbolism in Essay Writing

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The Usage of Symbolism in Essay Writing

Symbolism is a device often used by authors in fictional writing, learn what it is and how you can apply it to essay writing...

When writing fictional literature, symbolism is a device often used by authors; where something tangible, an object, animal, or person, is used to represent a specific idea or entity. Symbolism can be used as a means of spicing up your text and engaging your readers; it’s particularly useful in essay writing. Let’s define symbolism, see when you should use it, and understand how it makes a huge difference to our writing.

The Usage of Symbolism in Essay Writing

Photo, Robert Eklund.

How do we define symbolism? You are already familiar with some of the literal devices that help narratives stand out——the metaphor or the paradox, for example——they’re tools taught in any school or university. Symbolism is no different. It is a literal device that helps readers identify with the text. Whether a poem, novel or short story, if there are recurring motifs used, it’s probably symbolism at work, try re-reading the text, there may be deeper meaning than at first glance.

Think about the symbols that surround us. We know that a cross can represent a church or death, and that a different type of cross could represent a hospital. We know that the Statue of Liberty represents the American notion of freedom; a deeper connotation could be Madonna with child representing the notion of motherhood. You can use your own symbols to portray ideas or entities in your text. If you’re not completely aware of how to use symbolism in your stories, you can always check out the free essay samples at; looking at an essay sample can help you familiarise yourself with other people’s work and understand how to use symbolism in your own work. Reading as much as you can is a must if you want to be a solid writer.

Why do we use symbolism? The main reason writers choose symbolism as a key device in their storytelling is to add depth to their work. When you’re not directly telling the reader what you really mean but somehow point to it, your story grows. It shows stronger character, and it catches the imagination of their audience. Students must show readers what they mean through the text; this way, their narrative becomes more sophisticated. Telling something exactly how it is can be obvious and boring.

What are the most well-known symbols used? There are three main types of symbols that you could use throughout your text. Let’s lay them out for you right here, you can think of ways you can present them in your work…

The Conventional Symbol: The best known of the three. The word ‘table’ represents a piece of furniture with four legs and a top; there’s no inherent relationship between the object and the word. English speakers simply agree, by convention, that the word ‘table’ refers to that particular type of furniture. Also consider flags, images that have a story behind them, but their design ultimately a convention; most folk don’t know the stories behind the flags of countries, they just ‘are’.

The Accidental Symbol: The opposite of a conventional symbol in that it is based on personal experience, but again there is no firm relation between the symbol and what it symbolises. If someone has a bad experience in a certain place they will learn to connect that place with negative emotions; if you eat something terrible, you will associate that with the type of food or restaurant. In contrast to the conventional, though, the accidental symbol cannot be shared by anyone else. For this reason accidental symbols are rarely used in myths, fairy tales, or works of art written in symbolic language because they are not easy to convey unless the writer adds a lengthy comment to each symbol they use.

The Universal Symbol: Here there is an intrinsic relationship between the symbol and what it represents, it is most likely what your teacher is talking about when close reading an essay. Universal symbols are understood across time and culture; because they link the external world to the internal, sensory one. Emotions and sensory experiences endure, so stories heavy in universal symbolism do also. A fire is symbolic of power and energy; a flock of black birds are symbolic of darkness and impending doom.

The Usage of Symbolism in Essay Writing

Photo, Artem Maltsev.

How should you use symbolism in your writing? Symbolism can be very effective in showing without telling. This can make your story more interesting to read and thus, more popular. Let’s look in more detail at how you can use symbolism throughout your narrative…

Showing without telling: The first, most common way of doing it. For example, in Harry Potter, the characters of Harry, Hermione, and Ron could be read as a symbolic definition for one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions in alignment. Harry could be seen as a symbol for action, Hermione for thought, and Ron for emotions. When they’re working together, a person is balanced and can succeed.

Adding imagery in the context: Looking at 1984, we can understand that Orwell refers to ‘Big Brother’ as the government, for example. This image helps him get the symbol right in the reader’s mind.

The darker meaning of a symbol: Using symbols for dark purposes could also be a risk worth taking. Looking at the Harry Potter saga again, Voldemort used as a negative character is a symbol for power-hunger men who rule the world. This can be dark and scary but it gets the message across.

Connecting themes and characters: Symbols could also be used to connect various themes throughout the text. For example, money and materialism are strongly connected in the Great Gatsby through the symbol of language.

Wrapping Up: Using symbols in your text is a great way to help your readers visualise the story. It can also be a tool to explaining more complicated or complex processes within a story. Plus, using symbolism adds to the emotion of the text and keeps readers in your fictional world.

Vendy Adams is a researcher and content writer. He is well versed in his skills and passionate about reading. Vendy likes to volunteer and help students succeed academically in his free time.