Learn a Little Lit—what’s in a rose?

rosesWhen is a rose not a rose? When it’s a symbol. Do authors create literary symbols on purpose? Or are symbols just something English teachers invent to torment students. Could be . . . but here’s a little story.

—A Little Story—

I once wrote a poem for my English class about the beauty of a single rose. Understand when I tell you it was insipid.

But the teacher singled it out! It was, she said, a fine example of symbolism: the beauty of the single rose was how she viewed her students. In the collective we had little distinction, but individually we attained a singular beauty. Friends, I’d written a masterpiece . . . and I hadn’t a clue.

My grand inspiration had come from a cheap plastic rose stuck in my pencil holder, and I just happened to hit on the thing as my eye wandered around the room. The beauty of individualism wasn’t anywhere on the radar.

Yet that's exactly what author William J. Kennedy (Ironweed, 1983) was getting at when he wrote in a New York Times piece that the source of a writer's creativity doesn't . . .

rise up from his notepad but up from the deepest part of his unconscious, which knows everything everywhere and always: that secret archive stored in the soul at birth, enhanced by every moment of life….
                    —William Kennedy, “Why It Took So Long,”
                       New York Times, 5/20/1990

Writing is a mysterious process, and symbols often spring from the unconscious, relfecting something embedded within an author’s psyche.

In other words, that single rose of mine could just as easily have seemed lonely and forlorn. Or I might have written that its fragrance would gain potency as part of a bouquet. But it turns out I enjoy being alone or with friends one-on-one. And I avoid large groups. So perhaps even as a teen that rose had subconscious resonance.

So, no, authors don’t always intend their symbols; symbols often reflect something deep within. And readers? Our own insights into a work spring up from deep within us, as well.

If you want to learn more about symbolism—why authors use them, how they contribute to a work of fiction—take our LitCourse 9. It’s short, free, and a lot of fun.

Comments  

#1 broderie 2017-09-29 16:43
bookmarked!!, I love your blog!
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