Types of Allegorical Novels: Spiritual Journey, Human Experience, Political and Social Satire

Allegory in Greek means “to speak publicly.” An allegory is a work that uses symbolic figures to express thoughts or ideas about a human condition or experience. An allegorical novel is one that has a dual meaning, both literal and symbolic. The allegory serves as an extended metaphor throughout the entire course of the novel. It consists of a series of Interconnected symbols which are interrelated throughout the entire work.

Early authors discovered that it is easier for a reader to grasp a theme when it is presented in the form of telling a story, as opposed to presenting a lecture or delivering a sermon. The allegory attempts to teach a lesson by putting abstract ideas into a more concrete, narrative form complete with characters and a story or adventure that the reader may find entertaining and can identify with and readily understand.

Examples of Allegorical Novels

  • The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan
  • Moby Dick Herman Melville
  • Lord of the Flies Wiliam Golding
  • Animal Farm George Orwell

The Pilgrim’s Progress: The Religious or Spiritual Journey

A great number of allegories contain some kind of moral message. A common theme, especially in earlier works, is that of the Christian faith and the human soul’s pilgrimage through life’s temptations to reach salvation.

Characters in this type of allegory are often quite obviously named to represent human qualities, For example, in the 1678 work The Pilgrim’s Progress, the hero Everyman encounters characters such as Christian and Old Honest as he flees the City of Destruction, passes through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and other familiar places on his way to the Celestial City. As in The Pilgrim’s Progress, the allegorical tale is often about one man’s pilgrimage to understand his life, but also represents the universal trials of every man’s life.

Moby Dick: The Human Experience

Moby Dick is an example of an allegorical novel representing man’s struggle against fate. On one level it is an adventure tale about whaling on the open seas and the main character Ishmael’s quest for the white whale. On a more symbolic level, the hero’s epic journey represents man’s search for the meaning of life. The white whale symbolizes the elusive goal. It is also representative of nature and elements over which man has no control.

Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies: Political Allegory and Social Satire

Not all allegorical novels are religious or tales of spiritual growth. Some allegorical novels such as Animal Farm are political satires or criticisms of government policies and serve as a warning as to what might happen if certain political ideals are allowed to take over. Animal Farm is a thinly-veiled satire on communism and the evils of authoritarianism. Knowledge of the politics of the time indicates that the head pig Napoleon represents Stalin and Snowball, Leon Trotsky.

In Lord of the Flies, Golding uses the example of a group of marooned schoolboys who attempt to set up their own form of government on a deserted island to point out the flaws of man-created culture. The island represents society and the boys are representative of the different members who make up society. For example, Piggy stands for intellect and reason, Simon for morality. The Beast represents evil. The entire novel is about how bad leadership can lead to destruction and how lack of civilization leads to savagery.

Often political allegory is used when outright criticism of a government might prove to be dangerous.

Courage is contagious. A critical mass of brave leaders is the foundation of an intentionally courageous culture. Every time we are brave with our lives, we make the people around us a little braver and our organizations bolder and stronger. Brené Brown


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