This is part two of my Symbolism in Literature posts. I recently read a book that heightened my awareness of the symbolism I read in other books, and, more importantly, the symbolism—of lack thereof—in my own writing. Here is a brief summary of two concepts from the book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster.
Eating Together: The act of taking food into our bodies is so personal that we really only want to do it with people we feel comfortable with. For that reason when we, or our characters, choose to eat with others it says, “I’m with you, I like you, we form a community together.” We sense that without having to really think about it.
But reading about meals is not that interesting. We've all eaten great food, and unless we are reading Bon Appetit, we probably don't care that much about the delicious marinara sauce or the aroma of roasted turkey--we've all been there. So, to put characters in this mundane, overused, fairly boring situation, something more has to be happening than simply beef, forks, and goblets.
Consider then the deeper meanings inherent in different meal situations. A third person arrives unexpectedly and someone throws down a napkin and leaves the table. A slick villain invites an enemy to dine with him and then has him killed. Two men from opposing camps join up to share their skimpy rations.
The providing of food by one person to another is symbolic in itself: I care about you, I want to protect you. Which is why "I'm feeding you to keep you alive so I can kill you later" feels so wrong.
Weather: I think we all have a good grasp behind the symbolism of weather, but a quick review can’t hurt. Rain is probably the most common symbolic weather element. It is used as a plot device to force people together, seeking shelter, who might not otherwise come together or choose to be together. Rain is mysterious, isolating, and causes miserable conditions. Rain has a paradoxical side, it cleanses the earth and brings re-birth and new life (literally and symbolically) while at the same time creating mud, muck and disasters, and ushering in chills, colds, pneumonia and death. It is an equalizer, falling on both the just and the unjust.
Fog is used to symbolize confusion, a mental barrier, stoppage of time, an omen. Wind, snow, fire, clouds, no clouds, sunshine, darkness…there is no limit to the imagery weather can conjure up in our minds.
As writers, we can use symbolism to make our stories more effective and engage our readers imaginations on a more meaningful level