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Allegory Definition: an extended narrative in which the characters, setting, and plot represent both a concrete meaning and a symbolic meaning

Allegory - Read Between the Lines

Allegory comes from the Greek and Latin term, allegoria, which means “speaking otherwise”, or “veiled language”. An allegory has two meanings: a literal meaning, and a figurative, often symbolic, meaning. Allegories are a common way for an author to address a real-life event, political climate, or person in a way that holds a deeper meaning. The purpose of an allegory is to criticize, satirize, politicize, or instruct on a moral or religious matter. The main characters are often personified animals or abstract concepts, such as Death and Love.

Traditionally, allegories are split into three categories: moral allegory, political allegory, and religious allegory. A moral allegory, like Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”, addresses an ethical question about the rich using their wealth to try to cheat death. In The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Miller takes aim at the blacklisting and senate hearings against suspected Communists in the McCarthy era in the 1940s and 1950s, likening it to the “witch hunts” of Salem. In religious allegories like Dante’s Inferno, a symbolic journey into Hell is undertaken by the main character (Dante himself) in order to better understand his own relationship with God and to purify himself of sin. Allegories can also be found in artwork, where symbols are depicted to represent deeper meanings throughout the painting. This was especially popular in the Medieval and Renaissance eras for religious purposes.

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Allegory Examples in Literature

Religious Allegory

Be sure to check out our article, "Allegory"!

Learn more about various devices in literature in our Picture Encyclopedia of Literary Elements!
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