Thursday, April 23, 2009

Booking Through Thursdays: So What?

Booking Through Thursdays asks:

Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

Ah, symbolism, the bane of my English class existence. When I was in high school, a favourite English teacher of mine used to drive us crazy by asking the same question after each passage we'd read: "So what?"

Meaning, so what does this mean? What do you get from this part of the story? What else can you see in here?

Like I said, it would drive some of us crazy. Especially if the answers were never very clear.

While I was never one of those people who couldn't 'get' symbolism, I wasn't the quickest on the uptake. So I normally wouldn't pick up on it until after my teacher would explain it. However, over the years I've gotten a little better at it through self-study. I read The Odyssey as an adult and found the symbolism much easier to pick up than I would have as a child. I guess that really only comes through experience, though. If you read enough books, you start reading in between the lines yourself.

I still hate those individuals who seem to find symbolism in every book and don't hesitate to point it out. That's probably why I've never joined a proper book club. Eventually I'd want to throw the book at someone if I had to deal with that nonstop.

The last book I finished was The Reader by Bernard Schlink and I'm trying to think of what symbolism I can garner from that story.

Nope, nothing comes to mind.

Okay, so maybe I haven't gotten any better at identifying literary symbols over the years. Or perhaps the question posed is right—books these days are less likely to carry symbols, but somehow I doubt that. There are plenty of books written each year that you can read further into if you stop and look past the main plot.


Bluestocking said...

Symbolism still eludes me. mine

gautami tripathy said...

Read comics. Present, past anything. You will see symbolism facing you squarely. And so does poetry.

Symbolism in writing

Olga said...

@gautami: Hah! I do read comics, but I usually just stick to the plots. See my review of Seiichi Hayashi's Red Colored Elegy (

Heather said...

Sounds like you need to read The Reader again... it's there for sure.

That aside, I think you hit on a pretty interesting point. Perhaps many of the books that are being read by high school students weren't intended for young adults without a fully developed pre-frontal cortex; they were written by adults for adults. Young Adult literature is a relatively new genre, and English curriculums should include teaching students how to spot symbolism, because there are some pretty solid, easy tricks.

I suggest the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Foster whenever this comes up (which is actually more often than you'd think). The book gives ten common symbols and tons of examples of how they've been used as such. It'll revolutionize your reading (without removing any of the entertainment).

Olga said...

Thanks for the info, Heather, I appreciate it. I would like to recognize symbolism more frequently in the books I read. I'm going to look into that book you recommended.


Anonymous said...

Wanna start our own "kinda slow at catching on to things going on in the background" book club?
I'm really bad at this myself.

Olga said...

Would love to. I'd feel less embarrassed about it with someone else!

Angela said...

I HATE when teachers make students overanalyze every bit of information in a story or article.

I swear, the author could not have put THAT much thought into writing.