Something that means more than what it suggests on the surface. Can be object, a situation, an action or some other element that has a literal meaning in the story but suggests or represents other meanings as well.
When you’re tempted to see symbolism in everything, remember sometimes a road is just a road.
Watch out for (the 4 cautions)
The story itself must furnish a clue that a detail is to be taken symbolically. The repetition of references to birds, including the name of the protagonist signals the need to interpret them symbolically. The title “A Worn Path” explicity refers to Phoenix’s repeated journeys and the implications symbolizes the journey s of her race toward love and full acceptance. Both items are emphasized and significant to the meaning of the story, but neither is essential to its plot.
A symbol signals its symbolic existence by emphasis, repetition, or position
The meaning of the literary symbol must be established and supported by the entire context of the story. The symbol has its meaning inside the story not outside of it. “Pearly cloud of mistletoe” from “A Worn Path” establishes the pattern of black-white in the story not of parasitism and death of the host tree. Here it is associated with a proffered gift of delight from on high, the symbol reinforces Phoenix’s faith and reliance on God’s will.
To be called a symbol, an item must suggest a meaning different in kind from its literal meaning; a symbol is something more than the representative of a class or type. Phoenix Jackson through symbolic associations attached to her name is clearly meant to be something more than an EXAMPLE of any class or race of human beings or of humanity in general. She is a symbol of something within the human spirit, of hidden possibilities latent in many people.
A symbol may have more than one meaning; it may suggest a cluster of meanings. Think of it as a multi faceted jewel. Ex. The path symbolizes life itself including obstacles, habits, occasional moments of humor, pain, beauty and above all, its nature as a journey human beings must undertake with as much dignity and courage as possible., motivated by love. The meaning is not confined to any one of these –it is all of them and this is the symbol’s value.
A story that has a 2nd meaning beneath the surface endowing a cluster of characters, objects, or events with added significance; often the pattern relates each literal item to a corresponding abstract idea or moral principle. It puts more emphasis on the ulterior meanings than the literal meanings. The ulterior meanings are fixed and usually constitute a pre-existing system of ideas or principles. Allegorical suggests some components of an allegory exist in the work but the work itself is not an allegory.
The Scarlet Letter (less mechanical than older allegories)
The red letter—adultery