Day Fifteen – Part One, The Use of Allegory

Allegories are a tricky thing. Oftentimes a pure allegory goes too far, but it provides a good exercise in writing. Finding symbols for characters to represent and using them a bit more subtly is a better approach to modern day writing, in my opinion. Having a hero named Christian who is trying to head down the path of redemption can be a little too obvious. However, Christian Bale could use that after the Terminator: Salvation incident. And I mean either the scream fest or the boring nature of the film itself. I believe there should be some questioning and interpretation for a book to be truly great.

My favorite works are ones that leave room for personal interpretation. A few book spoilers in this paragraph! If you haven’t read Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway or The Road by Cormac McCarthy, skipping this paragraph may not be the worst idea ever, mainly because they are two that you should read if you haven’t yet. When asked about the intentional misspelling of Inglorious Basterds, he declined to say why. Instead he said, “Here’s the thing. I’m never going to explain that. You do an artistic flourish like that, and to explain it would just take the piss out of it and invalidate the whole stroke in the first place.”


One of the greatest reasons Old Man and the Sea is one of my absolute favorites is that the ending isn’t a definitive and ultimate answer. At the end you don’t know if when he goes to sleep it is for the last time or if the next day he gets back in the boat to start all over and goes out to talk to himself and the fish more. In The Road, you have absolutely no idea if things are going to get better for the Boy. Despite the fact that he finds the family, it doesn’t mean things are instantly better. You don’t really know if they are even good hearted or not, really. While it certainly implies that they are, the book set up that nothing is certain and the intentions of man can be changed at any moment. You can’t tell me that they would choose their son over the Boy for sustenance. Messed up, I know, but that’s how that book is.

We are back to spoiler free moments now. My main point about these books is that you can decide for yourself about the ultimate path of the character, you can interpret who each person means or represents, especially in The Road. The mystery of it is so intriguing that it lingers with you well after finishing the book. I feel that it is important to give the reader enough so that it doesn’t become frustrating, though. Nothing makes me more aggravated than when an author decides to tell you nothing and they enjoy that fact. They keep their secrets as if their work were as vital as the Bible. Authors like that just seem overly pretentious and proud of the fact that they know more than you.

I have been working hard on characters this week as I am struggling with the ultimate fate of a few specific characters (see my previous post). I am beginning to see what allegories each of the main crew members represent as well as the secondary characters that play a minor part in the story. I want them to have allegories as well because if they don’t have a purpose in the narrative beyond exposition, they don’t need to be there. While each journey will not be as cathartic or important as others, it will be there.

I have an example, I keep trying to think of another one, but this keeps coming back into my head. In Titanic, when the ship is getting pretty bad, there is a montage of traumatizing and sad images. They look at moments in lives of the ship passengers and crew. During this montage, there is one in particular that people always mention. It is the old couple lying in bed. Very briefly, the husband kisses the back of his wife’s head and then they rest on the bed together. These characters were nowhere to be seen before that moment. If they were, it wasn’t a featured appearance. The moment stuck with people forever though. While they may not have represented an allegory in a true sense, they were representing an emotion, or experience that audiences could relate to.

So, with allegories in hand, I move forward. I will write along and keep the allegories for myself. I hope that when people finish the book, they will first wonder and then debate about what each character is supposed to represent in the book. I know that I will have succeeded if they talk about it and have differing opinions. I’ll not have done my job if they don’t even bring the issue up.

Thanks for reading part one of my double duty as a result of missing yesterday. I will not apologize though, because I worked and then had to go to class from six to ten at night. Enjoy and please feel free to subscribe, rate, comment, and we will see you for Movie Monday!


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