A Word on Symbolism

I once had an English teacher in high school who told us that Hemingway himself had said there was no symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea. But then she turned to us and said, “He’s full of crap! It’s just filled with symbolism.”

English majors are notorious for pulling things out of their asses. (Sorry for those of you reading this who were English majors). Every English paper I ever wrote in high school and college was some bullshit symbolism that I pulled out of thin air and the teachers ate it up like hot cakes. If the author says, “There is no symbolism,” then there was no symbolism intended. However, anyone can make comparisons and call themselves an expert.

When it comes to putting symbolism in your book, don’t try and force it. In fact, I wouldn’t even try to put it in there at all. If it comes naturally in the process, go for it. But don’t fret over symbolism. Readers are going to draw their own conclusions regardless of what you say.

It’s all a matter of perception…

You could write something and say that it was meant to symbolize one thing, but if the reader thinks something else, then hey- opinions are like assholes, right? Everyone has one.

I have spoken to many aspiring and novice writers who talk about wanting to add symbolism to their story to make it more meaningful. Symbolism is not what makes the story meaningful. What makes it meaningful will be different to everyone who reads it.

This is as much of a piece of advice for you as it is for me. Just write the damn story. And don’t put too much weight on what others think otherwise, you’ll never get it done.

Happy writing and good luck!


3 thoughts on “A Word on Symbolism”

  1. I agree. The best mark I ever got for an English Lit paper was some complete rubbish I made up off the top of my head that prattled on about blood and innocence and communism and burdens being washed away. It was for an in depth analysis of William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow. I left it until the night before it was due and then just vomited words onto the page that sounded intellectual. I couldn’t believe the mark and even worse, it was read out in a tutorial as an example of excellent analysis. I thought, ‘well, if this is all that is needed, talking bollocks, then I don’t need to be taught how to do that.’ I dropped the course and picked up more archaeology courses and ended up being an archaeologist instead of an English teacher.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting! I feel your pain. My highest grades were the projects and papers I put the least amount of effort into. I wonder what that says about our education system?

      1. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with for justifying it was that marks were awarded for thinking for yourself rather than rehashing what someone else had written. So demonstrating critical thinking skills perhaps. Regardless, it still felt I was being rewarded for doing very little, lol.

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