Symbols and Symbolism in Classic Literature

Classic literature is ageless not only for its engaging stories and themes, but also for its rich symbolism. These symbols are hidden jewels that add depth and intricacy to the plot. Let’s explore classic literature’s interesting symbolism.

Decoding Message: What are Behind Symbols?

Objects, persons, circumstances, and colors can have symbolic meaning. One story may associate a rose with love, while another with fleeting beauty. Authors use symbols to subtly convey complicated thoughts and feelings.

A Multifaceted Approach: Symbolism Types

Below are the the two types of symbols and their meanings in classic literature:

Universal Signs

Different cultures and times interpret these symbols similarly. Darkness can indicate evil or death, whereas a white dove represents peace.

Context-Specific Symbols

Story context can shape symbol meaning. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the letter “A” symbolizes shame but later perseverance and defiance.

Symbolism Illuminates the Story

Classic literature uses symbols for several purposes:


Symbols can predict events or character development. Daisy’s dock’s green light represents Gatsby’s unreachable goal in The Great Gatsby.

Character Development

Symbols show character challenges and motivations. Mr. Rochester’s inner struggle is reflected in the dismal and secluded Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

Theme Exploration

Symbols can represent tale concepts. The whale in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick symbolizes nature’s strength and human retribution.


By studying symbols, readers gain a deeper grasp of classic literature. Hidden jewels enhance the story, helping us connect with people and ideas. Next time you pick up a classic, look for the symbols—they may reveal a hidden meaning.