Allegory Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

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Wondering what allegory means? We’ve got you covered. Here’s all the information you’ll need to know about allegory, its meaning, how to use it, and more. 

What Is the Definition of Allegory? 

According to the American English dictionary, an allegory is a literary device. It is explained as a story, poem, or picture that can represent or interpret a hidden or symbolic meaning. Parables are commonly used when trying to show a religious or political view. Allegories are also called artistic forms.

Put plainly, an allegory is a simple story representing a larger point (or idea) behind society or human nature. Allegories are a way to introduce complex ideas in an approachable manner. Highly controversial or intricate ideas can be hard to explain, but allegories offer some space between the writer and the issue under discussion.

It can be challenging to introduce abstract ideas; luckily, allegories make introducing complex ideas easier to process and understand. Allegorical stories are truly a work of art; doing them well isn’t always easy. There are tons of famous allegories that are still talked about today.  

Chances are, you see allegories all the time in movies, TV shows, artwork, literature, but you may not have realized what they are. 

Understanding what an allegory is can get tricky. Parables are often compared to math equations to help people better understand them. Here is how an allegory can be like an algebraic equation in art form

In the algebraic equation y = 2x, there are two different variables; allegories have two different variables: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the hidden concept, and the vehicle is the word or narrative that carries the hidden concept to the reader (or watcher). Allegories are used in all forms of art, whether it be pictures, literature, or film. 

What Is the Etymology of Allegory?

Allegory is derived from Middle English allegorie, Latin allegoria, and Greek allēgoria, which means “speaking to imply something else.” Allegories were first seen in the Bible and were commonly used in the Book of Genesis. 

Is an Allegory Different Than a Metaphor? 

It’s not uncommon for people to get allegories and metaphors confused. While they’re both commonly used literary devices, metaphors are much different than allegories — here’s why.

A metaphor is a figure of speech where a phrase is applied to an object or action that refers to one thing by mentioning something else. Metaphors are used for rhetorical effect and may show similarities between two things that haven’t been noticed before. An example of a metaphor would be a sentence like “the ship plows the seas.”

On the other hand, allegories are truths about human existence that are expressed by using symbolic figures through poems, stories, or pictures. While allegories also reveal hidden meanings or messages, they aren’t the same as a metaphor. Allegories are complete stories, whereas metaphors are just a figure of speech. 

Are There Different Types of Allegories? 

Yes, and each type of allegory serves a different purpose. Here are the types of allegories and how they work.

  • Biblical allegory: Biblical allegories were originally from the Bible but are now used to explore the difference (and struggles) between good and evil. The popular book “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis. is the perfect example of a biblical allegory.

You may have heard biblical allegories described as allegorical interpretations of the Bible. 

  • Classical allegory: The classical allegory was born after Plato’s allegory of the cave. This famous story explains people living in a cave where they could only see objects as shadows reflecting on the wall.

This concept was a nod at humans in our society and how perception can play a huge role in how someone can view certain people, places, and situations differently. What people perceive isn’t always reality, and perception can differ from person to person depending on their cultural background or religious beliefs. 

  • Modern allegory: Modern allegories are a bit different than the first two types, so bear with us as we explain. Modern allegories or allegoresis are allegories that refer to the interpretation of words without them necessarily being intended that way. The writer never comes out to say whether or not the intention of their story was meant to mimic a real-life event, but many people view it that way. 

Lord of the Rings would be a perfect example of a modern allegory. While this book series is often compared to World War I by its fan-based and book critics, that’s not to say that was J.R.R. Tolkien’s intention when writing them.

Sometimes modern allegories just happen subconsciously without the writer realizing these are often the best kind of allergies. 

Allegory Example

It’s easiest to understand allegories when you have examples and comparisons. Here is a strong example of allegory that you may be familiar with:

  •  Animal Farm. 

The concept of Animal Farm is commonly taught in high schools when allegories are first introduced. This book was published in August 1945, England and has since become a prevalent book and is now taught in schools worldwide, including in the U.S.

This famous book by George Orwell is a political allegory and shows the meaning of revolution and power. The book depicts a farm of animals that overthrow the farm owner. The animal’s goal is to create a society where animals are equal to humans and are free from their duties of being working animals or used for food; however not all the animals’ plans come to fruition. 

This story exemplifies human-like behaviors such as totalitarianism, corruption, and advanced language with some animals representing different people or groups. For example, the pigs stood for the politicians during the Russian revolution. 

This book is a teaching tool when first introducing the concept of allegories as people find it easy to make the connection as the farm animals are used figuratively.

In Conclusion 

Allegories are famous literary devices that elevate writing in an extraordinary way. 


Allegory Definition & Meaning |

What is a Metaphor? | OSU Guide to Literary Terms | Oregon State University

What is an Allegory? | Definition & Examples | | College of Liberal Arts | Oregon State University