Allegory You Say. What ‘s That? ⚧

allegory literary device

When studying literature, allegory can be one of the most difficult concepts to understand and master. This is because it often deals with the abstract which leaves the narrative open to a bevy of interpretations unless the allegory is straightforward as in some children’s stories. Allegory often relies on a host of other literary tools and devices to be effective. As a result, allegory is often mistaken for other literary devices such as metaphor and allusion.

What is Allegory?

An allegory tells a story or narrative as a way to explain and represent a more complex or abstract idea. It often uses symbolism, characters, or events to represent the abstract concept or idea. Writers often use allegory to convey a moral or political message in a way that is more easily understood.

How to pronounce Allegory?

Allegory is pronounced ˈa-lə-ˌgȯr-ē from the Latin and Greek allēgoria.

When do Writers use Allegory?

Writers use allegory when they want to convey a message or moral lesson. . It is often used to illustrate abstract ideas or complex concepts in a way that is easier to understand. Allegories are popular among writers who wish to make a religious, political, or social statement but they can also be used to teach a moral lesson or explore the nature of the human condition. can be used to make a political or social statement, to teach a moral lesson, or to explore the nature of human experience.

This is a Allegory Heading

How to use Allegory Effectively

Since an allegory can be challenging for writers to develop, the most successful writers have composed a list of tips. Here are the top five.

  • Think of an important idea or lesson you want to share with your reader or audience. This should be large and complex that relates to society on a larger scale.
  • Once you have your topic, plan your allegory. Outline it. Transfer your ideas onto characters, things, and events in your narrative. Make these selections carefully.
  • Try not to confuse your reader or audience. They will be trying to figure out what each character or scene represents.
  • Let your readers and audience know they need to read between the lines. Don’t confuse them. Pepper your story with not-so-subtle clues so they do not miss the allegory.
  • On the surface, your narrative MUST stand alone. Your message can be abstract and less direct.

Explain the types of Allegory

Biblical allegories invoke themes and images from The Bible and often pit good and evil in opposition. 

Classical allegories draw from classical Greek and Roman stories and mythology. A classic example is the compilation of children’s short stories referred to as Aesop’s Fables. These stories originated in the Greek tradition and were told to children to teach lessons about how to live in society.
Much like the name implies, Modern allegories originated in the modern period and refer to works not typically classified as allegory. Modern allegories typically rely on a phenomenon called “allegoresis.” “Allegoresis”  is used as a justification for interpreting works as allegory when they otherwise would not be considered as such. A great example of the modern allegory is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Fables – While not typically classified as a “type” of allegory, we have included them here because fables are a type of “mini” allegory. Fables use short stories or narratives designed for children to teach moral, social, religious, and political values. Fables almost always use animals to teach children lessons.

Allegory in Literature 📚

Allegory is quite common in literature, particularly epic poems and political works. While allegory seems like an easy enough tool to master, it is actually quite difficult as some allegories are quite complex. In fact, whole courses have been taught on epic literature and allegory. Some classic examples include:

  • Animal Farm, George Orwell – Orwell’s novel is typically read as an allegorical argument against communism and the rule of Stalin. He uses animals to represent society, their struggles for power, and his discontent with the Bolshevik Revolution through the animals’ rebellion against the farmer, who represents Stalin.
  • Paradise Lost, John Milton – The extended allegory in Milton’s epic is that of Sin and Death and pits good against evil. Satan has lost faith in God and has come to realize that if an angel is banished to Hell for his sin, then the only recourse for others is to die for their sin. And so, Satan leaves Hell to corrupt man.
  • The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri – Also, an epic poem, The Divine Comedy is an extended allegory for Christian journey to salvation. The story follows Dante as he is guided through Hell, Purgatory, and finally Heaven.

Allegory in Children’s Literature 🧸

While most would consider allegory too complex a concept for children, a child does not need to understand allegory to understand the lesson being taught with it. Allegories are not particularly common in children’s literature. However, there are a handful of notable examples. For this discussion, two of the most beloved have been selected for review.

Aesop’s Fables – Originating in the oral traditions of ancient Greece and credited to a slave named Aesop, the collection of short stories address moral, social, political, and religious topics. The stories typically aim to teach children right from wrong and how to behave in society. Two of the most popular tales from the collection are “The Fox and the Hound” and “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg.”

The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis – In this timeless children’s story, Aslan is viewed as a Christ figure and the rightful ruler of Narnia. As a representation of Christ, Aslan allows himself to be sacrificed so that Edmund, who is viewed as a representation of Judas, may rule. He is later resurrected to rule over Narnia once again. These events make Lewis’ novel a perfect example of allegory in children’s literature.  Interestingly, Lewis has openly acknowledged the Biblical and allegorical aspects in his story but has steadfastly refuted this interpretation.

And in Poetry … ✍🏽

In general, poems are not as long as most allegorical texts, unless of course you’re talking about epics and then, that’s a whole other can of worms. Regardless, allegory is a very popular tool used among poets. Let’s look at a few.

The Lady of Shalott,” Alfred Lord Tennyson: Tennyson uses  allegory to represent the dangers of living in isolation. Pitting reality against the unknown, Lady Shalott represents the human condition and the danger of being cut off from the world. In her confinement, her only escape is through her painting. Her painting represents her interpretation of the world outside, but because she has always been locked away, isolated from the world, it is a romanticized view and not a true representation of the world.

“The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats: This poem is an allegory for the circular pattern of history. In it, Yeats compares human civilization to the rotating “gyre,” which is a circular ocean current which “spirals.” Basically, history is cyclical and doomed to keep repeating itself.

The Lamb,” William Blake: This poem is an allegory for the innocence of childhood and the power of faith. In this brief poem, Blake uses the child as a representation of Christ and a symbol of innocence.

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee 

Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 

By the stream & o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing wooly bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
 Dost thou know who made thee


         Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!

         Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!

He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a Lamb:

He is meek & he is mild, 

He became a little child: 

I a child & thou a lamb, 

We are called by his name.

         Little Lamb God bless thee.

         Little Lamb God bless thee.


Top 3 Examples of Allegory in Film 🎥

Typically, it presents a difficult challenge to find examples of literary tools and devices in film and media. However, that is not the case with allegory. While they may not allow it to get it right, Hollywood certainly has no shortage of allegorical films. Below are what we consider to be the top three examples of allegory in film.

  • Fight Club (1999) is an allegory for the materialistic nature and emptiness of the white collar worker. The Narrator represents materialism and the zombification of the American white-collar worker.  The following scene illustrates The Narrator’s empty, materialistic existence before Tyler Durden:

  • Another great example of allegory in film is Avatar (2009). Avatar represents a certain challenge. While it is clearly an allegorical film, there is some discussion about what the correct interpretation is. Some maintain the central allegory is that of the power of nature and its potential to heal and restore balance. Others contend it’s an allegory for imperialist oppression and the destruction of indigenous culture and the environment that come with imperialistic rule.
  • While Fight Club and Avatar are certainly great examples of allegory in film, one of the most memorable is A Clockwork Orange (1971). This classic film presents Alex as the representation of all that is wrong with society and youth culture. P.S. IF you’ve not seen it, the imagery is pretty disturbing.

Related and Sometimes Confused with …👥

  • Metaphor – A comparison between two different objects, ideas, or concepts. Metaphors may be brief and to the point or long and extended as with some types of poetry. Metaphor is often a key component of allegory.
  • Symbol(ism) – Something is considered a symbol when it stands for or represents something else. For example, while traditionally a religious symbol in the Hindu culture, the swastika has become the symbol of hate, oppression, and communism.
  • Allusion – A reference to a person, object, text, idea, or concept that is intended to deepen the reader’s understanding of a text. The reference may be made covertly or overtly. Allusions typically refer to something well-known or common knowledge, but some writers prefer more obscure references.

FAQs 🤔

What is an allegory?

An allegory is a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.

Can you give an example of an allegory?

George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is a well-known example, where the farm animals represent different figures from the Russian Revolution, conveying the themes of power corruption and totalitarianism.

Why are allegories used by writers?

Writers use allegories to communicate complex ideas in a more understandable and engaging way, allowing readers to explore deeper meanings beyond the literal narrative.

How can I identify an allegory in literature?

Identify an allegory by looking for a consistent set of symbols and characters that represent broader concepts, often aligning with the work’s overall theme or message.