What is a definition with examples of Allegory?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Allegory is a narrative or description that contains a second meaning beneath the surface story.  And, while the surface description or story may have its own significance, it is the ulterior meaning that is more important to the author. Certainly, allegory is not as rich as the symbol, whose meanings "ray out"; nevertheless, allegory effectively makes the abstract concrete with a one-to-one correspondence between the details and a single set of ulterior meanings.

A famous morality play from the sixteenth century, Everyman is also considered a "naive allegory." Through the use of the journey, the greater moral lesson is taught; that is, all men--Everyman as representative of men's souls--must go through life performing good deeds if they wish to be judged well by Death. Aesop's Fables, of course, are allegories as the animals represent different virtues or vices.

In contemporary literature, there are many allegories, among them Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery, in which the employment of allegory is direct as animals and flowers talk. In this child-like narrative, Saint Exupery extols simplicity and honesty against a materialistic society as the fox bids good-bye to the little prince, 

"It is only in the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye." (ch. 21)

The world of authority and power is also critiqued as the king who considers everyone his subject resembles closely a threatening leader in St. Exupery's 1943.

In another modern work, George Orwell cautions against the dangers of Communism in his Animal Farm in which the pigs Napoleon and Snowball represent Stalin and Trotsky, respectively. Orwell's allegory is a cautionary tale against an ideology that has threatened the world.  Another work, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, also written in the wake of World War II, depicts the inherent evil in men as young boys, stranded on an idyllic island, degenerate into sadistic savagery on their own without the constraints of a "society that was in ruins."  In a powerful scene, a pig's head, "the lord of the flies," talks to the intuitive Simon,

"You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are?"

While some works are not written with the intention of being allegories, they sometimes have allegorical meanings and can be interpreted in this genre.  One example is William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" in which Emily Grierson can represent the Old South.  Another is Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," the character of Brown is allegorical as he represents the Calvinistic Puritan who initially believes he is among the elect and has, therefore, been saved no matter what happens.

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