What is this symbol for 1


As symbol the simplified and representative representation of a fact or an object is generally referred to, whereby this representation does not have to provide a clear conclusion about what is meant. This means that symbols are mostly pictorial, effective signs that stand for a thing or a state of affairs, whereby there is sometimes no obvious connection between symbol and what is meant. In this case, the meaning of a symbol must be known in order to understand it (Example: Blue Flower of Romanticism). Often, however, it is also true that the symbol illustrates the essence of an abstract term (Example: Cross for Christianity). Symbols are usually very concrete objects that stand for a general and abstract context. The symbol is considered a stylistic device and can be found in all genres of literature. Metaphor and allegory are very similar stylistic figures.


The term derives from the Greek nounsýmbolon starting with Identification mark, characteristic, Mark or Symbol translates. From this word derives the synonymous Latin symbolum from, of which then finally the word symbol was borrowed.

Originally meant the term a distinguishing feature between two parties. These could be dealers, contractual partners or similar persons (groups). For this purpose, a pottery shard or a bone was broken in two, whereby the partners received a fragment. If you parted and saw each other (or the respective representatives) when they met again, the appropriate identifier could be used to ensure that you had the “right” partner in front of you.

Accordingly, the original meaning already refers to the essential characteristic of the symbol: it is about an object or the representation of an object (the pottery shard)which stands for a different issue (that you have the right person in front of you). This fact is mostly abstract. This means that it is not about a concrete object, but about a context of meaning. In addition, symbols are mostly fixed and rarely embody what they mean. (Even the pottery shard only works as a symbol because the partners agree on it!)

The example picture above already clarifies the essentials: an object / sign stands for a more complex context and becomes - that is crucial - set. It is therefore not evident that the subject stands for the context and only becomes clear to the initiated. There are a few exceptions, but it is common not to tell what symbols mean.

Sample symbols

However, symbols only become completely clear if one looks at several examples that work according to the pattern described. Therefore, selected examples will now clarify the whole thing, always giving a brief explanation of the respective symbol.

It must be noted, however, that this article should be practical and aimed primarily at schoolchildren or students. There are indeed all kinds of treatises on the concept of symbols, but they usually lead too far and the bottom line is that they only lead to symbols - even if they are unique - can no longer be recognized in poetry and general text analyzes. So we are guided by the definition given above, which makes the style figure tangible.

The above example shows the cross, which stands for the Christian faith or Christianity itself. According to the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross and executed that way. If one follows the biblical text, however, it could also have been a pole or beam. Christians believe, however, that the crucifixion took place on an actual cross, with the earthly body of Jesus dying and then resurrected. In this case, the cross symbolizes the connection between the earthly and the divine.

It is important here, however, that it is not evident to outsiders that the cross stands for Christianity - the cross shows. Yet there is a connection. It is a very concrete object that illustrates the essence of an abstract concept and thus stands for a general context of meaning. Let's look at another example:

This example picture shows a pigeon, which has been a symbol of peace for centuries. Obviously, the symbolic content is based on a story from the Old testament the Bible back. The story is about God causing a flood to hit the earth, about humanity - who had become wicked and wicked - to perish. There was only one person left who God loved and who, with his family, was supposed to re-establish humanity. That person was Noah.

God gave him the task of building a gigantic ark and taking a pair of each animal species on board. Then it began to rain heavily until the whole earth was under water. After the ark floated on the water for a year, Noah dispatched a dove, which returns to the ark with an olive branch in its beak, which for Noah is the sign that there is again land that is not covered by water. The return of the dove with the olive branch is therefore understood as a sign of the conclusion of peace and consequently the dove, but also the olive branch, are considered symbols of peace.

But here, too, it is noticeable that the symbols are set. Although they are given this function by a story, they do not refer to what they stand for. This means that in this example, too, it must be explained why the dove is a symbol, so that the recipient (Listener, reader) can understand it. Nevertheless, it is a tangible object - although it is an animal - which stands for an abstract thing. A final example:

The above symbol example shows the laurel wreath. This is considered a sign of fame and honor. The plant is so closely related to the idea that even the nounLaureate, which stands for a prize winner, from the Latin adjectivelaureatus derives that is roughly with wreathed with laurel translates. But in this case too, the symbol must be explained, even if an actual object stands for a complex and, above all, intangible thing.

Symbol in literature

The above examples are pictures. So the images of pigeons, laurel wreaths and crosses stand for the meaning behind it. In literature, however, we rarely deal with images, but primarily with written language and thus with sequences of words, words and letters.

That means, that symbols are primarily named in literature and are therefore more difficult to recognize. If a protagonist were to point out, for example, that he had sent his antagonist a white dove, the reader would have to decipher independently that this can be understood as a symbol and therefore can stand for peace.

This is problematic in that rather than that, accordingly, every word can become a symbol if there is a group that has agreed on the meaning of the symbol. As a rule, however, there are two main ways of doing this. Either we are dealing with symbols in literary texts that have a cultural background or that arise in the work itself.

The first variant was discussed in detail in the article. These are fixed symbols that are generally recognized. That's how it is heart for the love, the Dove for the peace, the Laurel wreath for the honor or that cross for the Christianity. The second option means that a symbol is created in the factory. This is usually done through an obvious repetition of the respective symbol in the work. If the childhood of a character is associated with the scent of lavender, for example, the naming of this very plant in the further course of the story can stand for the childhood of the narrating character himself.

In addition, it is essential that naming and discovering symbols in practice - i.e. in German lessons - is mostly reduced to the first possibility. This means that above all symbols that are generally recognized are also discovered as such in texts. The biggest hurdle for schoolchildren is therefore to separate the symbol from similar allegories and metaphors.

Important: It is therefore true that a symbol 1) is usually a concrete object, 2) stands for an abstract thing and 3) triggers an association in the recipient. Symbols are mainly created 4) through repetition, whereby they usually 5) do not refer to what is meant on their own, but 6) very often have something to do with it because they are part of what is meant or are closely related to it.
Example: The Dove is therefore 1) a real object / a concrete object, the 2) abstract and thus intangible idea peace or one Peace agreement is what 3) creates an image for the reader who knows this connection. Due to the 4) frequent use of this symbol, it is well known, but 5) it is not self-explanatory, even if the dove is through 6) a story in the Bible with the abstract idea of Peace is clearly linked.

Difference: symbol, metaphor, allegory

  • Metaphor: Above all, describes a shift in meaning. This means that terms are used in an improper context. Accordingly, one term is linked to another that at first glance does not match this one. For example, one Sea of ​​corn spoken, whereby the properties of the flowing water are transferred to the grain, creating a linguistic image (see metaphor examples).

  • Allegory: Is the visualization of the abstract or the unreal. The main difference to the symbol is that the allegory actually what it means is and not only stands for this - as is the case with symbols. Allegories often consist of several symbols and metaphors.

  • Symbol: Is a thing that represents an abstract state of affairs. That's how it is cross for the Christianity or the Dove for the peace. The pictorial allegory often consists of several symbols to actually represent what is meant.

Differences in the example

In practice, this distinction is not always very clear and the boundaries between the respective stylistic devices are quite fluid, but most "special cases" can be identified quite clearly if the respective abnormalities are examined carefully.

To illustrate this, we would like to clarify what has been written using an example and illustrate the differences between allegory, metaphor and symbol. For this we try to find a metaphor and an allegory as well as a symbol for love in order to show how the individual characters differ from one another. This should be made clear by means of a graphic.

The above picture shows three different ways of expressing the abstract concept of love. The burning heart is a metaphorbecause here there is a transfer of meaning. The blazing and burning of a fire is transmitted to the heart, creating a linguistic image. Whoever reads the sentence can now assume that this very heart is full of warmth, but also wild and untamed, like fire. This is a metaphor that could represent love.

The metaphor only works because the heart itself is one symbol who is love. Consequently, in the second example we are dealing with a symbol of love. This emerged from the stylized representations of fig leaves, as they were already in the 3rd millennium BC. Are to be found. In addition to figs, ivy leaves are also found later. Ivy is already there - because it is durable - for eternal love since ancient times.

Later, around the 12th and 13th centuries, this symbol of love reappeared in medieval minnie literature (see literary epochs) and was often colored red. Over a long period of time, this resulted in today's representation of the heart, which is why it is considered a symbol of love when it is named in a text or is actually represented. As a result, the heart is again a tangible object that represents the abstract idea of ​​love.

The last example is one allegory. As described, the allegory does not work on the basis of a transfer of meaning, such as the metaphor, or stands as a single sign for an abstract idea, such as the symbol, but actually represents the thing meant. This means that several elements that stand for what is meant in of allegory.

For example, the god will be Cupid, who is considered the god of love or falling in love, mostly depicted as a boy with a bow and arrow. The arrows, when they hit the heart, are supposed to make two people fall in love. God Amor is therefore an allegory of love and at the same time the personification of the abstract concept, since the abstract concept is represented in the form of a person.

Picture:Cupid with a Bow, 1885, Julius Kronberg

Brief overview: The most important thing about the style figure at a glance
  • The symbol is the simplified and representative representation of a situation or an object, whereby this representation does not have to provide a clear conclusion about what is meant. This means that symbols are mostly pictorial, effective signs that stand for a thing or a state of affairs, whereby there is sometimes no obvious connection between symbol and what is meant.
  • Most of the time, the meaning of a symbol has to be given to the recipient (Reader, listener) be clear in order to be able to grasp what is meant. In some cases, however, it is also true that the symbol illustrates the essence of an abstract term, whereby the connection between what is shown and what is meant does not have to be obvious in every case.
  • As a rule, symbols are represented visually. In texts, however, they are usually simply and simply named. This can make it difficult to recognize them as symbols. It is also true that symbols can either be used because they are generally known or that they acquire their symbolic character through constant repetition within a work.

  • Note: Related stylistic devices are metaphor, allegory and personification. The main difference is that a metaphor means a transfer of meaning, the allegory actually represents what is meant, a personification is the humanized representation of a concept and the symbol is a single sign that stands for an abstract concept.