In his book The Educated Imagination, Northrop Frye argues that the "correspondence of the natural and human" deriving from the impulse to draw analogies "is one of the things that the word 'symbol' means." What does Frye mean when he makes this claim?
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In a passage from his book The Educated Imagination, the literary theorist Northrop Frye argues that whenever a creative uses objects from nature in one of his writings – objects such as sheep or flowers – the writer does not present them as mere objects, as mere “real” things. Rather, the writer uses them in a “literary” way, according to literary conventions and literary motives. They function in writer’s work in symbolic ways. As Frye puts it,
There’s always some literary reason for using them, and that means something in human life that they correspond to or represent or resemble.
Literature, Frye suggests, speaks to human feelings, values, ideals, and/or beliefs. Thus when a sheep (one of two examples Frye uses) appears in a poem, the sheep does not have the same significance as it would have if it appeared in a film about agriculture. The sheep in the poem is being used as a symbol of something other than, and greater than, itself. It is a symbol of something meaningful to human thoughts and feelings.
In this passage, then, Frye tries (as do many literary theorists) to explain the special ways in which literature refers to or “re-presents” the world. Literature is not a mere copy of reality; it always involves some selection from reality and thus implies a human significance to whatever is selected.
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