11 Allegory Examples from Great Literature

Allegory is a common literary device, and these 11 books, poems, and stories are great allegory examples.

Allegory is a literary device that uses a story to expound on a deeper meaning. Through allegory, authors can explore abstract ideas and break them down into understandable information.

If you can think of an allegory like an extended metaphor, you can better understand this literary term. A better way to understand allegory is to study famous works that are examples of this device.

Here are some famous literary works that have a hidden meaning, making them a great example of allegory.

Great Allegory Examples in English Literature

Allegory examples from great literature

Whether it is a children’s story that is actually a political allegory or a religious tale that has a deeper meaning, allegory is found all throughout literature. These are some of the most famous allegory books, poems, and stories that show how this literary device works.

Allegory Examples
Plato’s Allegory Of The Cave

1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The Pilgrim’s Progress follows a man, Christian, as he travels on an arduous journey. After laying down his burden, he makes his way from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, eating a cast of characters that try to pull him away from his path.

Every stop and character along the way has deep religious meaning. Written in the 1600s, The Pilgrim’s Progress is considered one of the best examples of theological fiction in English literature. 

“The man that takes up religion for the world will throw away religion for the world.” 

John Bunyan
Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan): Updated, Modern English. More than 100 Illustrations. Parts 1 & 2 (Christiana's Journey)
  • Bunyan, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages - 01/15/2015 (Publication Date) - Aneko Press (Publisher)

2. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Orwell’s Animal Farm is a classic example of political allegory. The story follows a farm full of tired, overworked animals as they rebel against their farmer to create a utopian community. Yet in the end, the idealism they sought to promote failed just as their tyrannical leader did.

Animal Farm was once thought to be written against Stalin’s Russia, but it still holds value to readers today as they watch the evolution from tyranny to socialism. 

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” 

George Orwell
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Animal Farm: 75th Anniversary Edition
  • George Orwell (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 140 Pages - 04/06/2004 (Publication Date) - Signet (Publisher)

3. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave puts a hypothetical scenario where prisoners chained up in a cave can only see the shadows cast on the wall in front of them. When something passes by that resembles a book, they may call it a book, only they are technically talking about a shadow, not the book itself.

This story is allegorical because it explores the difference between the visible and invisible. Literary historians believe it set the foundation for Western Philosophy.

“How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?”

Plato
The Allegory of the Cave
  • Plato (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 34 Pages - 08/25/2018 (Publication Date) - Martino Fine Books (Publisher)

4. The Tortoise and the Hare by Aesop

Most of Aesop’s fables are allegorical, but the Tortoise and the Hare is, perhaps, the most famous. This story tells of a slow-and-steady tortoise in a race with an overconfident hare. When the hare in his confidence lays down to nap, the tortoise slowly passes him and wins the race.

The message behind this story is the fact that slow and steady is almost always the best way to win the race. It has been retold many times throughout the centuries and is often the subject of children’s books.

“Do you ever get anywhere?” he asked with a mocking laugh.

“Yes,” replied the Tortoise, “and I get there sooner than you think. I’ll run you a race and prove it.”

Aesop
The Tortoise and the Hare (Timeless Fables)
  • Teresa Mlawer (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 24 Pages - 01/01/2016 (Publication Date) - Chosen Spot (Publisher)

5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

In his children’s tales, The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis takes readers to a fantastical place called Narnia. Though the tale is full of mystery and suspense, it is also an allegory for the Christian faith.

As the four children of the story travel through the Wardrobe, they meet a brave and fearsome lion who eventually lays down his life to save them. They must battle a witch and their own selfish tendencies throughout the book.

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia
  • HarperCollins
  • Hardcover Book
  • C.S. Lewis (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 784 Pages - 10/26/2004 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins Narnia (Publisher)

6. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Lord of the Rings is not an allegory specifically, but it can have an allegorical interpretation. The ring that the main characters go in search of signifies personal greed and the evil of the human heart. The battle between good and evil is another form of allegory that is clear in the book.

Lord of the Rings also details the pilgrimage of the characters as they go on their epic quest, and that has many similar themes to other Christian allegories like The Pilgrim’s Progress. Some have even claimed that the story was an allegory for World War II, since it was published about a decade after the wars ended.

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”

J.R.R. Tolkien
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The Lord of the Rings 3-Book Paperback Box Set
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1536 Pages - 11/03/2020 (Publication Date) - Clarion Books (Publisher)

7. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Lord of the Flies explores what happens when a group of boys is stranded on an island with no adults. As they strive to set up some sense of society, they realize that they also have a strong pull towards transforming into savages.

This is the main allegory of this book, that every human person has an impulse both towards civilization and savagery. 

“We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?” 

William Golding
Lord of the Flies
  • School is starting, order your book today!
  • William Golding (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 12/16/2003 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

8. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Pryne lives in puritan Boston. When she is found to be pregnant, she is shunned and forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” for adulterer on her clothing. She never tells the father of the child.

When the father of the child reveals himself, the allegory of legalism, sin, and guilt becomes clear. This short story has been studied often in English classes across the country because of its symbolic meaning.

“We men of study, whose heads are in our books, have need to be straightly looked after! We dream in our waking moments, and walk in our sleep.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter (Reader's Library Classics)
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 214 Pages - 02/18/2021 (Publication Date) - Reader's Library Classics (Publisher)

9. The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

This epic poem is considered one of the most influential in the English language. The Faerie Queene follows Queen Elizabeth I on an epic story of romance and renaissance in the Middle Ages.

Though it is filled with tales of chivalry and love, the poem is also an example of political and moral allegory. It also celebrates the queen’s dynasty. 

“For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.”

Edmund Spenser
The Faerie Queene: Books IV-VI
  • Spenser, Edmund (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 386 Pages - 12/07/2014 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

10. The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss

Another children’s book, The Sneetches tells the story of two groups of creatures, one who has stars on its belly and one who does not. When the non-starred Sneetches get the chance to gain stars, the starred Sneetches no longer feel superior.

Throughout the tale, the Sneetches switch back and forth from starred to unstarred until they realize the foolishness of their ways.

This allegorical tale explores the true stupidity of racism and the divisive feelings that led up to the genocide of World War II. It also shows just how costly prejudice can be.

“Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.”

Dr. Seuss
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The Sneetches and Other Stories
  • Hard cover
  • Bedtime story
  • English Language
  • Acid Free text block
  • Hardcover Book

11. The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible is a classic play about the Salem witch trials. Arthur Miller wrote the play in reaction to being accused of communistic tendencies by a lawmaker.

The allegory in The Crucible compares the McCarthyism of the writer’s day to the idiocy of the Salem witch trials. Through The Crucible, Miller was able to show that many of his peers were simply looking for communists under every rock.

“A child’s spirit is like a child, you can never catch it by running after it; you must stand still, and, for love, it will soon itself come back.”

Arthur Miller
The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts
  • Penguin Books
  • Miller, Arthur (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 143 Pages - 03/25/2003 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

A Final Word on Examples of Allegory

Political and religious allegory stories are found all throughout literature. This literary device makes stories more interesting to study. It also challenges the thoughts and beliefs of the reader but in a non-confrontational way.

Readers should make sure they aren’t finding allegory everywhere they look, but often there is some to be found with a little digging. By studying these classic examples of allegory, you can learn to spot the themes in the books you read as well.

FAQs About Examples of Allegory

Is The Crucible an allegory?

Yes, The Crucible is an allegorical tale that shows just how dangerous a community becomes when it becomes engulfed by paranoia and hysteria.

What is an example of allegory?

One of the most well-known examples of allegory is Animal Farm by Orwell. This story explores what happens when farm animals rebel against tyranny only to fall into socialism. 

Is Alice in Wonderland an Allegory?

While not an explicit allegory, many have made connections between the book and aspects of
Victorian Britain in the time it was written. The most obvious parallel being that of Queen
Victoria and the ‘Queen of Hearts’ being created in a time of very brutal colonisation on the part
of the British Empire. However, others have made connections to then burgeoning scientific
trends, something explored humorously in the book ‘Alice in Quantumland’ by Robert Gilmore.

Is The Big Lebowski an Allegory?

While the Big Lebowski alludes to many political themes and modern ideas (even quoting
George Bush Snr at one point), the film isn’t an allegory for one specific idea or concept. Rather,
It is an absurd comedy in which other allegorical characters fight for what they believe in, with the reluctant Dude quite happy to stay out of out these bigger and loftier concepts.

Is Wind in the Willows an Allegory?

While not an explicit allegory, some have observed that Wind in the Willows has themes that the
author Kenneth Grahame was facing in his day. For example, while the book is clearly in a
quaint forest setting, we see the beginnings of car automation and the characters’ desire to
move to the ‘warm south’, implying that this more carefree world is coming to an end in the face
of progress and industrialisation.

How is The Crucible an allegory for McCarthyism?

The Crucible, while written about the Salem Witch Trials, is very pointedly a criticism of the
McCarthy hearings, in which American citizens were accused of secretly colluding with
communists in front of huge crowds.

The most pointed similarity is the process in which accused people could simply name other potential suspects to be released from suspicion, leading to mass hysteria and many innocent losing their livelihoods and facing imprisonment.

Is the story of Adam and Eve an Allegory?

With the story being a part of religious doctrine, it is hard to definitively say if Adam and Eve has
an intended allegorical message. However, many Christian interpreters view it as an allegory for
the relationship between God and man, with God providing eternal happiness and humanity
suffering temptation. Equally, it shares similarities with the Greek legend of Pandora’s box in
regards to divinity and humanity’s temptation.

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  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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