Discover some of the best allegory examples from popular books, poems, and stories.
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.
Think of an allegory like an extended metaphor, and you can better understand this literary term. It’s also helpful to study famous works that are examples of this device.
Great Allegory Examples in English 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. Here are some of the most famous allegory books, poems, and stories that show how this literary element works.
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
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. For more books like this, check out our guide to the best satirical authors.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”George Orwell
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. For more, check out our guide to the best philosophy books.
“How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?”Plato
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. For more, check out our guide to the best fable authors
“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
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
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. Read our guide to the best British authors.
“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”J.R.R. Tolkien
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
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
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
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
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. It shows how dangerous a community becomes when it becomes engulfed by paranoia and hysteria.
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.
“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
12. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol
Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland is a popular allegory example. The film is an allegory for how children struggle to find their place in an adult world full of confusing rules. In the story, Alice discovers Wonderland, a place without rules where “Everyone is mad”. As the film progresses, the world shrinks.
Full of magical words and ideas, it’s an allegory for Alice growing up. She ultimately learns that the animals are nothing more than a “pack of cards” and rejoins the real adult world or wakes up.
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 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.
Alice in Wonderland was a 1951 Disney musical-fantasy film directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske. In 2010, Tim Burton remade this work.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”Lewis Carol
13. The Big Lebowski by The Coen Brothers
The Big Lebowski is a hit crime comedy film from 1998 staring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Julianne Moore. It tells the story of bowler and all-round slacker “The Dude” who is assaulted due to mistaken identity. The book takes inspiration from the works of Raymond Chandler.
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 allegorical characters fight for what they believe in, with the reluctant Dude quite happy to stay out of out these bigger and loftier concepts. Some critics have used The Big Lebowski as an allegory to critique gender roles sexual fetishism.
“Just take it easy, man.”The Coen Brothers
14. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
The Wind in the Willows is a 1908 novel that Grahame based on bedtime stories he read to his only son. It recounts the tale of Mole, Ratty and Badger. They aim to help their friend Mr. Toad after he gets into trouble. The book has been adapted as a play and film several times.
While not an explicit allegory, some critics have observed that The Wind in the Willows addresses themes author Kenneth Grahame faced in the early 1900s.
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.
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”Kenneth Grahame
15. Adam and Eve
While this story is 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.
“Well, knowledge is a fine thing, and mother Eve thought so; but she smarted so severely for hers, that most of her daughters have been afraid of it since.”
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.
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