Guide to Literary Terms

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What is allegory?

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Kristopher Parisian eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Allegory is usually defined as a story written to parallel a situation outside of the story. The term is understood to have several meanings with varying degree of strictness. 

As a literary device, an allegory in its most general sense is an extended metaphor.

More strictly speaking, in an allegory, characters and actions inside the story must match up with those of an "outside" situation. 

The book Animal Farm is a classic example of allegory. The characters in the book are intended to parallel real people from the Russian communist revolution and events of the book are meant to match up with actual events from the revolution. 

The idea of creating intentional correlations between the story and a situation outside of the story is critical to the definition of allegory. If elements of the story do not directly represent elements of an outside situation, the story is not an allegory.

Fables and parables are like allegory in certain ways and can be confused with them.

Allegories often are written with a specific comment or point in mind, like fables and parables. Yet in fables the characters do not need to match up with anything outside of the story. A fable or parable can be written to demonstrate a point of wisdom or morality, like "The Tortise and the Hare", but the characters do not represent or match up with any particular people outside of the story. They stand for ideas. This is symbolism, not allegory.  

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litlady33 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Simply put, an allegory is an extended metaphor. A metaphor is something that stands for something else. Therefore, an allegory is a work (book, short story, movie, poem) that...

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loraaa | Student
A simple answer to this question is that allegory is a way of explaining things which cannot easily be explained, by telling a story which has a deeper meaning.
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ashleymlsimpson81 | Student

Allegory is a literary device using a name to represent something bigger. For example, if a person's name is Liberty or Freedom, this would be an allegory for that ideal. A literary example would be John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress where the main character's name is Christian. The story in itself is a religious allegory. 

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