Guide to Literary Terms

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What is an allegory?  

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An allegory is an elaborate metaphor in which a character, event, narrative, myth, etc. tells a story that represents something else. For example, Animal Farm is a story about an animal revolution and it is an allegory for the Russian Revolution. In terms of stories, an allegory tells one story but implies...

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An allegory is an elaborate metaphor in which a character, event, narrative, myth, etc. tells a story that represents something else. For example, Animal Farm is a story about an animal revolution and it is an allegory for the Russian Revolution. In terms of stories, an allegory tells one story but implies another, just as a metaphor describes one thing but implies another. 

Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" in The Republic describes a situation where people are chained together in a cave. They can only face one wall of the cave. Unable to see the people and fire behind them, they only see the shadows on the wall. This is an allegory for the human condition in that there are aspects of reality which we refuse and/or are conditioned not to see. 

Arthur Miller's The Crucible is a play about the Salem Witch Trials but it is also an allegory for McCarthyism. In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy wanted to rid the country of all communist influence and charged people associated with communism as being traitorous. Miller and other writers at that time were brought to these proceedings. 

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