Can you explain literary symbolism? Thank you!

Expert Answers
msbrenner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm not quite sure what you're asking here--so lets back up a little.  Symbolism is when you use one image to stand for something else:  think of the American Flag--13 stripes stand for 13 colonies, right? 50 stars stand for 50 states, etc.

Literary symbolism is when an author chooses an image in a story to carry more meaning than the image alone--read through Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and check out the pink ribbons for a good example.

I'm guessing though, that is pretty simplistic and what you really want to know is:  how do English teachers know which images really carry more meaning than themselves--when is a house just a house?

Here are some tips:
Something seems odd or out of place--or the author mentions it a lot (like the pink ribbons in Young Goodman Brown or the walking stick that turns into a snake...must be something going on there, right?)

There are a few biggies:  water, fire, wind (sometime its just weather, but worth examining)

Something shows up at a really opportune time (remember, authorial intent--they made it up, it didn't really happen, there is no such thing as luck--the author PLANNED it that way.)