Symbols are – as any High school English teacher will tell you – a key component of literature. The question is, do the symbols we see in literature come from the author, or from ourselves?
As an author myself, I can tell you that most of the symbolism people point out in my work was unintentional at the very least. Yes, I pepper in a few key phrases and images to draw the reader where I want them to go. But sometimes a reader will make a wild leap of symbolic reasoning, and I just scratch my head. Sure, a lot of the suggested “hidden meanings” work, but that doesn’t mean that I intended it that way.
And then there are the few who go to far, who read so much into a piece of fiction that it ceases to be what it once was. Take for instance William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Some individuals claim that the story is filled with symbols of chaos, violence, and terror. But can’t it just as easily be a simple scary story? People say that the presence of blood in several scenes of the play indicate the characters guilt and heavy conscience. But, why can’t it just be that blood is messy, and hard to get out?
An example on the other side of the spectrum is Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.These books are so full of symbolic nick-nacks that it’s almost impossible not to see them. Everything from the clothes the characters wear to the places they live and what they do. I mean, the symbols are practically shoved down our throats the entire time. Not that I’m saying they aren’t well written, good novels. I thoroughly enjoyed Roth’s views on social structure and the entire series is a good look at the extremity of a caste system type society. But more than anything else, the books are just giant symbol factories, and there’s no need to dig deep to find them.
I guess what I’m saying is, symbols are a fact of literature. But just because you see a scene or prop from a given novel as a symbol of something greater, doesn’t mean that’s how the author intended it to be seen.
“Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar”