1. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    So deep even Adele can't roll in it

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by HelloThere, May 9, 2014.

    So I just finished my Higher English course (A levels in England and I don't know what in other countries) having been made study "The Road" rather thoroughly I found myself frequently saying "There's no way Cormac McCarthy thought about all of this while he was writing it." For example: There's a point in "The Road" in which the main characters (a man and his son) are about to go down into a cellar, the father offers his son a choice between holding a lamp or a gun. The boy chooses the lamp and I went on in an essay about how this was symbolic of the boy's peaceful and kind-hearted nature which contrasts with the man who blah blah blah blah blah.... While this could be interpreted symbolically, I don't think McCarthy would've considered that, I feel as if it is just a natural consequence of his characters.

    So I guess my question is, to what extent do you consider the deep and profound stuff behind your writing? Do you think about the key themes and symbolism and all that business, or do you find that they manifest naturally in your story?
     
  2. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    I think we too often try to find deeper meanings in the mundane. I started a thread a while back about how a high school English teacher of mine tried to make everything in a Hemingway short story into something phallic. Sometimes (most of the time) a fishing pole is just a fishing pole.
     
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  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    For me I think my subconscious is one step ahead of me. Your dream mind loves to deal in symbols. And I think when I can stay out of his way and not overthink it, that's when the themes I choose can start interweaving with the plot and characters rather than laying and flat being too obvious. There's reasons people pair up things they way they do. Because even an action or object can become a metaphor.

    I loved this one scene in a book ( Mrs. Fish, the ape and Me, the dump Queen by Norma Fox Mazer ) which mentioned the mc a young girl, and her uncle as only having two chairs in their home -that's all they needed no more - to show how antisocial they were under a guise of practicality. A very symbolic moment overlooked the first time I read the book.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2014
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  4. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    Haha that's the question high school students are asking themselves daily.

    Teacher: The dark blue curtains symbolize the suffering of the protagonist, his saddnes and his inner battle whether he wants to proceed or quit with his quest.
    Student: No, he just meant the curtains were fucking dark blue.
    :D

    But if I take this case, every protagonist can see a certain scene different, depends on how he is feeling. In books, a sad MC won't see a bright sun and flowers sunbathing in the sun, or birds singing jofully. He will hear one bird's desperate singing, while the flowers are looking for the sun, who is unfortunately hiding behind grey clouds.

    I think there is a deeper meaning behind certain scenes and objects in some stories, but it's possible that reviewers are sometimes just complicating things up.

    I remember one time in high school how was I surprised, when the teacher explained us what Kafka meant in Metamorphosis, when already transformed Samsa is covering a picture of a lady. Back then, to me this meant just one random place where he was dwelling.

    By the way, cool name of the thread. :D
     
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  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I was turned off from high school lit. because of the analysis of "The Old Man and the Sea". What high school kid cares that the old man carried his mast like Christ carried the cross? Hemmingway's work is full of symbolism, and some symbolism in novels is important.

    But teachers should consider what symbolism is important to the students, not just what is important in classic literature.

    I've put symbolism in my book. The protag traps a small animal, lets it go but the animal freezes instead of fleeing. She asks about how evolution could favor such a tactic? Throughout the book are other references to the survival advantage of human behaviors that resulted in major philosophical divisions among us. Are you descended from humans that survived by staying in the cave, safe, resisting change? Or are you descended from those that ventured out, discovered new things and survived because they favored innovation and discovery?

    The subject is ripe for symbolism and I've tried to insert some.
     
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  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It has to be more specific that blue means X to be truly symbolic. Just as every long object isn't a phallic without context, if a dark blue curtain is to symbolize something it needs to be like @peachalulu's two chairs, the author writes the chairs into a symbolic place in the story. Shortly after my protag lets the trapped animal go, she's trapped by dangerous people and she contemplates cooperating vs trying to run.
     
  7. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I'm aware of that, this wasn't my example I remember I saw a picture with this example onnce, and I wrote it here. :)
    What I was trying to say with my example is that for a student who isn't interested in literature the symbolism will mean nothing (except that it is one of the things that will shorten his sleep when it comes to studying for exams). And it doesn't matter if it's as lame as my example or if it's as perfected as Kafka's...

    Otherwise I like symbolism (although JayG told me to avoid it) and I used it in my story, but I'm not so sure if it's good.
    I have a boy who is lost in a flying city and he wants to find his way back to his parents and on his way he meets a bunch of bizzare people (similar to Alice). One of this bizzare people is a young lady who adores cats. She's been learning about them for quite some time and knows everything about them. So she is looking for cats in this city, but she can't find any. And this symbolizes students during current crisis. They study, study and study, but they just cannot find an employment for which they have been studying (It's not like this in every country of course).
    What do you think?
     
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  8. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Over-analysis is turning this batch of kids off from reading and writing. It took me starting to write on a serious level (I went from writing so I could use the computer when I was grounded to sitting down and writing instead of playing video games) to really see the meaning of things in books. I started to see real meanings in literature, because I was doing similar things. But for kids who don't have this same eye that I've developed (and I witness this every day in English 11), it's annoying and painful and makes you hate literature.
     
  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Does it matter if he thought of it or not? As a reader, you're free to interpret the text however you want. That's the beauty of literature. Here's a post I made a while back in another thread:
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I was only using your example as you did, I wasn't trying to imply anything about you there.

    Did he say why? I find that to be poor advice considering how many excellent books are laced with symbolism. I don't think one has to use it, especially if one never thinks about it. A lot of stories are more about fun than they are social commentary. I happen to be writing a book with social commentary.

    The idea of using symbolism, of course, I like. But I'm not connecting the search for cats/employment analogy. I suggest a tweak.

    For example:
    The woman is an expert on [X], she is surrounded by books on [X] and other means of learning about [X]. She expects to use this expertise eventually because it is of value. [X] needs to be something archaic, something the city obviously no longer uses.

    But make it your own:
    Start with something like that to figure out exactly what it is about the education you are commenting on. Do you think they teach the wrong things, useless skills? Is it about futility, not the content of the education that is the problem? False hope?

    Try to flesh the thing out more that you are trying to symbolize. Then look for something closer to that analogy than simply learning about something then not being able to find it.
     
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  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Can you say what the author did mean about the choice? Was the father making a point? Why was it in the scene at all?

    McCarthy could have just said, "here, you take the lamp." What you do want as a writer is to make conscious decisions about such passages. Did he want the reader to see the father in control, or not trusting of his son with the gun, or knowing the boy well enough to know the answer, or... wanting the boy to soul search his choice?

    McCarthy didn't need to translate the symbolism into other words, but chances are if it resulted in significant symbolism, the author was indeed making a conscious choice in the story.
     
  12. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Any time anyone asks me what such-and-such in a story I wrote means, I always reply, "That's up to you." Symbolize all you want, but if the reader doesn't see it, it isn't really there.
     
  13. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    @thirdwind I understand that but what's interesting to me is that if he didn't think about then the mere act of portraying these characters has generated symbolism. As I've been thinking about this subject I actually remembered a quote that I like:

    "Great novels are always a little more intelligent than their authors." - Milan Kundera

    Which pretty much sums up how I feel about symbolism theme. To me it seems like if an author can create a great setting and characters then it will occur naturally in the novel, right under the author's nose, without his/her conscious acknowledgement of it.
     
  14. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    But it wasn't McCarthy saying it - It was the man, and the man would offer the boy a choice. This is what intrigues me, people talk about stories writing themselves, and if that is the case then does the story create its own symbolism? Is it embedded in the very core of the story in such a way as to appear naturally? I don't know, but I find it fascinating.
     
  15. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    @GingerCoffee @HelloThere just quoted you in a post, but doesn't know how to use the quoting system properly and instead has just put your words in a random blue box.
     
  16. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    @GingerCoffee this is what Jay wrote:
    Arggggg! God protect me from symbolism.

    Sorry, it’s a hot button item because readers, except in literary fiction, which this is not, want clues—and clues meaningful to the plot—not symbols. After all, what happens if a given reader doesn’t “get it?” Confusion. Remember what I said about intent not making it to the reader’s copy. Unless the reader sees your symbol, recognizes it, and says something like, “He should realize that his subconscious is telling him…and unless the plot hinges on that, at best, your symbolic elements are Easter eggs, things that might give a given reader a bonus. Remember, the universe reacts not at all to symbolic actions. Only people do that (and magic creatures).

    It's from our personal conversation, but it's nothing wrong to post it here, right?

    Yes, this is what bugs me also. I like the whole metaphor: crazy lady is looking for something really hard but she can't find what she is looking for/students looking for jobs, but also cannot find any. And the lady and the students are all educated on their field of expertise. But the connection cats/employment is weak, you can't compare jobs with cats, I need to work on that one. :/

    No, I don't mind the education, it's the last thing you wrote - False hope. "Go to college, get good grades and you'll get a job" but there are no jobs. This is what I'm implying on, but as I said above, I need to work on the metaphor/comparison a little bit more. :)

    Thank you for help. :)
     
  17. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think those comments reflect a narrow point of view about the use of symbolism in literature. Symbolism is broader than that.

    In your story you are describing an Alice in Wonderland plot. That calls for symbolism unless you just want a Pollyanna story where the main character goes on an acid trip, then what is the point unless there is symbolism.

    http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/alice/themes.html


    OK, going with false hope:

    The woman is an expert on [X], she is surrounded by books on [X] and other means of learning about [X]. She expects to use this expertise eventually because it is of value. [X] needs to be something the city's inhabitants (or the woman) believe(s) will arrive but it's obvious to the reader it never will.

    I'm going to let you think of what that might be. ;)
     
  18. Mckk
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    In Stephen King's "On Writing", he says something about this. Which is basically that a story is a fossil and you're discovering the fossil, rather than building it. And then when you go back to rewrite/edit, you'll notice natural patterns and if you do see them, then you would be wise to flesh them out, polish them till they shine. In other words, to deliberately excavate the symbolism you see embedded in your story.

    So does it grow of its own accord (eg. story writing itself) or is it a deliberate choice? My answer would have to be: well, it's both. I mean, what do you think editing's for? :p
     
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  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hit the 'reply' box in the right hand corner and it will quote the post.
     
  20. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I could see how a symbol could become an Easter egg if not handled right. Shoving something in that doesn't belong there, creating a loose string that doesn't attach to the characters or story. It's sort of like having your character be interested in something on page 1 and never mention it again. I agree with Stephen King - good point out Mcck.

    Your first draft should actually develop some echos that could turn into a theme - if you can recognize them . I remember reading about some author who said he used the same object three times and didn't notice until he reread his first draft and realized hey, that would make a perfect symbol to enhance his theme.
     
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  21. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The way I see it, some writers are very conscious about symbolism, which is fine. Not paying attention to symbolism is fine as well. The reader is going to read the work based on his/her experience anyway, so I'm not convinced that a reader should know anything about the writer's intentions.
     
  22. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    Yes, but I don't know how to multiple specific quotes. Never mind - I am a man and I would sooner bash my head against a un-assembled set of IKEA furniture than listen to instructions or advice :D. Would you look at that? A perfect example of symbolism, an un-assembled IKEA representing male stubbornness.
     
  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Code:
    [QUOTE="HelloThere, post: 1229401, member: 65126"]Yes, but I don't know how to multiple specific quotes. [/quote] You just copy paste that [quote="..."] and be sure to also close the quote.[/quote]
    
    [QUOTE="HelloThere, post: 1229401, member: 65126"]Never mind - I am a man and I would sooner bash my head against a un-assembled set of IKEA furniture than listen to instructions or advice :D. Would you look at that? A perfect example of symbolism, an un-assembled IKEA representing male stubbornness.[/QUOTE]
     
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