When studying allegorical texts, it is important that students understand the concept as a foundation for the reading. Since an allegory's purpose is to convey a deeper, symbolic meaning, students must be able to define the term and spot the references in the work of literature. This following lesson plan is a resource to help teachers and students understand the concept.
What is an allegory, and how can its deeper meaning be explored? Teach students this literary element and ask them to think deeply about ways an allegory can affect the work as a whole.
A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one
Allegories are works of literature written as a single, unified, rhetorical device. They represent abstract ideas and principles using concrete characters, figures, and events. Allegories can come in many forms: plays, poetry, music, novels, etc. They tell a story and convey an idea or a principle at the same time; their main objectives are often to teach a moral lesson. Although allegories use symbols, they are distinct from "symbolism", and are best thought of as a very complex metaphor. Allegories are an entirely symbolic work, meaning everything throughout the story - characters, events, and locations - is designed to portray an abstract idea.
Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, was written during the 1950s as an allegory of McCarthyism and the "Red Scare". During this time in America, people were falsely accused of being members of the Communist party. The Crucible is set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, and focused on the community that engaged in witch hunts. Much like the Red Scare, the people of Salem soon found that no one was safe, as people were naming names just to save themselves.
Animal Farm was written specifically to represent Communism in Soviet Russia. The author, George Orwell, uses animals on a farm to depict the coup d’état of Russian Tsar Nicholas II, which led to the Communist Revolution in Russia before WWII. The animals represent the greed and corruption of the revolution while showing how those in power can change the ideology of a nation. As a guiding principle, the animals write: “All animals are equal.” This is later corrupted by the amendment: “But some animals are more equal than others.” Orwell's purpose in writing the novel as an allegory was to convey his beliefs about the Russian Revolution.
This famous allegory by C.S. Lewis is full of religious symbolism. Lewis, a devout Christian, said he did not plan on using the Narnia books to push his religious ideology, however, the parallels are clear, and it has a large Christian following. The lion, Aslan, is a Christ-like figure who rises from the dead. Under this reading, Edmund, who betrays Aslan, is like Judas, and the White Witch who tempts Edmund, corresponds to the Devil.
Although this lesson can be used for multiple grade levels, below are Common Core State Standards for Grades 9-10. Please see your Common Core State Standards for the correct grade-appropriate strands.
Students will be able to define and understand allegory and differentiate it from other types of symbolic representation in literature.
Be specific when asking students to create a storyboard that explains the allegory in a work of literature. Make sure that students include examples, and explanations of these examples, to back up their claim. If they are doing this, a project that requires students download their storyboards as a PowerPoint is a perfect way for them to explain each cell.
Activator: Using the Examples of Allegory in Literature storyboard, along with a definition of allegory, go over the examples as a class. Periodically stop to check for clarification or see if students have examples they know. Once you have gone through what an allegory is and how to distinguish it from symbolism, discuss your current novel and the central idea.
After going over the term, decide whether you would like students to pair together or complete a storyboard individually. Using Storyboard That they can create a storyboard depicting different parts of the work and compare it with the allegorical reference. Try starting with this template.
After students have finished creating their master storyboard, consider having students present their ideas to each other. Using the slideshow or PowerPoint feature is a great way to cap off the lesson. Check out our lessons on how having students put together a presentation will help them further master identifying allegories.
Choose contemporary media examples that contain allegorical elements, such as films, songs, advertisements, or television shows. Ensure that the examples are suitable for the grade level and align with the learning objectives.
Introduce the concept of allegory to students, explaining its purpose in conveying deeper meanings and social commentary through symbolism. Discuss how allegory is used in storytelling and media to address complex issues or critique societal norms.
Guide students in identifying allegorical elements within the selected contemporary media examples. Help them recognize symbolic characters, objects, settings, or events that represent abstract ideas, social issues, or cultural commentary. Encourage close observation and analysis.
Facilitate discussions on the allegorical meanings embedded in the media examples. Encourage students to analyze the symbolic elements and interpret their intended messages. Guide them in exploring the social, cultural, or political implications conveyed through the allegorical elements.
Engage students in discussing the relevance of the allegorical media examples to contemporary issues or challenges. Encourage them to connect the allegorical elements to real-world situations or current events. Foster critical thinking and encourage students to express their viewpoints.
Conclude the discussion by encouraging students to reflect on the effectiveness of allegory in contemporary media. Prompt them to evaluate how successfully the allegorical elements convey their intended messages or critiques. Encourage students to consider the impact of allegory on their own perspectives and understanding.
An allegory is a narrative that uses symbols to represent abstract concepts, while a metaphor is a figure of speech that directly compares two things to create a new meaning. While both allegory and metaphor use symbolism, allegories typically involve a more extended and complex set of symbols and are often structured as a complete narrative.
Common themes in allegories include moral lessons, social or political commentary, and religious or philosophical concepts. For example, George Orwell's Animal Farm is an allegory for the Russian Revolution and Stalinist era, using the animal characters to satirize political corruption and propaganda.
Analyzing an allegory requires readers to identify the symbols and their underlying meanings, as well as consider how these symbols work together to convey a larger message. This process encourages readers to think deeply about complex ideas, make connections between different parts of the story, and draw conclusions about the author's intended meaning.