Today's Booking Through Thursday is a question suggested by Barbara H:
My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.
It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?
I remember an English class I took in college in which the professor found sexual symbolism in every story we read. There was a story or maybe it was a poem about loggers and trees being cut down in the forest. How on earth can you find sexual symbolism in that, right? I wanted to get a good grade on the paper so decided to write it from his perspective, give him what he wanted (figuratively) and get an A. I wrote a paper about the tree being symbolic of woman and the cutting down of the tree, the loss of her virginity, etc., etc., etc. You know what, I didn't have the nerve to turn the paper in and rewrote it. Barbara's husband is right. Sometimes people just write stories and other people read symbolism into it, depending on their agenda, make-up, desires, etc.
Does modern fiction tell a story without much symbolism. Again, it depends on your definition of modern fiction. I'm about to take a modern fiction literature course and it only deals with fiction from 1890 to the 1940's. I do think there is a lot of symbolism that went into the stories during that period of time.
Is there much symbolism in present fiction? I generally don't look for symbolism in stories so wouldn't see it unless it was pointed out to me ahead of time. If I know the story is symbolic in some way, then I will see it. I just finished an Art History course that taught me quite a bit about symbolism in art, which I know will stay with me for a long time.
I read so many books, that at this point I really couldn't come up with an example of symbolism within one of the stories without taking a few hours to sit down and analyze it. Then I'd be so caught up in doing that, I'd be reading instead and never get this post written. So excellent idea for a future post - take one of my books, analyze it for symbolism and write a post. I just finished "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman so this will be an excellent opportunity to examine the symbolism in my review.
The question of symbolism is interesting, because even though I don't look for it when I read,(but I may start doing so now) I do use a lot of symbolism in the stories I write. Which begs the question, will the symbolism be noticed or not. I wrote a dream sequence for "Floating on the surface" in which many of the objects have symbolic meaning for my character. But would the reader get it?
Gautami made a good point in her post: "The present day reader is in too much of a hurry. He/She prefers it all in black and white. Reading through symbolism is time consuming."
What do you think? Do you look for symbolism in every story you read or just when you know the author usually uses symbolism in his work.
An interesting exercise to consider for fun - I will post the dream and you all find the symbolism. Let me know if you would be interested.