What exactly is an allegory?

To many people, an allegory may sound like Greek mythology.

To others it may be described as a “figurative” art form, concerned with allusions to all forms of art including literature and movies.

In fact, the definition of an allegory depends on who you ask.



What Is An Allegory?

Allegories are a type of literary work that use symbolism to convey a message. The word allegory means “to speak other than one’s true meaning.”

They often take the form of stories with characters who represent moral qualities or ideas.

An example would be George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where anthropomorphic animals represent different human characteristics and vices.

Allegories have been used for centuries to teach lessons about power, politics, religion, and life in general.



For some, it is simply a story in which an individual event, place, or character is utilized to deliver a more serious message about current real-life problems and events.

For others such as the influential literary greats such as Charles Dickens or Mark Twain, an allegory can be seen as a literary device or a clever trick, designed to make a work of literature more appealing to the public.

For these individuals, an allegory was not intended to be anything more than a clever finish to an otherwise excellent piece.

However, others view an allegory as a creative process through which literature’s themes are presented in a new light, helping readers to absorb them and ultimately increase their appreciation for the piece.

What Is An Allegory?

For most authors, working on a final manuscript before submitting it to publishers can be particularly daunting and frustrating, and working with only one literary agent can be difficult enough without the added pressure of having to secure representation for any allegory in progress.

An allegory is a rendering of an event that employs elements of truth from real-life to create a fictional result.

For example, some works of literature dealing with politics, religion, or history may feature characters using objects of art to represent historical or political events.

Another popular allegory occurs when two or more characters in a work of fiction experience a parallel yet simultaneous transformation.


For example, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet may contain a couple falling in love after a sudden storm while elsewhere the pair might be lovers.

In either case, the transformation is unexpected and there is no recognizable reason for the change from what is expected to what actually happens.

An allegory is typically a small telling of a story that draws on elements of fact to create an imaginative outcome.


While a flood may drown Cleopatra, Juliet may interpret the drowning to foreshadow the death of her love, Mercutio.

The Bible also contains many allegories, as well as plays, poems, stories, and novels.

One of the most famous works of literature, The Sound and the Fury, includes a fable about a man who, overcome with grief and confusion over his own loss, becomes consumed in the search for meaning within the crucible of his own life.

Who Creates An Allegory?

There are many potential authors of allegories, including famous names such as Seneca, Ovid, and Juvenalian.

In modern times, a writer like Philip Pullman presents an allegory in his Anansiades series in which the main character’s quest mirrors the true story of the Greek hero, Alexander the Great.

Other works include The Divine Comedy by Dante, Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

An allegory can be both a simple play with an underlying moral and an elaborate tale with symbolic meaning.

An example of a dramatic allegory would be The Merchant of Venice (Irene), in which the merchant stands on a bridge looking over the city streets below, watching people selling some kind of grain.

Why Is An Allegory So Respected Throughout History?

Because, allegories offer a view into the mind of the author, one which allows the reader to take part in the same process the author used to create the work.

Additionally, works like The Divine Comedy, The Odyssey, and The Picture of Dorian, and The Message work that gives the reader a glimpse into the mind of a religious person, bringing them into a different perspective on life.

It allows the writer to show his or her point of view on a subject and in doing so, helps others see the same view.

For this reason, it is often used as a step towards the creation of fiction, where the writer infuses the work with enough symbolism to allow the reader to draw their own conclusions on the matter.

For this reason, works like The Divine Comedy, Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland are all considered great works of literature.

So, if you are a literature lover, I encourage you to start reading these works, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!