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Difference Between Allegory and Symbolism

Allegory is a narrative style of using symbols. However, it is not the same as symbolism. Their definitions are different and so are their specific applications.

In both cases, the two styles are used for concealing some hidden meaning, truth, or lesson. In typical applications, they have been used to relay moral or political lessons and in a big way bringing out the evils in the society as well as the government. How each consumer interprets the application of each is what brings out the major differences between allegory and symbolism.


What is an Allegory?

The word allegory comes from the Greek language and means “to speak in another way.” It can, therefore, be defined as an image, story, or poem that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, moral, or truth. An allegory, in this case, requires deeper analysis as well as interpretation to get the exact lesson in a piece of work either for education or sensitization purposes.

An allegory can also be considered as a ‘moral of a story.’ It is an exciting application and can use either events or characters to send the hidden messages across. Its basic characteristic is that it does not reveal the moral of the story applied in it and would require the readers to deduce it.

An allegory is a bit more specific and limited. It uses a one-to-one symbolic function to tell a story and leave the interpretation to the user. It can, therefore, use a place, event, or character to convey the message as it is in the Pilgrim’s Progress allegory (an allegory of the spiritual journey).

The major types of allegories are:

  1. Classical allegory
  2. Medieval allegory
  3. Modern allegory
  4. Biblical allegory.

Characteristics of an Allegory

An allegory:

  • Is a prose, poem, or story read at a metaphorical level.
  • Can be used by religious writers and leaders for teaching the principles of faith.
  • Can be used to aid one in getting the point of view of an idea in a social or political setting. In this case, it is mostly used by satirists.
  • Can be used to inculcate the morals of a certain society where an ethical writer of a piece lives in.


What is Symbolism?

Symbolism, as a word, has a Geek root and means “to throw together” in Greek. As the word suggests, it is a literal style of using symbols to send abstract ideas and qualities across. Depending on the usage, a word, place, object, person, or action can have a symbolic meaning. Therefore, the creator, artist, or author can use such workpieces to hint a certain mood or emotion in their work rather than saying it blatantly.

The major types of symbolism include:

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Allegory
  • Personification
  • Hyperbole
  • Metonymy

Characteristics of Symbolism

For symbolism to be considered of central relevance, it must have:

  1. Semantic distance
  2. Familiarity
  3. Concreteness
  4. Complexity
  5. Meaningfulness


Difference Between Allegory and Symbolism

The striking differences include:


An allegory is a narrative style that uses an image, story, or poem to send a moral lesson or message. It can use a place, event, or character to convey the message to the consumer.

Symbolism, on the other hand, is a literal device that uses an object, word, place, action, or person to represent an abstract idea rather than giving it out blatantly. If a writer in a poem, for example, wants to represent a certain emotion or mood, they can use symbolism to give a hint of it.


An allegory is categorized as a narrative while symbolism is categorized as a literary device.


Examples of allegory include:

  • The book Animal Farm, as written by George Orwell uses animals to describe the hostility between the Communist Revolution of Russia and Tsar, Nicholass II. The animals are used to expose the greed, corruption, superiority complex, and other evils in the society. The animals, in this case, are used to show how some of them are more superior than others, the same case that the political arena presents.
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is a spiritual allegory. It tells a story of a sinner who travels to find salvation and along the way, meets different characters such as hypocrisy, obstinate, and Mr. World Wiseman who discourage him from his journey.

The examples of symbolism include:

  • A dove is a symbol of peace.
  • The white color is a symbol of peace.
  • A red rose symbolizes love.
  • The yellow color is a symbol of decay or violence.
  • A mirror can symbolize the sun.
  • A serpent symbolizes corruption, evil, or darkness.
  • A broken mirror and broken heart symbolize broken love or union or a separation.

Interconnection Between Allegory and Symbolism

Allegory uses symbolism while symbolism adds an allegorical meaning to the texts in which it is used.

Allegory Vs. Symbolism: Comparison Table


Summary of Allegory Vs. Symbolism

An allegory and symbolism are interrelated in that they perform almost the same purposes. Also, as indicated, an allegory uses symbolism while symbolism applies allegory to give meaning to texts. However, each is distinct in its way in that, for example, an allegory is categorized as a narrative while symbolism is a literary device.


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  1. Dear All,
    I would loqve1 to join the journey in reading the word of the Lord

    Topoth Charles

  2. Thank you Sarah. Been looking for such greet insights for long

  3. This won’t work for several reasons. One example: you say that allegory is not the same as symbolism. But you also say that one of the types of symbolism is allegory.

    So, dog is not the same as cat. But dog is one kind of cat.

  4. Thank you, Sarah, for this clear and interesting article. It well describes how the two modes of exegesis work. Perhaps you could include biblical examples, since the bible is a sphere where the two methods of non-literal interpretation are essential.

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References :

[0]"Allegory - Examples And Definition Of Allegory In Literature". Literary Devices, 2019, https://literarydevices.net/allegory/.

[1]"Types Of Symbolism & Figurative Language". Pen And The Pad, 2019, https://penandthepad.com/types-symbolism-figurative-language-6539456.html.

[2]Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/allegory-allows-attention-bird-207703/

[3]Image credit: https://picryl.com/media/symbolism-in-the-music-of-bach-a-lecture-delivered-in-the-whittall-pavilion-4

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