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 actually think symbolism is still in use in today’s literature, at least to some extent — if nothing else, what about poetry? I’m recalling Field of Blood by Eric Wilson, for one — it’s full of symbolism.
Perhaps instead, the modern reader is at fault. I’m recalling a comment I saw on Twitter yesterday. Someone, I think it was Vasilly, said it sometimes takes more than once through a book to be able to review it well. Perhaps, in our modern hurry, we simply don’t notice symbolism.
I actually liked most of my literature class discussions about symbolism. I think they helped me read with more comprehension. (Classes about Shakespeare, The Scarlet Letter, some Irish lit …)
One classroom discussion where I do remember feeling like symbolism was being shoved down my throat was about Emily Dickinson. Sure, whatever poem we were discussing had some symbolism. I just didn’t see the whole long list of things the teacher thought we should. I’m sad to say, I place my dislike of Dickinson squarely at the feet of that class. For a time, it led me away from all poetry.
Do you find symbolism in modern fiction?