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Literary Symbolism

Symbol a word or phrase which in turn signifies, or has a range of references, beyond itself. Scales, for example, symbolize justice; a dove, peace; a goat, lust.

Seasonal symbolism
Symbol Meaning/connotations

spring summer autumn winter

new life, hope, youth, growth, beginnings sun, warmth, joy, ease, colour, fullness ripeness/maturity before decline, sadness, mellowness, nearing the end death, despair, loneliness, emptiness, colourless, cold, old age, the end

Christian symbolism
Symbol Meaning/connotations

Colour symbolism
Symbol Meaning/connotations

angel apple bread clay cross crown dove fig leaf garden lamb one red serpent seven ten thorns three tree twelve water wine/blood white

messenger from God, purity original sin, temptation/Eve life, sacrifice, forgiveness, the body of Christ fallibility, human nature crucifixion, sacrifice, death, resurrection (if the cross is empty) sovereignty peace, forgiveness, new beginnings shame Garden of Eden innocence, sacrifice, Christ unity, three persons of the Trinity in one sin, blood the Devil, temptation creation of the world (seven days) commandments pain, suffering Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), three crosses on Golgotha Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil disciples of Christ cleansing, new life death, sacrifice, forgiveness, suffering, blood of Christ purity, godliness, forgiveness

black blue gold green grey orange pink purple red white yellow

death, darkness, unknown, sadness, fear coolness, sadness, peace money, power, rarity, sovereignty nature, youth, innocence uncertainty, mystery fire, warmth, brightness, joy femininity, flesh, softness royalty, wealth danger, fire, heat, immorality, passion purity, spirituality, peace, surrender, cowardice, ice, heat sun, joy, warmth, cowardice

General symbolism
Symbol Meaning/connotations

books chain clock/calendar crown day/light farm gate/door hearth/fire junction lily mountain mist/fog night/dark ring road rose sleep snow sunrise sunset thorn throne tree

Writers use a variety of symbols as carriers of meaning. These include the following:

Agricultural symbolism
Symbol Meaning/ connotations

spring summer autumn winter

sowing seed/new life and hope crops growing/fullness crops harvested and ploughing/ripeness and reaping resting land/death and sleep

education, knowledge bondage, restriction, suffering, interdependence time monarchy, power hope, sanity, clarity nature, productivity entry, exclusion warmth, domesticity time of choice, options purity obstacle, challenge, hardship uncertainty, mystery despair, madness, unknown eternity, cyclical, exclusivity, belonging journey, passage of time beauty, optimism, love, secrecy death cold, purity, harshness new beginning ending pain authority, sovereignty life, family, origins, nature

Chris Thorns Feb 2005

from: Miller, L, Mastering Practical Criticism, Palgrave 2001; ISBN 0333802705