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
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
We were off riding again a moment later, breathing in the scent of countless oranges sprawled across the walkways, speeding beneath canopies of blue jacarandas trees, the water on my arms feeling fantastic in the wind. Some doves took off as we rode by, keeping pace with the bikes so they seemed to be standing still in the air. … More Seville Travel Journal #1: 13 Rapid Reviews