Understanding Allegory: Definition, Examples, and Meaning
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is Allegory?
  2. Types of Allegory
  3. How to Identify an Allegory
  4. Examples of Allegory in Literature
  5. Examples of Allegory in Film
  6. Meaning and Significance of Allegory

Delving into the realm of literature and art, you'll often stumble upon a fascinating concept known as "allegory." But what exactly is an allegory? And why does it matter in our day-to-day lives? In this blog, we'll unlock the definition of allegory, explore different types, and shed light on its significance in various forms of media. So, let's get started!

What is Allegory?

At its core, allegory is a device used in literature, arts, and even films to convey a deeper, often hidden, meaning. Now, you might be thinking, "Isn't that a metaphor?" Well, while they share some similarities, allegories take it one step further. Let's break it down even more.

Allegory vs. Metaphor

  • Metaphor: A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things. For instance, "Life is a roller coaster." Here, life (which is not literally a roller coaster) is compared to a roller coaster to express its ups and downs.
  • Allegory: An allegory, on the other hand, is a story, poem, or picture that uses symbolic characters, events, or objects to express a deeper moral or political message. For example, George Orwell's "Animal Farm" is not just about animals on a farm; it's an allegory of the Russian Revolution.

So, while a metaphor is a direct comparison, an allegory uses a narrative to indirectly convey a message or lesson.

Components of an Allegory

An allegory typically consists of two main components:

  1. Surface Story: This is the literal narrative or image you first encounter. In "Animal Farm," the surface story involves the animals' rebellion against the farmer.
  2. Hidden Meaning: Beneath the surface story, there's a secondary meaning or lesson. In "Animal Farm," the hidden meaning refers to the events and characters of the Russian Revolution.

Understanding both components is crucial to fully grasp the definition of allegory.

The Purpose of Allegory

Last but not least, why does allegory matter? Well, allegory serves several purposes:

  • Teaches Lessons: Allegories often carry moral, social, religious, or political lessons. They make these complex ideas more relatable and understandable.
  • Engages Readers: By weaving hidden meanings into stories, allegories keep readers engaged, encouraging them to dig deeper and reflect on the underlying themes.
  • Expresses Complex Ideas: Allegories allow authors to express complex or controversial ideas in a more subtle and palatable way.

So, there you have it—the basic definition of allegory. But we're just getting started. In the following sections, we'll explore different types of allegory, how to identify them, and some notable examples in literature and film. Stay tuned!

Types of Allegory

Now that we've covered the definition of allegory, let's move on to the different types of allegory. Yes, you heard it right - allegory isn't one size fits all. It comes in different flavors, each with its unique characteristics. Let's explore some of the most common types.

Political Allegory

As the name suggests, political allegory uses narrative to convey a political message or critique. Characters, events, or settings in the story represent real-life political figures, ideologies, or historical events. Remember "Animal Farm"? It's a classic example of political allegory, with the farm animals symbolizing key figures and events of the Russian Revolution.

Moral Allegory

Moral allegory, also known as a parable, is designed to teach a moral lesson. In these stories, characters and events represent virtues or vices, and the narrative typically concludes with a moral. A familiar example is Aesop's Fables, where animals take on human traits to convey lessons about honesty, kindness, and wisdom.

Religious Allegory

In a religious allegory, the narrative is used to illustrate spiritual truths or principles. Characters and events in the story often symbolize religious figures, concepts, or narratives. For instance, C.S. Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia" is widely regarded as a religious allegory, with Aslan the lion representing Jesus Christ.

Symbolic Allegory

Symbolic allegory employs symbols to signify ideas or qualities. Here, it's not just the characters or events that carry hidden meanings, but also objects, colors, or numbers. An example of symbolic allegory is the novel "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding, where the island, the conch shell, and the "beast" all symbolize different aspects of civilization and human nature.

Keep in mind that these categories are not mutually exclusive. A single work can incorporate multiple types of allegory. Also, not all allegories fit neatly into these categories. Some might blur the lines or create their own unique blend. But, understanding these basic types can provide a solid foundation for identifying and interpreting allegories in different works.

How to Identify an Allegory

Alright, let's move forward. You now know the definition of allegory and its different types. But, how can you tell if a story, movie, or artwork is an allegory? Fret not! Here are some pointers that can help you identify allegory in various forms of media.

Look for Symbolism

One of the key features of an allegory is symbolism. If characters, events, or objects in the story seem to represent more than what they appear, you might be dealing with an allegory. For example, a wolf in a story may represent danger or deceit, while a journey can symbolize personal growth or a quest for knowledge.

Search for a Deeper Message

Allegories are not just simple tales; they carry a deeper meaning or message. If you sense that a story is trying to convey a moral, political, religious, or social message, it's likely an allegory. Remember, allegories often use narrative to comment on real-life issues or to teach a lesson.

Examine the Characters

In an allegory, characters are typically not fully fleshed out individuals with complex personalities. Instead, they often represent abstract concepts, such as good and evil, wisdom and ignorance, or courage and cowardice. If characters in a story seem to embody certain traits or ideas, you may be looking at an allegory.

Notice the Conclusion

Many allegories end with a revelation or a resolution that reinforces the underlying message. If the story's conclusion seems to tie everything together in a way that emphasizes a particular idea or lesson, it could be an allegory.

Remember, identifying allegory involves a bit of detective work. You need to look beneath the surface and make connections between different elements of the story. But with a little practice, you'll get the hang of it, and the world of allegory will open up to you like never before!

Examples of Allegory in Literature

Now that you've got some tools to help you spot allegory, let's put them to use. We're going to explore some famous examples of allegory in literature. These texts will give you a clearer understanding of how authors use allegory to convey deeper meanings.

George Orwell's "Animal Farm"

First up is George Orwell's "Animal Farm". This isn't just a story about a group of animals taking over a farm. It's a critique of totalitarian regimes. Each animal represents a different figure or aspect of the Soviet Union. For instance, the pig Napoleon symbolizes Joseph Stalin, and the Rebellion represents the Russian Revolution. By turning a complex political situation into a story about animals, Orwell makes his critique more accessible and impactful.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"

Next, we have Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown". In this story, Goodman Brown's journey into the forest is an allegory for his loss of innocence. The characters he meets symbolize different aspects of human nature and society. For example, the devil he encounters represents the evil that lies within all people. What seems like a simple tale of a man's journey into the woods is actually a deep exploration of human morality and sin.

John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress"

Lastly, we can't discuss allegory in literature without mentioning John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress". This story follows a man named Christian on his journey to the Celestial City. Each obstacle he encounters represents a different spiritual challenge. The Slough of Despond, for example, symbolizes despair and doubt. It's a powerful allegory for the Christian journey of faith.

These examples show how rich and varied allegory can be in literature. So, the next time you pick up a book, pay close attention—you never know when you might stumble upon a hidden allegory!

Examples of Allegory in Film

Alright, let's switch gears and talk about something we all love—movies! Just like in literature, filmmakers often use allegory to add layers of meaning to their films. Below we'll discuss a few noteworthy examples.

"The Lion King"

First up is a childhood favorite—Disney's "The Lion King". While it might seem like a simple story about a lion cub's journey to become king, it's actually filled with allegorical elements. The film closely mirrors William Shakespeare's play "Hamlet". Scar, who murders his brother to seize the throne, represents the villainous Claudius. Simba, who must overcome his guilt and reclaim his rightful place, stands for Hamlet.

"The Matrix"

Next is the groundbreaking film "The Matrix". This film uses allegory to question our perception of reality. The Matrix itself, a simulated reality created by machines, represents a world of illusion and deception. Meanwhile, the real world, which is harsh and desolate, symbolizes the harsh truth. The red pill, which allows Neo to see the truth, stands for knowledge and enlightenment.


Lastly, let's take a look at Pixar's "WALL-E". At first glance, it's a cute story about a robot finding love. But if you dig a little deeper, it's an allegory for environmental conservation and the dangers of consumerism. The ruined Earth represents what could happen if we don't take care of our planet. The humans, who live in a spaceship and have become dependent on technology, symbolize the dangers of overconsumption and complacency.

These examples serve as a testament to the power of allegory in film. They show how a simple story can carry a deeper, more profound message. So, next time you watch a movie, try to spot the allegory—you might be surprised at what you find!

Meaning and Significance of Allegory

Now that we've seen how allegory can appear in both literature and film, let's explore why it's such an important tool in storytelling. Allegory, by its definition, is a way for writers and filmmakers to communicate complex ideas and concepts in a way that's easier for us to grasp.

The Power of Symbolism

Allegory relies heavily on symbolism. This means that characters, objects, or events in the story represent more than just their literal selves. They stand for abstract ideas, moral qualities, or historical events. Symbolism lets us connect with the story on a deeper level, making it more meaningful and impactful. For example, in "The Lion King," Simba's journey isn't just about becoming a king—it's about finding courage and accepting responsibility.

Engaging the Audience

Allegory also engages the audience in a unique way. It encourages us to think critically about the story and decipher its hidden meanings. This makes the story more interactive and enjoyable. So, when you watch "The Matrix" and start questioning the nature of reality, that's the power of allegory at work!

Expressing Social Commentary

Lastly, allegory can serve as a powerful tool for social commentary. It allows writers and filmmakers to critique societal issues in a subtle yet effective way. "WALL-E," for instance, uses allegory to highlight the importance of environmental conservation and the dangers of consumerism.

In conclusion, allegory is more than just a literary or cinematic technique—it's a way to communicate deep truths, challenge our perceptions, and prompt us to reflect on our own reality. So, the next time you encounter an allegory, remember: there's always more than meets the eye!

If you're intrigued by the concept of allegory and want to learn how to incorporate it into your own creative projects, check out the workshop 'Storytelling in Illustration' by Arielle Jovellanos. This workshop will help you understand how to use storytelling techniques, including allegory, to create engaging and meaningful illustrations.