Saturday, January 07, 2006

Symbolism? I Don't Need No Symbolism...

I've come to the conclusion lately that I'm pretty one-dimensional when it comes to reading and writing. I read what you say and take it at face value, likewise what I write is exactly what it seems to be. The butterfly is just a butterfly, not a representation of how my heroine longs to spread her wings.

Many, many moons ago I dated a man who ran the Tower Corporate Art Gallery in Sacramento. Being a "corporate" art gallery, it was all what I call Modern Art. No pictures, no pretty landscapes or still art. Just lots of colors and geometric shapes.

He and I took a good friend of mine there, and this good friend was an artist of sorts -- and clearly far deeper than I. She and Paul would look at a picture and make all the right noises and then she would say something along the lines of "I see anger."

All I saw were dots.

I can remember in my English Lit class how I would shake in my shoes when the teacher asked us to identify symbols in the short stories we read. Just what did Kilimanjaro represent to Hemingway (anyone else out there hate Hemingway and Steinbeck??? UGH)? I still don't think I know.

I bring this up because a very talented friend posted some writing recently that I obviously Did. Not. Get.

Other folks left stunning feedback about what this series of events represented and how it was clear what motivated the character to do those things. I took it at face value and I think I missed something.


Does this mean my writing will always reek?

Will I drive my readers crazy trying to figure out what the butterfly represents, when it's just a friggin' butterfly?!?

Can you surgically remove shallowness and transplant deep thoughts?

What do you think about symbolism?


Bernita said...

I tend to agree with King.
Write the book, then look it over to see if there are any of those rorschach butterfly thingies flitting around and them tweak them and perhaps add a subtle few.
You don't have to understand them, just recognize them.

MaryF said...

I do not like Steinbeck. Stupid Red Pony.

I don't use symbolism consciously, so maybe I don't use it at all ;)

Marianne Arkins said...


I'm blessed to have some much deeper folks in one of my writing groups who point out the inadvertent symbolism in my writing. Then I can play on them, just like King says!


I grew up in California and was force fed Steinbeck: Cannery Row (all I can remember from this is the Chinese guy saying "Tluck bloke?" - i.e. Truck Broke... who says you can't write in dialect?) Of Mice and Men (does it get any more depressing??), and yes, even the stupid, stupid Red Pony.

I'm glad I'm not completely alone in my opinion ;-}

June said...

I've never responded to anything on any blogs that I read, BUT this topic hit home...YES I HATE Hemingway and English teacher in Grade 12 told us that the image at the end of "Old Man and the Sea" of the old man carrying his fish home over his shoulder was symbolic of Christ carrying the Cross across his shoulders...OH PULLLEEEZZZEEEE...