I’ve always been more of the, “the apple really is just an apple” camp, when it comes to symbolism. I think that’s why I connected much more with my creative writing classes than with my lit classes in college–I always felt like in the lit classes, we were playing a game called, “what was the author really trying to say?” And I always enjoyed focusing on the actual text than when I thought was secretly inserted into it. Today, my good friend passed on this story on Mental Floss, on a student who surveyed several famous authors on whether they intentionally use symbolism. Many of them say no, and many have a lot of funny things to say. Definitely check it out.
This is perhaps my favorite piece of insight and advice, from Ray Bradbury:
“Not much to say except to warn you not to get too serious about all this, if you want to become a writer of fiction in the future. If you intend to become a critic, that is a Whale of another color…Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story…humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels…Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing…and as unobtrusive.”
Then there’s this, from Norman Mailer:
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea for a working novelist to concern himself too much with the technical aspects of the matter. Generally, the best symbols in a novel are those you become aware of only after you finish the work.”
So I guess I shouldn’t feel so bad that I do a whole lot of writing and very little thinking about what I’m writing, at least in the early stages. Fellow writers, do you ever consciously use symbolism? Do you find that some symbols have appeared during or after you finished a work?