Thursday, April 23, 2009

BTT: Symbolism

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?

Symbolism is a hot topic in my English class. Most of the kids think symbolism does not exist and we shouldn't study it. I think the total opposite. Many of the books we read in English would totally stink if it weren't for the things you get out of them when you read between the lines.

I think symbolism is only important with highly skilled writers. John Steinbeck and Edith Wharton and Shakespeare mak symbolism amazing. But, you can read their books without having to worry about symbolism. Symbolism is like chocolate syrup on ice cream-it just makes a good thing better.

I think the reason why there isn't much symbolism nowdays is because the quality of literature is declining. As I said before, only the really good writers used symbolism effectively. I've seen several subpar attempts of symbolism in modern literature, but the symbolism in the classics is amazing.

English teachers didn't make up the concept of symbolism. Even one of the oldest books, the Bible, uses symbolism to an extent. Literature would be really flat and boring without symbols. Seeing the symbols in books and finding them yourself without the help of a teacher or sparknotes is one of the most satifying things about reading.

I remember when English classes first started teaching symbolism-in 10th grade for me. I thought it was totally crazy how the color blue said so much. I still do. Thinking that if a character is wearing a blue dress means she has certain character traits is too much. However, thinking blood is a reoccurring symbol for guilt in Macbeth is legit. Symbolism can be taken too far, which is why I think a lot of people have an aversion to it.

I'm stuggling with symbolism and reading between the lines being taken too far right now. I have to write a paper on how I Capture the Castle is influenced by the time period in which it was written and the author's life. The book has a few minor parallels but not enough to write a seven page paper out of. It is ridiculous to assume that every author wants their books to be overanaylized I'm sure I Capture the Castle was not meant to be a reading between the lines book. Others, like The Fountainhead, need to be analyzed to get everything you can out of it!


Trisha said...

I teach college lit and I've always tried to tell my students that the difficulty of symbolism lies not with anaylsis so much as recognition. Symbols work because some part of us recognizes them without consciousness.

I would agree that the adeptness of use is diminishing over time; we are a more action-based, less introspective and contemporary writing reflects that.