Symbols and Motifs


A symbol is something that means more than what it is. It has a literal meaning but suggests or represents other meanings as well.

Symbols can add to and reinforce the meaning of a story, or they can, in fact, be the key to the story's meaning.

Images and symbols that recur throughout a piece of fiction are called motifs. Tracing the pattern of a motif often offers meaningful clues about the theme of a piece of literature.

Recognizing and identifying symbols in a story requires perception. The great danger when one becomes aware of symbolism is to find symbols everywhere and to read into the details of a story more than was intended and, more than what can be supported with evidence from the story.

The reader should be alert for symbolic meaning, but should observe the following cautions:

1- The story itself must furnish the clue that the detail is to be taken symbolically. Symbols usually signify their existence by emphasis, repetition or position.

2- The meaning of a literary symbol must be established and supported by the entire context of the story.

3- A symbol may have more than one meaning. The possibility of complex meanings gives the symbol its special compressive value. The literal significance, the emotional power, and the associated images of a symbol can all be used by an author to build meaning in the story. In other words, a symbol may serve a variety of purposes.

 Page Created on October 5th, 1998
  Last updated on October 5th, 1998
   Copyright (C) 1998 by Nada AbiSamra.

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