Symbolism Essay

"Barn Burning" or "Paul's Case" Essay

Symbols are used in literature for a variety of purposes. Typically, symbols used in a short story will have both universal meanings and meanings specific to the story itself. For example, in "Young Goodman Brown" (Hawthorne), Faith's pink ribbons are both a universal symbol of feminine innocence, and a story-specific device to cue the reader that Faith (represented by the ribbons) was in fact present in the evil assembly in the forest. In this case, the symbol helps readers better understand the plot, which ultimately leads to a better understanding of both the main character and the author's intended theme.

Symbols can help readers to better understand characters, setting, plot, tone, mood and theme. Symbols are placed deliberately into stories by the authors to assist readers and eliminate possible incorrect interpretations.
Choose an object from one of these stories that has symbolic value. A partial list of ideas is given below, but you are free to choose another object. In a well-organized essay, discuss what the object represents (either universally or specifically within the story, or both). Explain how the symbolism functions within the story -- does it help the reader better understand a character, an aspect of the setting, a step in plot development, or an important theme? Does it set a tone or affect reader reaction? Conclude with an explanation of how the symbol hightens reader understanding and the story's theme.


Suggested Symbols

"Barn Burning"



the soiled rug

lye soap

Sarty's namesake

the sisters (bovine)

Major de Spain


the general store "courtroom"

Abner's injury

"Paul's Case"

red carnation

the theatre

the Waldorf hotel

Cordelia street

Charley Edwards

Paul's method of suicide

the portraits in Paul's bedroom

Paul's school and/or teachers

Paul's father


Focus Correction Areas (FCA's)

  1. The essay presents an in-depth and accurate analysis of an appropriate symbol. (10 points)
  2. Generalizations and interpretations are adequately supported with examples from the text. (10 points)
  3. The essay has a clearly stated thesis and fluent organization of ideas. (5 points)