The Symbolism Essay - A "Must" for All Literature Courses
From high school forward, students who study literature will be required, from time to time, to write a symbolism essay, upon completing the reading of a short story, play, or novel. In the essay, the student will be asked to identify the symbolism found within the work, explain it as it relates to the theme(s) of the work, and to apply this symbolism within more universal contexts of society and the world.
Symbolism itself is an author's use of a person or object to represent something else. One of the most famous examples of symbolism in American literature, for example, is the albatross in Hermann Mehlville's work, Moby Dick. The albatross continued to appear throughout the work, despite Ahab's best efforts to destroy it, and represented, within the novel itself, a burden which Ahab carried throughout his adult life. The albatross has thus become a symbol of burdens which all humans bear and is best typified by the phrase, "an albatross around one's neck." Symbolism exists within every worthy work of literature, and, the more complex the piece is, the more symbols and thus themes one is likely to discover.
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Symbolism Essay Writing Rules
When an instructor or professor assigns a symbolism essay, there are certain expectations for the structure and presentation of the assignment. Sometimes, the symbolism essay may involve only one symbol, as assigned by the instructor, and the student is expected to analyze the full meaning of that symbol as it relates to a theme in the work and to the lives of all humans. Other times, an instructor may ask that the student identify and analyze any three symbols in a work which possesses many. The structure and the presentation, however, do not change.
The symbolism essay begins, as do all essays, with a compelling and motivational introduction. The writer must introduce the symbol(s) to be analyzed and discussed, making reference to the importance of the symbol to one or more of the author's themes and then generalizing this theme to wider societal situations. This wider context should also be addressed in the conclusion.
The body paragraphs of a symbolism essay are relatively easy to organize. If one is analyzing only a single symbol, each paragraph should sequentially demonstrate the growing importance of the symbol as the work progresses, using specific passages or parts of the work in which the symbol appears and its sequentially growing significance as the work progresses. If, however, one is analyzing several symbols, then each belongs in a separate paragraph which includes the meaning of the symbol in relationship to a theme and the ensuing universal nature of that theme in a wider context outside of the novel itself.
As students progress through more complex works of literature, the symbolism itself may become more complex and, at times, obscure. The symbolism essay itself, then, must become more complex, but the very nature the analyses and transfer to universal themes remains the consistent format for organizational structure of the essay.
The concluding paragraph should, of course, re-visit the symbols discussed and again provide the reader with insight to both the theme(s) of the actual work and to the transference of these themes to real life existence.
If you are struggling with a symbolism essay, it makes sense to conduct some research and to study what symbolism others have found in the work as well as their interpretations of the symbols, both within the work and outside the context of the work. This will give you plenty of "food for thought" as you work to create your own essay. A simple online search of the work itself is likely to result in several good avenues.
Remember as well that symbolism analysis and interpretation is, above all, a subjective exercise, and the author is usually not around to present his actual intentions. If you see symbolism that others do not, and you feel certain that you can use evidence from the work to support your thought, by all means, go for it! You might be surprised at the response of an instructor or professor who values new thought and solid critical thinking!
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