What is an allegory? We sometimes hear them referenced in classes such as English, Literature, or Language Arts, but the focus on what it actually is may not always be present. In some cases, students are given examples of an allegory and are expected to respond like, “This is an allegory,” and that’s it. But what is an allegory?
According to A Handbook to Literature by William Harmon and Hugh Harmon, an allegory is
“a form of extended metaphor in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative are equated with meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. Thus, it represents one thing in the guise of another—an abstraction in that of a concrete image. By a process of double significance, the order of words represents actions and characters, and they, in turn, represent ideas” (Harmon and Harmon 12).
So in other words, an allegory is a narrative—or story—where people, events, objects, and things have another meaning. Now let’s look at an example.
One such example can come from the 2009 movie Avatar. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote the following:
“There are obvious layers of allegory [in the movie Avatar]. The Pandora woods is a lot like the Amazon rainforest (the movie stops in its tracks for a heavy ecological speech or two), and the attempt to get the Na’vi to ‘cooperate’ carries overtones of the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Sure, many things can be left up to interpretation by the reader or viewer; however, another meaning was identified in Avatar that was separate from the actual meaning of the movie. A single character can represent an entire idea; a single event can represent another event happening in our very lives.
If you want to practice identifying allegories, use this Allegory Worksheet to do so.