I recently joined a reading club that meets by Zoom. We discuss symbolism versus allegory.
The problem with allegory is it breaks down too easily. Especially when it comes to religious allegories. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is partly an allegory but not a true one. It’s long and contains too many elements that don’t fit into the Crucifixion and Resurrection story.
There is a reason that Jesus’ parables were so short. The more complicated the story the harder it is to convey The Message without sounding preachy. Preachiness is essential to sermons, it can work for other kinds of nonfiction and religious songs and poetry. But for plays, movies, novels you can’t convey a simple message. The length will make The Message rattle around like a single marble in a cathedral.
You can lead the audience through the cathedral and yell, “Here’s the marble!” And have people throw it around in front of them. But it would be best to draw attention to other things in the building. Especially things put there on purpose by the designer and builders. Not thrown in as an afterthought.
In “The Metamorphosis” by Kafka, Gregor’s transformation symbolizes a sudden disability or illness. I read it as a college freshman just after “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Tolstoy and was surprised at how much the works had in common despite one being realism and the other surrealism/magical realism.
In my novel Maxwell’s Metamorphosis Curt’s transformation is humiliating and even disabling–in certain ways. Though Gregor could walk on the ceiling. But unlike Gregor Sampsa’s new form as a giant beetle, Curt’s renders him weak and insignificant rather than monstrous.
Curt’s shape is neither ugly nor terrifying. His biggest torment is his inability to frighten others.
Curt attracts a great deal more sympathy and compassion than Gregor the Roach. The humiliation comes from being forced to rely on others even though they usually give him what he wants. Due to his cute, pathetic appearance.
Dr. Maxwell’s metamorphosis symbolizes his spiritual weakness and powerlessness over his character flaws. And his transformed status as a minor symbolizes life under the law. Unknowingly he chose that life by refusing to repent and insisting he could live under the Rules he had set up for all to obey.
As a legalist Curt has never put childish things behind him but continues to think, speak and reason as a child. He lives childishly under the law rather than a mature adult under the New Covenant. Love has not had much influence over his life. Nathan, the angel symbolizes the Law.
I guess you could see the novel as a broken, imperfect allegory–or one containing allegorical elements of a soul being saved. But it also portrays interesting characters and a timeless view of moral conduct.
The theme is one of Salvation. But it does not contain Salvation as a message. (Acts 2 holds the message of Salvation.)
My goal in writing both the novel and Anemia was to entertain but also “baptize the imagination” of my reader. Every day before composing the rough draft I prayed that I could write in such a manner. Not to inform the reader’s head (Though there certainly is a time and place for that. Especially now.) but to inspire the heart.