Symbolism is a literary tool that uses imagery or objects to portray an idea or feeling. You can find this used throughout famous works going back hundreds of years. While some readers can easily pick out the symbolism immediately, many readers are too caught up with the story to realize that they are being drawn into it with subtle symbolism. Colors and objects and are common tools that are enhancing a story without you even realizing it.
The use of color in literature is one of the easiest forms of symbolism to pick out. A character dressed in white is automatically read as being innocent, or pure of heart, while red will invoke feelings of passion, romance and love. Green is used to symbolize hope and a new life.
Think of the color of Scarlett’s curtain dress. Bright green to symbolize her hope that Rhett would save her from her financial despair. Margaret Mitchell uses color with the character of Melanie as well, who is often dressed in blue or white. Blue is common symbol of calm and peace, the epitome of what Melanie represents throughout the entire book.
When the thief is murdered at Tara, Scarlett strips of her of her clothes, symbolizing the one moment in the story where Melanie is not at peace with what is going on around her. This is an excellent example of how color can be used continuously throughout a story to help track a character’s emotions.
Objects as Symbolism
Water is often used in literature to symbolize emotions and themes in the story. A rainstorm is a reflection of a new life, while a free flowing river such as the Mississippi in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn is representative of freedom and adventure.
The quest for freedom is a common thread in many great novels, and has been symbolized in dozens of different ways. The minute you read about a character hopping on a motorcycle for example, you automatically know they are on a quest for freedom. And regardless of who that character is, there is not a reference to men’s or women’s motorcycles helmets in sight.
Just look at this passage from Motorcycle Man by Kristen Ashley: “I was panting, and he was cursing. It was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to me. If he would have asked met to, I would have jumped on the back of his bike and ridden to the ends of the Earth with him.” The image of the bike, and the riders without any motorcycle helmets, instantly evokes feelings of a dangerous and thrilling lifestyle, free of any type of social constraint.
If you wish to be a successful writer you will want to learn how to incorporate the fine art of symbolism into your works. Once you get started you will be amazed at how much you already know about symbolic reference and how to use it to tell your own story.
This is a fine art to incorporate into your work that makes your written word compelling, leaving the reader anxious to turn each page. Use it to build a strong characterization or to set a running theme in your tale. Either way, the words will hold more meaning and your book will pack more punch.