Writers use many literary devices to add layers of meaning to their writing.  One way they do this is by using symbolism.

Symbolism is when writers use animals, elements, things, places, or colors to represent other things.  The symbols they use are usually well known in literature or culture.  When you understand the symbol being used, you connect its meaning to the story you are reading and understand the story on a deeper level.

Another way to understand symbolism is to think about how the media, movies, and television, and music videos use symbols to immediately make us think of or connect with other things.  For example:

In westerns, who wears the white hat?

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In westerns, who wears the black hat?

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See you do know about symbols!  Often colors are used represent various characteristics or emotions. 

White The  symbol of  good or innocence.
Brides and angels wear white.
Black The symbol of evil.
Villains in old time movies often wore black. 
Red The symbol of love or courage.

Red is the color of Valentine's Day.
Blue The symbol of  beauty and loyalty.

The sky is blue, and Mary in the Bible is usually  pictured wearing blue.
Purple The symbol of royalty.

In ancient times only the king or emperor was allowed to wear purple.
Gold The symbol of wealth and power.

Gold is the precious metal we prize the most.  Only the rich and powerful possess a lot of gold.
Green The symbol of hope, growth, and new life.

In the spring, the earth turns green bringing us the hope of a new season.

Writers use symbolic colors in their work in many ways.  Sometimes color can be used to describe clothing of characters or in the setting of a story.  If you are looking for them, these symbols tell you more about the characters and the story.

 Colors are not the only things that are used as literary symbols.  Often nature provides writers with symbols.

Sometimes natural phenomena are used as symbols for times of life.

             The symbol...                               The reason...

Night symbolizes death.

Night is the end of the day
the same way death is the
end of life.
Sunrise is the symbol for a new beginning.

The sunrise is the beginning
of a new day and each day
offers a chance to start over.
Sunset is the symbol for nearing the end.

The sunset is the end of the
Now try some on your own.   If...
Fall is the symbol of middle age

Fall is late in the year and
the growing season ends the
same way middle age is a time when people slow down.


Spring is the symbol of new life Spring is when the earth
comes back to life and
everything blooms creating
new life.
 Summer must be the symbol for
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Winter must be the symbol for
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The elements that surround us are also well known symbols in literature.


Fire The symbol of cleansing and purification.
Fire burns everything away leaving things cleared to begin again.

Water The symbol of life and cleansing
Water is necessary to live and is used in church to wash away our sins.

Air The symbol of change.  As air sweeps in taking the form of wind it sweeps away the old and brings in the new.
Stone The symbol of building and solidity.
Stone is natural, of the earth, and the strongest building material.

Although there are many other symbols that writers use, one last set must be addressed: animals.  States and countries choose animals to represent traits they want associated with them.  Nursery rhymes and cartoons use animals as characters and those characters can often be interpreted symbolically.

Think about what you know about these animals and think what they might symbolize.

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If a person is described as being a bear they are:


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Political cartoons use the dove as a symbol of:

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Political cartoons use the hawk as a symbol of:

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If someone is said to be lionhearted, it means:

How did you do? Hopefully you were able to connect these animals the qualities they represent.

Most symbols in literature connect to things you are familiar with in life.  Being aware that writers use them, means that you can spot them in the stories you read and make connections to the meanings these symbols have. This helps you to understand the story on a much deeper level.

Remember,  symbolism is when writers use animals, elements, things, places, or colors to represent other things.  Watch for them when you read and try to use symbols when you write.

Click on the lighthouse to practice!


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