7 Common Symbols in Literature

Written by L.A.Parker

There are many different themes or symbols used in Literature, below you will find a list of 7 out of the many symbols used in Literature.

1. Colors: Colors often play a role in stories. Usually they represent emotions like love, anger, or sadness. Red is a passionate color that can symbolize love, anger, or passion. Blue can mean tranquility, peace, sadness, and in some cases fear. Yellow can mean spring, like turning over a new leaf, or it can symbolize sunlight or light. Shades of greens and browns can be used for nature, peace, and to give off a sense of hospitality, unless the browns are used in images of deserts which would symbolize a’ death in nature.’

Objects, mentioned in stories, often times have a color. If the author mentions the color of an object, even something that seems unimportant, it could mean something to the narrator of the story or another character. Colors are used not just for imagery but also to invoke emotions as well.

Look to see if a color or a series of colors are repeatedly mentioned, does it hold meaning?

2. Water:  Water is one of the most overused tools in Literature. It can be religious, like baptism, it can mean purification, or it can even mean death (in instances like drowning). If the writer of the story takes time to mention an element of water look and see how it is used. Does it sound negative or positive? Does it sound peaceful or violent? By understanding the context of how water is being used within a story you will be able to use it when writing an essay as a thesis or even as concrete examples from the text to support your thesis.

3. Fire:  Another overused element in Literature. Fire can represent anger, passion, love, pain or death. It is a symbol used in some cases for rebirth or new life. Think of the phoenix from mythology or even from fantasy books, fire for the phoenix is used as both a weapon and a form of rebirth when the bird bursts into flames and a baby phoenix is born from its ashes. If the story you are reading mentions fire, see how it is being used. Did a building burn down and a character learned a vital lesson? Was someone injured in a fight while using fire? See how this element is used and compare it to life lessons, intense emotions, or even a comparison between life and death or rebirth.

4. Night: Night can be used in connection to darkness and acts as a cover over the world and can be used to represent an ‘end of the road.’ It can represent peace or tranquility or it can be as simple as death and darkness concerning the usage of shadows. The great thing about night is that there is a lot to work with. Go back and look for a scene in your story and see if the writer mentions night, if he or she does see if they take time to mention the moon, stars, comets, asteroids, meteors, lamp posts, any type of light. If he or she does, the writer is trying to tell you something about the character. There are two sides, night is the end of the day, where things are hidden in shadows but if there is a source of light, even a small one, the writer is trying to tell you about some internal or external conflict. Things in the light are generally safe, but things in the dark can be susceptible to danger.

In the story if you have read, does night play a role? Does it have any connotations to hell or even show an image of horror? Does night trying to show you two sides, possibly good or evil, truth or lies or even danger and safety?

5. Day: Literally the opposite of night in both nature and Literature. With day comes the rising of the sun, representing new life and light. It can be the new beginning for characters or an opportunity for starting over. Day is often used to describe things out in the open; it is difficult to hide in the shadows unless a character is in a building or under some other form of shade. With this theme in Literature you could compare it with night or darkness and contrast it with a character in the novel that might be bright or truthful in the story, someone that represents the ‘good.’ Another thing to include with day is the sun. The sun is the largest source of light for Earth, and with light comes new opportunities and knowledge.

6. Light:   Light is used for truth, enlightenment, safety, or it can be used as a holy image. Light can stand for the side of ‘good’ in a novel or ‘power.’ It is used to overpower evil or even bring forth knowledge to a character or the narrator. When using light as a theme look for areas in the story that might discuss darkness or night, then use that to contrast the effects of light within the story and plot. Light illuminates shadows, which means that with light a character might be able to see the foil in another character or even see if the other character is a liar or evil.

In your story look and see if a character is cast in both light and dark. Use that image to prepare a thesis of both light and dark within a character or characters, after that just look for evidence within the story to support you thesis.

7. Dark:   See if a character is in the shadows, literally, does the author describe a character as lurking the shadows or have pieces of their body or face obscured? These are symbols for darkness and hiding, meaning the character may be lying about something. Look into the story you are reading and look for words that mean ‘night,’ ‘dark,’ ‘death,’ or ‘shadows,’ the author uses terms like that to provide the reader with an image in their mind, whether they are conscious of it or not. Darkness can play a role in a plot by hiding objects, people, or animals. Darkness can be symbols for death, or the Grimm Reaper, or Angel of Death. Writers never mention something unless it is important.

Go back and see if darkness plays a role in the story? How about death? Does death play a major theme/character in the story?


49 thoughts on “7 Common Symbols in Literature

  1. I’m really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one these days..

    • Thank you very much, the layout of the blog is actually a free theme called ‘chalkboard’ the set up was created by all of the admins of the blog, and we just sort of sat around and played with some ideas until we came up with a final, organized product that seemed easy to use. Again thank you very much and we will have some more work coming up soon and is listed under our ‘Coming Soon’ section.

    • Thank you so much we’re happy that we were able to help! We will be having some more essay help and tips coming out soon so check back and see if we have anything else that might be of interest to you!

  2. I’m not sure exactly why but this weblog is loading extremely slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

    • I don’t know why it is taking so long to load, but it could be a problem with internet connection since it seems to load fine on our end, perhaps it could be a problem with your browser as well.

  3. Incredible! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Great choice of colors!

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  5. Pingback: 3 Ways to Tell Stories Through VFX Art - Gnomon School Blog - Symbolism, Visual Symmetry, and Foreshadowing in Your Art

  6. I loved this! Such a great job, this will really help me while I write my book. This made me think more in depth about things and see things that I didn’t notice before. Thank you so much for posting. 🙂

  7. I’m studying the symbol of fire ans need some more secondary literature. Did you base your post on any literature? Or do you know any?

  8. this was very usfull and it has made me realize that in many of the books i’ve read it has mentioned one of these things…thank you

  9. I was looking for some examples like: good vs evil, immorality, mortality, adventurous, man vs society, man vs man etc….. More specific symbols like these would be very helpful. This was useful for the basic symbols though. Nice work. Thanks anyways.

  10. Wonderful page! It’s really informative and gave me tips on my own story I have to do for a school assignment. I found out I was using symbolism unconsciously, and that it matched my characters emotions. Amazing, right? (That authors can sometimes not notice their own symbolism)

  11. This is great information, it helps me to understand the concepts and symbols and what they mean…😘😘😘😘😘😘😘

  12. Pingback: What Does Night Mean In Literature | Information

  13. Pingback: Semiotic Analysis: Bioshock Infinite – MacLeodn Game Dev

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