Power in Literature, Short Stories Part 1: Symbols


We speak student! Power in Literature: Symbols à la Shmoop. Alright and we’re rollin Hi from Shmoop global headquarters here in Mountain View, California This video is about helping you understand literature from a unique perspective. You have to understand some basic concepts: symbols, setting, and themes, among other things. And we’re here talking with Deb Tennen who’s our chief guru and literary analysis and all things creative here at Shmoop. So Deb, why don’t we start with the key concept here, what is a symbol? Okay, in the most basic sense, a symbol is a tangible or concrete object that represents an abstract idea. That’s it. The symbol can be an actual object, like say you wear your grandmother’s necklace that she gave you when she passed away, you wear the necklace, the necklace is a necklace but it symbolizes your love for your grandmother. It can also be a person, a person can be a symbol of hope if someone has had a really hard
life and they’ve struggled through a lot you look up to that person that person
has been a symbol for hope and perseverance in your life so those are symbols in our everyday lives they’re really all around us. Why do authors use symbols? Because symbols are all around us
everyday in our lives a lot of them will happen accidentally.
A writer will just write something that they think of as a normal
occurrence in their everyday life and then a reader will read into it as a symbol
because for that specific reader it means something, you know, more powerful than the author intended it but authors will also intentionally use
symbols that’s so that they can be a little more
subtle In the example of the Great Gatsby, which has one of the most famous symbols in all of literature, that green light you have Gatsby standing at the edge of a dock, looking out, and he has his hands outstretched Nick just says, Gatsby had his hands outstretched, toward the green light, across the water. Green typically is the color of money, and so it’s very easy to almost
purposely have quote misled us a little bit so that we
would go with the materialistic interpretation Yeah, and it’s actually interesting just to rewind a little bit when Great Gatsby came out it was actually just around the time
that stoplights became a thing so the green light is
actually really complicated one because it does represent both the
future and the past we have Gatsby, you know, looking across
and basically being stuck in the past this
dream of Daisy that he’ll never get but it’s also about you know moving
toward the future, it could go either way. And it’s up to the reader to decide which it means or maybe it means both. Give us one other symbol and then let’s move on to the
actual implementation of them. Another symbol in a book that a lot of you might have read is the mockingbird in To Kill a Mockingbird, the titular character we never actually really see a specific mockingbird in the book but it comes up again and again in
small places and we think of it most we think of it most when Atticus basically tells his kids “Don’t kill the mockingbird,” it’s basically that mockingbirds are these innocent birds they’re not doing anything wrong, so we wouldn’t kill one. The same kinda goes then we extend it to Boo Radley, like don’t bug him, he’s just an innocent guy and we’re supposed to slowly realize that throughout the book that he too is a Mockingbird and then of course Tom Robinson is
another mockingbird this innocent guy who, he’s handicapped we think of him as kind of this innocent guy who can’t really defend himself and so he’s another Mockingbird and he actually does get shot. Where is there an overuse of symbols? One poor use of symbolism can be when a writer forgets that a symbol is also the object that it is. For example, we have an apple as a symbol of original sin, whatever else you wanna associate with that we think of all the fairy tales where the apple is poison, we think of Adam and Eve, etc. But the apple is also an apple. It’s not just a symbol of something So writers, bad writers, or writers who haven’t learned this will kind of pull symbols and be like “Oh, I can have this object represent this abstract idea” but then they forget that the object is also the object and it needs to serve a purpose in the story. If it doesn’t make sense in context to have that specific object, then the symbol kind of just becomes a little icky. How do people recognize symbols? The idea is that readers pull out the symbolism themselves, so one reader might the apple as just an
apple but another who has experience reading a lot of biblical literature or you know grew up on fairy tales they’re gonna read different things into it different cultures will also read different symbols in new ways so, you know a writer is writing to a very specific group of people, but then if someone from a different culture comes along and reads it, then they might pull something
completely different from it. Got it, understood. What is a symbol? Why do authors use symbols? Where is there an overuse of symbols? How do people recognize symbols?

local_offerevent_note October 7, 2019

account_box Matthew Anderson

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