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What is the importance and use of ALLEGORY in English literature? answer in detail

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Allegory is one of the earliest forms of literature.  That tells you it is very important!  Think about it: from the earliest part of our society, we have used stories to send messages and record important cultural values.  The allegory is a continuation of this.

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Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Allegory has the power of metaphor and the power of narrative and works upon both of these simultaneously. Maybe this is why allegory tends to be a powerful format and especially meaningful.


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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Part of the appeal of allegory is that it touches upon our childhood fancies that often understood more because of the openness and sensitivity that we possessed in youth. And, with the different symbolic levels, readers can find much delight in the reading.Through the employment of allegory an author can have symbolic meanings for settings, events, and characters, thus conveying multilevel meanings.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The use of allegory goes way back, probably because it was easy for readers and audiences to understand.  Allegory, of course, utilizes metaphor to enhance the meaning of the work.  It's generally hard to miss the point of an allegorical writing, since the places and characters are often pointedly named for or characterized by the qualities they represent.

A great example of allegory is the Medieval play Everyman, written in the 1500s.  The protagonist, Everyman, is called by God to account for his life.  Death comes for him, but Everyman says he does not have his accounts in order.  He stalls for time and asks if he can bring anyone on the journey with him.  Everyman starts with such "friends" as Beauty, Five-Wits (five senses), Knowledge, and Good Deeds.  In the end, all abandon him but Good Deeds, who literally follows Everyman into his grave.  For a rather untutored audience, this was a great visual representation both of man's eventual reckoning and the Church's position on works (good deeds) as part of salvation.

Several centuries later, John Milton's famous Pilgrim's Progress does virtually the same thing in story form.  Christian has a dream and begins a journey to Celestial City; along the way he journeys through such places as the Slough of Despond and journeys with a similar variety of characters who, of course, all fall away by the end.

More modern, though less obvious, British allegories include The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Chronicles of Narnia.  Both are allegorical battles between good and evil, among other things.

These are just a few examples, but they span nearly five hundred years of literary work.  It's clear, then, that allegory has been a standard throughout English literature. 

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clairewait eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The most prominent purpose of allegory in any literature, is that it was used as a means to seque from the ancient and midieval culture (polytheistic and nature oriented) to the Christian culture (monotheistic and human orientied).  Most authors of allegory use this form of extended metaphor and overly symbolic writing to teach a moral lesson or principle.

Consider even the current use of parables and analogies today, in lessons and sermons - humans have a hard time being told directly "this is the right thing to do or way to live."  So instead, allegories, fables, parables, listen-to-what-happened-to-this-guy stories show the lesson rather than tell it outright.  This is why/how the allegory came to be.

Well known allegories include:

Dante's Inferno and The Divine Comedy
John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress

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qasenior | Student

An allegory is the actual story that you are reading and at the same time it's also a symbolic story. For example, lord of the flies by William golding is about a group of boys (ages 6-12) trying to stay alive on the island that they crashed on. At the same time, this story is a symbolic story of a microcosm (a minitur version of the world). The island represents the world. The two tribes represent two countries. The fighting betwen two tribes is like war. 

Therefore, the purpose of an allegory in literature is to teach a lesson. It might be, adults actions influence children or it can teach us about the inherit evil of man..... 

sahirhassan | Student

in answer 3,auntlory while describing allegory wrote about pilgrim progress as an allegory and in this she mentioned that its an allegory by John Milton....

point to be noted:its not miltons allegory its by John Bunyan.MILTON allegory was paradise lost of Adam and Eve,which is a biblical story of the loss of Eden and the struggle to regain it


kc4u | Student

I am primarily going to concentrate on the Modernist and Postmodernist usages of allegory in 20th century literature. With the attack on realism and linguistic representation in these literary canons, there was a general movement away from all kinds of symbolic tropes including the allegory as a form. The allegorical structures were used more ironically e.g. the Homeric structure in Joyce's novel Ulysses or the Noah-story of Bible in Beckett's play Endgame. The culture of parody and pastiche took over.

In more recent times, however, with a return of the mythic, the fabular and the apparently naturalistic strain in writers like Borges, Cortazaar, Pinter, Calvino, Marquez and so on, there is a return of allegory as it were. But this is a self-reflexive and self-critical return. The magic realist elements in Salman Rushdie or Gabriel Garcia Marquez are indicative of this return. The use of the allegorical structures of the Arabian Nights in Rushdie's novel Haroun and The Sea of Stories is an example of this.