Thursday, April 23, 2009

Booking Through Thursday -- 4/23

Question suggested by Barbara H:
My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.
It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

I do think symbolism is an older device. It seems that all the novels I read are either plot or character driven and symbolism is left behind. With that said, I asked author Anita Diamant at our last book club author chat what the symbolism of the dogs were in The Last Days of Dogtown. I really thought this was a great question, that there was some bigger message I was missing in the symbolism. Her answer was that she doesn't use symbolism in her writing. I am still a little embarrassed. So maybe symbolism is something that the reader finds even if it wasn't the intent of the author.
But there are also novels such as Shelter Me by Juliette Fay. I would think that the porch being built is a symbol of the main character trying to rebuild her life after her husband's death. Was that the author's intent or am I just seeing connections where there aren't any?
What do you think? (Want to play along? Go to Booking Through Thursday)


jlshall said...

Well, of course all fiction is symbolism to a certain degree. Even if the author insists it's not. I'm a little surprised that any author would pass up the opportunity to enrich her work with deeper meanings, even if she didn't realize they were there when she wrote it! But I suppose Diamant may have been using the term in a very specialized or personal way.

gautami tripathy said...

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is very symbolic. Right from the book title.

Symbolism in writing

wendy said...

How fantastic to be able to say you asked the author! Authors are often someone we never meet - perforce if they're dead already :) so to be able to get the answer right from the horses mouth as-it-were is impressive. Apparently in Daimant's case the symbolislm is in the eye of the beholder.

Ted said...

I think that the connections that you see are still symbolism!

Bluestocking said...

I think you will need the passage of time for symbolism.


Anonymous said...

I think that's a great answer, and much more coherent than the I wrote. But I do believe most authors don't think of symbolism when they write, it's something we see from our experiences while we read. I guess we often read into the symbolism, is that a symbol of something in itself?

Heather said...

I think it's so bizarre when authors do that... perhaps they've been burned. I know that the commercially-successful author of the Twilight series (Stephenie Meyer) said, after her fourth book (which wasn't as well received) came out, that she was just "telling a story." Really? Then why, as a Mormon, did you have a mother and child saving the day (which is a critical part of Mormon theology)?

I wonder if, perhaps, sometimes authors mean they tried to just tell a story and not insert themselves in it too much, but all literature is symbolic (because nothing in fiction every really happened). Why dogs? There's got to be an answer because she could have picked cats or goats or cows. Dogs mean something in general (Hello, Edgar Sawtale) culture that a cat or a goat or a bear won't ever mean to a reader.

Anonymous said...

that's great that you got to talk about symbolism with an author, this makes the most sense in my opinion!

Robin of My Two Blessings said...

You know, authors may say they didn't include symbolism, but subconsciously they probably do. There are many things in life that are symbolic to us, individually and as a group. If we aren't looking for something to be symbolic, then we won't see it. But if we are looking, we will. It's all a matter of perception.

Great post, Jess and thanks for dropping by.

Florinda said...

I think you got an interesting response to that question. I would agree that symbolism may not be as common in fiction today - and used very little in some genres - but I personally don't think it's dead. However, I do think sometimes we see what we want to see as far as symbolism and metaphor, based on our own experience.

Good discussion!

Kat said...

I have to agree. I'm not so sure that all the authors have symbolism in mind when they wrote their works. Methinks that half the time, it's the readers who actually find the symbols & interpret them.

Trish said...

I absolutely agree with gautami that The Red Tent is incredibly symbolic. Dogtown is the nickname of the place The Last Days...takes place. I guess maybe there were a pack of dogs that ran around wild. I was curious so I looked it up (infinite nerd alert!!).

I think that symbolism has become such a part of our way of thinking, sometimes, that we don't even realize that we are using it. Of course English majors are taught to look for meaning where it doesn't always exist (that used to drive me crazy!!!!).

Great topic this week!