glorybee wrote:Steve, I'd like to hear more about symbolism (or its lack) in parables.
So, are you anti-symbolism, then?
No, not anti-symbol. Just anti-deconstructionism. I do think that we can be personally persuaded that symbolism exists where it doesn’t and that that can either enhance or diminish ENJOYMENT of a piece. But I do not believe that imagined symbolism can help us UNDERSTAND a piece nor to PROPERLY INTERPRET it as an act of criticism.
I also think that we can use something in a book to make an analogy, but that is an independent issue of whether the author intended it. It is interesting that Chely mentioned Dr. Seuss in this regard. I once gave a talk (to “Religious Right activists” and fellow travelers, including those who were looking for ways to make the issue resonate with soccer moms) in which I used the pink mess from The Cat and the Hat Comes Back as an analogy for our efforts to fight the homosexual agenda. I said that no matter what efforts me made, things seemed to get worse and worse—pinker and pinker (as in the pink triangle). What we need, I told my audience, is a VOOM solution—a Federal Marriage Amendment. I’M SURE DR. SEUSS WOULD BE THRILLED! (By the way, please don’t take this thread political—I am just illustrating what we can do with the work of others.)
Now how absurd it would be for me to say that is what Dr. Seuss intended or that this is the true interpretation of the Cat and the Hat Comes Back. Yet deconstructionists do things like this all the time. I don’t believe that we can go part way down the path. I we say the reader controls the piece, what limiting principles can possibly exist to say our interpretation –which of course WE will always think is reasonable—can be permitted, but the next person’s can’t—which we might find bizarre, but THAT PERSON thinks is reasonable.
OK, new, item: I also believe that an author can put symbolism in a piece and then forget that he (he = common gender, not masculine) did so or at least what it represented. The story is told that Don McLean has forgotten much of the symbolism that he put in his song American Pie. I have no idea whether the story is true, but I find it believable. That leads to the interesting dilemma that everyone knows there is symbolism in a piece but no one may know what it means!
I think I may have already done that with my novel. I have a recollection of planting a symbol or two in the novel and can’t recall what it was. I’m afraid I may not even spot it on the next read through!
Now, the parables. A few parables are clearly allegorical and we know this because Jesus explains what each symbol represents. For example, in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13) Jesus explains:
18"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."
Similarly, (same Chapter) Jesus explains the parable of the weeds:
37He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
But the current conventional wisdom (which was "floated" during the Reformation, but only captured the field around 1900) is that unless Jesus explains that a parable is allegorical, we should not (or should only seldomly with great caution) interpret it as an allegory. We should only look for a main point, e.g., the gradual growth of the Kingdom, the value of the Kingdom, the cost of discipleship.
At an early stage in Church history and continuing for the better part of two millennia, not only were all parables interpreted allegorically, but the things supposedly symbolized were often then-contemporary events, people, institutions, etc., although sometimes the interpretation was done with an eye to otherwise ascertainable biblical truths.
In the first category were many of the items that the Reformation rejected, e.g., purgatory, preference for fish, Mary’s sinlessness. In the latter category is Origen’s interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan: The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord’s body, the [inn], which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. … The manager of the [inn] is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming.
The closest thing to symbolism (at least that I can remember!) in one of my entries is the bonsai techniques and shapes in Tricks of the Trade
. In the piece, I actually called the bonsai techniques and shapes a metaphor, but what I did with it is not that different from the scarlet A in the Scarlet Letter. In all of Jan’s other examples, the symbolism is symbolism directed at the READER. The scarlet A is symbolism directed at the CHARACTERS. Similarly, my symbolism/metaphor was directed at my character, Agent 2317. Of course, when you do this, it is put in front of the reader, as well.