To put it simply, a metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to represent another. Symbolism, on the other hand, is the use of an object to represent something else.
As a writer, it’s important to have tools in your toolbox to help you create the most impactful and meaningful stories possible. Two of the most powerful tools at your disposal are metaphor and symbolism.
When used skillfully, metaphor and symbolism can add new layers of depth and meaning to your writing, helping you connect with readers on a deeper level.
What is a Metaphor?
A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to represent another.
Metaphors are often used to help readers understand complex ideas or make an emotional connection to the story.
For example, in his novel 1984, George Orwell uses the metaphor of “Big Brother” to represent the oppressive government control present in the book’s dystopian society.
What is Symbolism?
Symbolism is similar to metaphor in that it also uses one thing to represent another. However, unlike metaphors, which are often used to compare two unrelated things, symbols are usually objects or ideas that already have meaning attached to them.
In other words, a symbol represents something that already has a pre-existing cultural or personal significance. For example, the white rose is often used as a symbol of purity and innocence.
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Metaphor vs Symbolism
They’re related, but generally, a metaphor is used to draw a comparison between two distinct objects, whereas a symbol is used as a stand-in for a much more complex, and generally more abstract, idea.
In literature, a metaphor would typically be used in a specific instance to compare two objects, but a symbol would be used throughout the work as a major part of the theme.
For example, in the book “The Catcher in the Rye,” Holden Caulfield is constantly thinking about ducks in a pond.
“All the kids kept going into the water and splashing around and yelling, and then they’d come out again and roll on the grass or pick up their towels and stuff like that. Then they’d go back in the water again. I was sort of sorry for them, in a way. I kept wondering where the damn ducks went that were always swimming around in there.”
The pond is a metaphor for how Holden sees the world – he’s always on the outside looking in, and he can never quite seem to catch up to everyone else.
In contrast, in “The Great Gatsby,” the green light is a symbol of hope and promise. It’s something that Gatsby can see from his house, across the bay, and it represents his ultimate goal – to be with Daisy again.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning—-“
Both metaphors and symbols can be effective literary devices, but they serve different purposes.
Metaphors are more specific, while symbols are more general.
How To Use Metaphor and Symbolism In Your Writing
Both metaphor and symbolism can be incredibly effective when used skillfully. To avoid coming across as heavy-handed or cheesy, look for ways to organically integrate these devices into your story.
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if the metaphor or symbol you’re using feels like it naturally fits into the story you’re telling.
The next time you’re revising your work, keep an eye out for places where adding a metaphor or symbol could enhance your writing. With a little practice, you’ll be able to master the art of using these powerful devices to take your stories to new heights.