What Is a Literary Symbol?

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A literary symbol is usually an object that represents an idea that is significantly deeper, although it is sometimes a word, event or deed. One example is a rose, usually taken as a symbol of passion or romantic love.

Symbols do not always have the same meaning. For example, a chain stands for a group of individuals, linked together to form strength, but it also symbolizes imprisonment or confinement. This means that the meaning of a particular symbol varies with the context in which it appears. Colors frequently play a symbolic role in stories. Generally they represent feelings such as sadness, wrath or love. One of the more passionate colors is red, which connotes love, wrath or intense feeling. Yellow symbolizes springtime sometimes, but it also symbolizes light at other times. Water is one of the most commonly used literary symbols. It has religious significance, particularly in circumstances that resemble baptism. Other symbolic values for water include death, in situations similar to drowning, or purification. It is important to note whether the mention of water takes place in a positive or negative way. Fire is yet another common symbol, often representing death, injury, passionate love or rage, and in other contexts it represents rebirth, particularly when a phoenix or other new creature springs out of the ashes. The most artful authors weave symbols into their stories to express their themes more effectively.