He could have made his audience feel something with his writing, but English class had taught him that writing isn’t meant to be felt: it’s meant to be studied. … More On Symbolism, Part 5: The Dangers of English Class Symbolism
So from that quick class analysis, we learned that… Shakespeare was Christian. Seriously, we did not go any farther on this topic other than to say that the handkerchief symbolized the Garden of Eden. That’s it. Nothing more. No questioning the human subliminal or why it’s the “forbidden fruit” and not the “forbidden meat.” We identified the alleged symbol (since it’s Shakespeare, I give it 50/50 chance of being intentional), and then we moved on to look for the next. … More On Symbolism, Part 4: Digging Deeper
If symbolism’s effects are largely subliminal to the reader, then who’s to say that it wasn’t also subliminal to the writer? … More On Symbolism, Part 3: Accidental Symbolism
One of the biggest downsides to how symbolism is taught in English class is that it gives students the wrong idea of what symbolism is. By graduation, students are split into two camps: one camp where all symbolism is a myth made up by academics and another camp where the blue-curtain brand of symbolism is sacred.
Symbolism is a real thing, but its name has been so warped by public English classrooms that I’m more tempted to call it something like “associative meaning,” “connotation,” or “object emotion.” But the most basic definition of a symbol is something that has meaning beyond what it is in a literal sense. The key here is that the meaning has to be understood in order to be an effective symbol, even if that understanding is subconscious.
In other words: people don’t need to be taught how to find symbolism. If it’s an effective symbol, then the intended audience should register on some level that the symbol is important. Symbolism analysis, then, should focus on articulating the feelings that one already experiences when coming across a symbol, not digging to find made-up symbols. … More On Symbolism, Part 2: What is a Symbol?
In early middle school, we began annotating for metaphors, imagery, similes, and character development in our books. Once we’d reached the 8th grade, it was time to stop identifying the elements of a story and start identifying symbolism. We began by picking apart The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Did you know that Santiago was a Christ figure? Or that the fish was also a Christ figure? No, you never noticed that? There’s a reason for that: that religious symbolism likely isn’t really there. At best, most of the symbols we analyzed for the next five years were analogous to conspiracy theories. At worst, they were completely imaginary.
I remember complaining to my parents about how much I hated the The Old Man and the Sea, and they were shocked. They’d loved it! They asked me what I didn’t like about it, and I told them simply, “The religious symbolism. It’s too pedantic.”
They looked at me with utter confusion. “I don’t remember any religious symbolism. That doesn’t sound like Hemingway.” … More On Symbolism, Part I: What I Learned in English Class
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s that word-choice can drastically change a person’s impression of a situation. If that person comes from the same culture as the writer, then the impact of the right word can be fairly predictable. For instance, here in the US, the word “confidence” is almost always viewed in a positive light. We tend to think of its opposite as something along the lines of “shyness”, “fear”, or “anxiety”. Something negative. But for every word in the English language, there is an equal and opposite word. In this case, opposite words that still have positive connotations: sincerity and humility.
In the US, rumor has it that confidence can gain you practically anything. Act confident all the time, and you will go far! But will you really?
Below I explore the pros and cons of being confident and being humble. … More Confidence and Humility
You’ve been climbing a mountain for days. You’ve made good progress so far, but you come across a gravel-strewn slope and cannot for the life of you get a foothold. Your progress comes to a halt. You are stuck, constantly moving your feet but getting no where. You look around desperately for another path to the top, but you’ve already come so far on this route…
So why does everyone keep trying to climb the gravel? … More Take a Break
Many of you have heard that there is only one story, and it keeps being retold in different forms. Is this real, and should we even care?
The side you take in this debate boils down to your definition of a “story”. Of course every combination of letters in the alphabet is different. But the “one story” theory states that every story ever told asks the question, “Who am I?” or “What is man?” or something along those lines. In a way, this is true. Every human wants to find herself, and every society wants to know its place in the world.
But in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t entirely matter.
Today, we’re talking about the implications of “cliches”, and how many people believe that it’s impossible to have an entirely original story. … More Is there only one story?
Originally published 8/20/2016. Minor grammatical edits. Lead image via Pexels. Scifi Question: “Would we be at the mercy of any aliens advanced enough to travel to earth? Could aliens invade successfully?” I know most of my insomnia posts aren’t about random science fiction questions, but I would just like to set the record straight on … More 6 Real Problems with an Alien Invasion
Why don’t creative jobs pay? … More Why doesn’t your passion pay?