allegory

noun

al·​le·​go·​ry ˈa-lə-ˌgȯr-ē How to pronounce allegory (audio)
plural allegories
1
: the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence
a writer known for his use of allegory
also : an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression
The poem is an allegory of love and jealousy.
2
: a symbolic representation : emblem sense 2

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an allegory and a metaphor?

Allegory is the expression of truths or generalizations about human existence by means of symbolic fictional figures and their actions. It encompasses such forms as fable and parable. A metaphor, broadly, is figurative language; specifically, it is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. Aesop’s Fables are an example of allegory; "the ship plows the seas" is an example of metaphor.

What are different types of allegory?

Personification allegory is a type of allegory in which a fictional character represents a concept or a type. The character Everyman in the medieval play of that name and the Lover in The Romance of the Rose are figures of personification allegory. Symbolic allegory is one in which a character or material thing is not merely a transparent vehicle for an idea, but also has a recognizable identity or a narrative autonomy apart from the message it conveys. The poet Virgil in Dante's Inferno, a historical figure representing human reason within the poem, is an example of a symbolic allegorical figure.

What is the difference between allegory and simile?

A simile is a figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared, often introduced by like or as ("he had eyes like agates"). Allegory is a more or less symbolic fictional narrative that conveys a secondary meaning (or meanings) not explicitly set forth in the literal narrative. Parables, myths, and fables are all considered types of allegories.

Examples of allegory in a Sentence

Luther dismissed this mystical reading of the creative act as mere "allegory." But for Augustine the six days are not just a rhetorical trope. They are unlike the figurative language of the curse on the snake. To say that Christ is a shepherd is a metaphor; but to say that he is light is literal, since physical light is a "shadow" of the real light spoken of in Genesis. Garry Wills, Under God, 1990
The Scarlet Letter is his masterpiece, because of the simplicity of its allegory and the grandeur of its colonial, Jacobean setting—and because of its shocking subject so nervously handled. Hester and Dimmesdale are sacred and profane love, subjects for Titian, yet conventionally clothed. Robert Lowell, Collected Prose, 1987
He saw thousands of Buddhas lined up in trays in the tourist shops … some in lead, some in wood, some carved in stone and dressed in a little knitted caps and capes. He came to see in this ubiquitous phenomenon the Buddha's godlike propensity for self-division, the endless fractioning of himself into every perceivable aspect, an allegory made by the people of Japan from the cellular process of life. E. L. Doctorow, Loon Lake, 1979
Recent Examples on the Web The menace in Potter’s work feels different than the usual dark allegories in classic fairy tales. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, 8 Apr. 2024 The show blends Afrofuturism with classic Americana to enact a sort of creative reparation, reframing an allegory about perseverance and self-determination to feature Black characters who, in the ’70s, had rarely appeared in popular children’s stories. Naveen Kumar, New York Times, 24 Feb. 2024 See all Example Sentences for allegory 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'allegory.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English allegorie, from Latin allegoria, from Greek allēgoria, from allēgorein to speak figuratively, from allos other + -ēgorein to speak publicly, from agora assembly — more at else, agora

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of allegory was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near allegory

Cite this Entry

“Allegory.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/allegory. Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

allegory

noun
al·​le·​go·​ry ˈal-ə-ˌgōr-ē How to pronounce allegory (audio)
-ˌgȯr-
plural allegories
: a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for truths about human life
allegorical
ˌal-ə-ˈgȯr-i-kəl
-ˈgär-
adjective
allegorically
-i-k(ə-)lē
adverb

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