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Introduction to Allegory

herr-stritt 9. Juli 2021

An allegory, put most simply, is a story that can be read on two levels: literally and symbolically. For example, on the literal level, Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare can be read literally as a story about a rabbit and a tortoise having a race during which the rabbit takes a nap thinking he has a safe lead, though the tortoise eventually overcomes the hare during his nap and wins the race.

However, as we have discussed, the fable is also meant to be read allegorically, meaning the characters can represent abstract qualities (personality traits: clever, caring, depressed) or ideas (justice, morality), or historical figures/events (Martin Luther King, the American Civil War).

The hare represents overconfidence. It’s belief in its inherent superiority proves its downfall. Conversely, the tortoise makes it to the finish line and wins because of his steady resolve to finish, and thus the famous moral is established: “slow and steady wins the race.” The instructional element of the fable comes from its allegorical nature – the playing out of these character traits in characters.

Orwell’s Animal Farm is an allegory, too. While literally a story about animals taking over a farm, it is also allegorical of the Russian Revolution. The characters and events of the story match in a 1:1 ratio some of the major historical figures and events of the Russian Revolution. For example, Old Major represents Karl Marx, the man commonly known as the father of Communism, the civil structure known as “Animalism” in the story.

Assignment

Summarize the characteristics of an allegory. Discuss with your neighbour, whether you know any other allegories.