Allegory, which is taken from the Greek word 'allos' meaning to speak, represents the conveying of meaning of a story apart from its literal meaning. This is a literary technique and a figure of speech in the English language, where a story or plot is told in a more imaginative way instead of using just the plain or simple language.
The stories were created to place an emphasis on the moral of the story, rather than on the narrative details. In this figure of speech the inner condition of the characters is reflected in their external environment. This sometimes is also used as an extended metaphor. They are usually used in the narrative forms like drama, prose or verse (poetry) etc.
The examples fall under two categories, namely allegory of abstract themes and the historical or political allegory. The former type, i.e. allegory of abstract themes is often employed in the literature of spiritual development and the characters usually represent certain traits like malice, hope and hate, etc.
The works containing allegories can be classified according to the era they were published; the classical era, the medieval era and the modern era. In the classical era Plato's allegory of the cave was one of the well-known examples.
The Holy Bible, especially the Old Testament and The Book of Revelation in the New Testament, is replete with allegorical illustrations. The parables told by Jesus Christ are also fine examples of allegory, two of which are 'The Prodigal Son' and 'The Good Samaritan'. The medieval era used allegory for underlying fictional or rhetorical uses.
From the modern era, The Lord of the Rings is a classic example for the World Wars. There are also many other examples for kids like The Wizard of Oz and The Animal Farm. This figure of speech can also be found in various artworks, movies and television series like 'Star Trek' and 'The Twilight Zone'.
Examples of Allegory in Literature
- Encountering Trouble - Qu Yuan
- Phaedrus (Chariot Allegory) - Plato
- De nuptiis philologiæ et Mercurii - Martianus Capella
- The Romance of the Rose (Roman de la Rose) - Guillame de Lorris
- The Trojan Women - Euripides
- Aesop's Fables - Aesop
- The Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri
- Piers Plowman - William Langland
- The Book of the City of Ladies - Christine de Pizan
- Psychomachia - Prudentius
- The Pearl - John Steinbeck
- Everyman (The Summoning of Everyman)
- A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
- The Masque of the Red Death - Edgar Allan Poe
- The Chronicles of Narnia - C. S. Lewis
- Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
- A Tale of a Tub - Jonathan Swift
- Animal Farm - George Orwell
- Moby Dick - Herman Melville
- Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
- The Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Examples In Poetry
Many poets have used this literary device in their works to deliver the message through symbolic representation or figures. It is a demonstrative form to present a meaning, idea or principle. Here are a few allegorical illustrations in poetry.
Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene is a classic example, where virtues like friendship, truth and justice are represented allegorically.
Another instance of poetic allegory can be seen in Absalom and Achitophel by John Dryden. In this poem, the poet has used a satirical scheme to describe the leading political persons of his time like the Duke of Monmouth (Absalom) and the Earl of Shaftesbury (Achitophel).
The first section of Dante Alighieri's 14th century epic poem Inferno is a classic example. In this poetry piece, Dante depicted Hell using medieval concept and also portrayed the suffering on the Earth. This work taken from Divine Comedy was followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso.
Illustrations in Movies
Many movies also have made the use of allegory to create plots that have captured the imagination of the audience. Here are some of the popular and finest movies that have enhanced a viewer's pleasure and created an impact.
- Metropolis (1927)
- The Wizard of Oz (1939)
- Gojira (1954)
- The Seventh Seal (1957)
- Blade Runner (1982)
- Pink Floyd The Wall (1982)
- Fight Club (1999)
- The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003)
- X-Men (2000)
- District 9 (2009)
Allegory adds layers of depth and meaning to the artwork, be it drama, prose or poetry. It gives the reader a different perspective of not only how the world is, but also how it might exist.