The rhetorical strategy of extending a metaphor through an entire narrative so that objects, persons, and actions in the text are equated with meanings that lie outside the text. Adjective: allegorical.
One of the most famous allegories in English is John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678), a tale of Christian salvation. Modern allegories include the films The Seventh Seal (1957) and Avatar (2009) as well as the novels Animal Farm (1945) and The Lord of the Flies (1954).
Etymology:From the Greek, "to speak so as to imply something other"
Examples and Observations:
- "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."
(Owen Gleiberman, review of Avatar. Entertainment Weekly, Dec. 30, 2009)
- "Probably the most famous example of allegory is the movie The Wizard of Oz, in which cowardice is embodied in the lion, thoughtless panic in the scarecrow, and so on. (Some have claimed that L. Frank Baum's Oz books are also political allegories: that the scarecrow represents an agricultural past, for example, and the tin woodsman the industrial future.)"
(David Mikics, A New Handbook of Literary Terms. Yale University Press, 2007)
- Plato's Allegory of the Cave
"And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: Behold! human beings living in an underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. . . .
"And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision."
(Plato, "Allegory of the Cave" from Book Seven of The Republic)
- Allegory in George Orwell's Animal Farm
"One problem with allegories is in fact the difficulty of determining what counts as source and what as target. For instance, Animal Farm is a text about a farm, which may be taken as an explicit model for thinking about a more abstract, implicit target that has to do with totalitarian politics. Or is Animal Farm a text about a farm which, as an explicit target, is structured by our knowledge of a prior cultural text about totalitarian politics which acts as an implicit source? The fact that totalitarian politics is abstract and the farm is concrete favors the first analysis, but the fact that the global topic of the story of the text is the life at this farm favors the latter. It is precisely one of the distinguishing characteristics of allegory that the direction of the relation between the domains may be read in two ways."
(Gerard Steen, Finding Metaphor in Grammar and Usage: A Methodological Analysis of Theory and Research. John Benjamins, 2007)
- The Allegory of Pilgrim's Progress
"The Celestial City, he said, he should die if he came not to it; and yet was dejected at every difficulty, and stumbled at every straw that anybody cast in his way. Well, after he had lain at the Slough of Despond a great while, as I have told you, one sunshine morning, I do not know how, he ventured, and so got over; but when he was over, he would scarce believe it. He had, I think, a Slough of Despond in his mind; a slough that he carried everywhere with him, or else he could never have been as he was."
(John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress From This World to That Which Is to Come, 1678)
- "Allegory is perhaps as old as language itself and certainly as variable as the languages and styles in which it has been written. . . . Between occasional pinnacles, allegory has maintained a constant presence in artistic forms and humanistic study. All on its own, allegory inspires great works of literature and insightful commentary."
(Brenda Machosky, Thinking Allegory Otherwise. Stanford Univ. Press, 2010)
- Allegory and Imagery in the Language of the Tamarians
Lt. Commander Data: Their ability to abstract is highly unusual. They seem to communicate through narrative imagery, a reference to the individuals and places which appear in their mytho-historical accounts.
Counselor Deanna Troi: It's as if I were to say to you, "Juliet on her balcony."
Doctor Beverly Crusher: An image of romance.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Exactly. Imagery is everything to the Tamarians. It embodies their emotional states, their very thought processes. It's how they communicate, and it's how they think.
Commander William T. Riker: If we know how they think, shouldn't we be able to get something across to them?
Lt. Commander Data: No, sir. The situation is analogous to understanding the grammar of a language, but none of the vocabulary.
Doctor Beverly Crusher: If I didn't know who Juliet was or what she was doing on that balcony, the image alone wouldn't have any meaning.
Counselor Deanna Troi: That's correct. For instance, we know that Darmok was a great hero, a hunter, and that Tanagra was an island. But that's it. Without the details, there's no understanding.
("Darmok," an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1991)