I recently came across this great article about a student back in 1963 who sent out a questionnaire to 150 well known authors, asking about symbolism in their writing. The student, Bruce McAllister, a budding author, was debating with his English teacher who was having students dissect stories to find the author’s hidden message. McAllister argued that he believed most authors weren’t intentionally placing symbolism in their works.
McAllister received many replies ranging from the typical “Thanks for contacting us but we cannot answer your questions at this time” canned response, to several pages worth of typed answers. Many of the authors who took the time to respond backed up McAllister’s theory saying , “No, I didn’t intentionally add symbolism.” Many felt they didn’t sub-consciously add it either.
All in all, the authors said they wrote their stories as they came to them and most found reader responses about symbols in their work as humorous or as an interesting connection to their story.
Everyone is going to have a different reaction to art, to take something different from it. For me, that’s one of the great things about art, how it touches people in different ways. While my stories may have themes and morals: forgiveness, tolerance, acceptance, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally wrote in any kind of symbolism. Might a reader find something if they look hard enough? Maybe. I think it’d be cool, but just because they find something doesn’t mean I meant it to be like that.
Just because an author has a kid kicking around a blue and green ball it doesn’t mean they wrote that to symbolism the Earth and our poor treatment of the planet we live on. It probably just means the author liked the combination of blue and green together, or they had a blue and green ball as a kid, etc.
Rather than tearing a work apart to find something the author probably didn’t intentionally write into the story, read for enjoyment. Reading for the emotional roller coaster, the laughs, the love and for the entertainment of a good story.
What’s your take on story symbolism?
Here’s the original article and many of the author responses: Click me