Symbolism in literature: Is a rose just a rose?
In her poem, “Sacred Emily,” Gertrude Stein wrote, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” This line is often interpreted as meaning things are what they are. In Stein’s view, the sentence expresses the fact that simply using the name of a thing already invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it.
In literature, objects can simply be what they are or they can symbolize something more than what they are.
A symbol is anything that hints at something else, usually something abstract, such as an idea or belief. A literary symbol is an object, a person, a situation, or an action that has a literal meaning in a story but suggests or represents other meanings.
If you want to learn more about crafting symbols in your story and how to use poetic techniques to deepen your prose, please join me this Thursday, April 21 for my writing webinar Sound and Symbol: How to Use Poetry to Deepen Your Prose, which is part of the Free Expressions Literary Series.
I’ll dive deep into how poetry can add sensory engagement to your prose.
We can have general symbols—like the aforementioned rose—and we can have specific symbols.
A general symbol is universal in its meaning. Even if the symbol was removed from a work of literature, it would still suggest a larger meaning, i.e. the rose symbolizes romantic love throughout time.Read more