Why do people interpret things as signs

allegory

The allegory is a stylistic device that we can identify in works of all kinds and literary genres. Allegory is the visualization of the abstract or the unreal. The general becomes in particular (Individual) pictured. This means that a complex issue is represented by a single thing or a pictorial text. Very often this happens through the use of personification and the accumulation of metaphors (→ example metaphors).

term

The term allegory is derived from the Greek (ἀλληγορία ~ allegoria) and can be approximated with other or veiled language translate. The translation thus shows quite well what the allegory is basically about: the linguistic disguise [of an abstract concept by the recipient (Reader, viewer) must be deciphered and interpreted].

Accordingly, the allegory is a series of metaphorsthat extend over an entire text, but can also be interrupted, the stylistic figure can still be understood as a metaphor that goes beyond a single word and therefore more is, as a simple shift in meaning.

Note: Basically, a metaphor is a shift in meaning. This means that two areas are connected that actually have nothing to do with each other. For example, if we are betrayed, our hearts are broken. Here breaking is connected with the heart, which is actually not consistent, since a heart cannot break. A linguistic image emerges (metaphor) that we have to interpret.

Often, however, the allegory also comes to light in the form of a personification. That is, an abstract term (Justice, death, love) in the form of a person (Lady Justice, Grim Reaper, Cupid) is presented, which is provided with typical properties and features of the term.

Note: The personification means that an inanimate thing is endowed with properties that otherwise only humans have. This means that things act like people (e.g. the sun laughs). In the context of allegory, this ascription is a little more complex. In doing so, not only a single object is brought to life, but an abstract fact is humanized.

Note: Accordingly, the allegory can be on a purely linguistic level (several metaphors or a metaphor that goes beyond the simple shift of meaning) and on a figurative level (Personifications) function. Let's take a closer look at both forms.

The figurative allegory

The pictorial allegory is found primarily in art, as it requires a pictorial representation. If this is known to the recipient, however, it can be named in the text.

Since the allegory depicts abstract facts graphically, representations have been found in art since antiquity that are based on the stylistic device and thus illustrate and make difficult, complex and abstract things clear and have to be deciphered by the viewer.

There are numerous allegorical representations of abstract concepts, especially in Greek and Roman culture (Happiness, peace, love, fertility, money)that decorate temples, coins or triumphal arches in the form of personifications. Let us look at an example of figurative allegories.

The picture shows the paintingLa liberté guidant le peuple(Freedom leads the people) by the French painter Eugène Delacroix. It shows the bustle on the battlefield of the July Revolution of 1830, which was a brutal confrontation between French authorities and citizens → literary epochs

In the center of the picture we see a bare-breasted woman, holding a French flag in her right hand and a bayonet in her left, and storming a barricade in the process. This allegorical female figure is the national figure of the French: Marianne and symbolizes freedom. It is therefore an allegory.

Why is woman a figurative allegory of freedom?
  • flag: In her right hand the woman raises the French flag, which is therefore to be interpreted as a symbol for France. This holds them up, which is why the flag hovers over the scenario.
  • gun: In the other hand she holds a rifle, which can be clearly interpreted as a symbol of the fight and which accompanies her in her running run.
  • Cap: Your headgear is called Phrygian cap designated. The Jacobins wore this as a political commitment at the time of the French Revolution. The so-called freedom hat became a symbol of freedom in France and Europe.
  • barricade: She is the first to climb over the barricade and has the people behind her. So it is she who turns apparently victorious against the authorities that endanger freedom.
  • Nudity: Many things can be interpreted here, which is why we would like to name only a few. In this context, nudity can stand for beauty, perfection and simplicity, whereby the female breast can also be interpreted as a symbol of the nurturing and protective mother.
  • Conclusion: The woman combines several attributes of the freedom of the French people. This is made clear by the flag that she wears fighting (rifle) and victoriously over the bounding barricade, and her clothing also endows her with characteristics of freedom. Accordingly, she is the personification of the term 'freedom' and thus an allegory of it. It is crucial that it unites several symbols that exemplify freedom. This compression of imagery and symbolism makes it an allegory!
More examples of pictorial allegories:
  • Lady Justice: Is a woman who allegorically represents justice. She is shown blindfolded (all people are equal in front of her), scales in one hand (to weigh the judgment precisely) and a sword in the other (to carry out the judgment). Consequently, it unites several symbols of justice.
  • Reaper: Is an allegory of death. He has no flesh on his bones (so he is no longer alive) and carries a scythe in his hands (to judge people and bring them into the realm of the dead). He is thus personified by several symbols.

The linguistic allegory

In contrast to the pictorial allegory, the linguistic allegory is limited to the text that describes it. Although the linguistic picture can (e.g. Justitia) through which the visual finds its way into the text, but it can also arise metaphorically.

Before there was allegory as a stylistic device of rhetoric, there was allegory. Allegory is the interpretation of literary works. One tries to open up the hidden meaning and thus to grasp the actual message. (→ poem analysis, poem interpretation)

The concept of allegory goes back to antiquity where you can scandalous stories of gods von Homer defended himself and noted that the texts meant something completely different from what they actually meant. As a result, the Homeric epics were read as an allegory.

The best-known interpretation of entire units of meaning as allegories can be found in the Bible. Hardly any passage here is taken literally, but rather reinterpreted by theologians and scholars.

The attempt is therefore made to interpret what is hidden in the text and to decipher what could be meant by the words, apart from the actual literal meaning. So you look at a level that lies behind the literal meaning and only becomes visible at second glance.

Typical genera linguistic Allegories

In principle, texts of all literary genres can be understood as an allegory if, in their totality, they stand for something else and combine several linguistic images. However, there are individual genres that very often serve as an allegorical representation.

  • fable: The fable is a short narrative populated by animal protagonists. These are mostly symbolic for people and their characteristics, which means that they sometimes depict an allegorical image of society → characteristics of the fable, mythical animals.
  • saying: Is a popular wisdom that gets by with just one sentence. It reminds of that aphorism and the Bon mot. Proverbs are often allegorical representations in a confined space. ('The jug goes to the well until it breaks.', Means: someone drives something until it is damaged.)
  • Satire / parody: Both are forms that exaggerate a fact and often portray it very mockingly. An allegorical representation of a situation can of course be used here. The poet Heinrich Heine attacked, for example, in his satirical verse epic Atta Troll (1843) allegorically the German politics of the Vormärz.

    George Orwell also parodies in his work Animal Farm (1945) the society of that time, which can be interpreted as an allegory of the history of the Soviet Union, in which the popular October Revolution was ultimately followed by the dictatorial rule of Stalin.
  • Biblical parables: As already described, the Bible is a work that is seldom understood literally, but is reinterpreted through allegory. The parable of the sower (Mark 4, 3-8) should serve as an example at this point.
Parable of the sower (Mark 4, 3-8)

"Listen! A sower went to the field to sow. When he was sowing, some of the grain fell on the road and the birds came and ate them. Another part fell on rocky ground, where there was little earth, and rose immediately because the earth was not deep; but when the sun rose, the seeds were scorched and withered because they had no roots. Another part fell into the thorns, and the thorns grew and choked the seeds and they gave no fruit.

Another part finally fell on good soil and bore fruit; the seed sprouted and grew up and carried thirtyfold, even sixtyfold and a hundredfold. "


For interpretation: We would like to limit ourselves to the essential aspects in order to show by way of example that this is an allegory.
  • If we were to read the text literally, it would simply say that there is a sower who sows his seed, which in some places produces fruit and in other places withers.
  • Understood as a parable for the kingdom of God and thus as an allegorical representation, we can reinterpret the text and thus discover the hidden level that stands behind it.
  • Then the point is that faith is like a seed that can bear fruit. Perhaps it does not reach everyone or is equally fruitful everywhere, but wherever it meets a believing heart, it will take root and carry faith into the world.

Difference: Allegory, personification, metaphor, symbol

Many stylistic devices were used in this post to explain the allegory. That is why we want to make the differences clear and, above all, look at the symbol.

  • The metaphor is above all a shift in meaning. This means that terms are used in an improper context. According to this, one term is linked to another which at first glance does not fit at all → metaphor examples
  • The personification endows an inanimate object with human properties and thus enlivens it. In the context of allegory, however, the representation of a complex situation as an acting person is usually meant. In this way it becomes an allegorical representation.
  • The symbol is a thing that represents an abstract state of affairs. So the cross stands for Christianity or the dove for peace. The allegory mostly uses different symbols, which makes the allegorical representation clear. However, the allegory does not just stand for one thing, but is these themselves (Imagery).

Note: A clear distinction between allegory and other stylistic devices is not always possible. Sometimes the boundaries are blurred and the figures merge with one another.

Accordingly, no clear subdivision is possible and actually not necessary at all. Certain tendencies can be recognized between the stylistic devices, but a clear drawing of the boundaries would always be flawed. Goethe described this fact in the Maxims and reflections (1833) so:


“Allegory transforms the appearance into a concept, the concept into a picture, but in such a way that the concept is still limited and complete in the picture, to be had and to be expressed in the same. The symbolism transforms the appearance into an idea, the idea into a picture, and in such a way that the idea in the picture always remains infinite and, even when pronounced in all languages, remains inexpressible. "

Effect and function of the allegory

It is sometimes difficult to ascribe a clear function or effect to a stylistic device, since you run the risk of only interpreting the figure according to this. Nevertheless, we would like to give some hints about the effect the allegory has on the recipient (Reader / viewer) may have.

Overview: Effect, function and effect of the style figure
  • Allegory is the visualization of the abstract or the unreal. The general is shown in particular (individual), with metaphors or personifications often being used to make this representation possible.
  • Consequently, an allegorical representation can illustrate a situation and make it more pictorial and thus also more understandable. Biblical parables, in particular, are a fine example of how allegories make complex ideas clearer.
  • The visual representation in particular can enliven a difficult or complex circumstance naturally, make it clearer and make it appear more tangible.
  • It is still importantthat whoever wants to interpret an allegory must know about the individual elements of the representation. Those who do not know that the scales in Justitia's hand are a symbol of weighing and that the sword is used to carry out the judgment will not understand that it is itself a personification of justice.