ALLEGORY, pronounced AL uh gawr ee, is a story with more than one meaning. Most allegories have moral or religious meanings. Famous allegories include the fables attributed to Aesop, an ancient Greek writer. Aesop’s fables seem to describe the adventures of animals and human beings. But the author actually wanted to teach his readers something about human nature. One of Aesop’s best-known fables is “The Fox and the Grapes.” On its surface, or its literal level of meaning, the story tells of a fox who wants a bunch of grapes hanging above his head. The fox tries desperately to reach the grapes but cannot.
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He finally gives up, saying that the grapes are probably sour anyway. The allegorical meaning of this story is that people may pretend the things they cannot have are not worth having. Allegories had their greatest popularity during medieval and Renaissance times in Europe. The Divine Comedy, written by the Italian author Dante Alighieri in the early 1300’s, literally tells of a man’s journey to heaven through hell and purgatory. Allegorically, the poem describes a Christian soul rising from a state of sin to a state of blessedness. Other allegories include the parables of Jesus, and The Faerie Queene, written by the English poet Edmund Spenser in the late 1500’s.
Allegories lost popularity in Europe after about 1600, but some, such as Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 1684) gained recognition in later times. Allegory also exists in other ways. Many novels include allegorical suggestions of an additional level of meaning. Examples include Moby-Dick (1851), a whaling adventure that raises issues of human struggle and fate in a mysterious universe, and Lord of the Flies (1954), a story about shipwrecked boys that examines the persistence of evil.