Allegory is a device in which characters or events represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. Allegory has been used widely throughout the history of art, and in all forms of artwork. A reason for this is that allegory has an immense power of illustrating complex ideas and concepts in a digestible, concrete way. In allegory a message is communicated by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation. Allegory is generally treated as a figure of rhetoric; a rhetorical allegory is a demonstrative form of representation conveying meaning other than the words that are spoken.

Allegory of arithmetic, by Laurent de La Hyre, ca 1650
Allegory of arithmetic, by Laurent de La Hyre, ca 1650

As a literary device, an allegory in its most general sense is an extended metaphor. One of the best known examples is Plato's "The Allegory of the Cave." In this allegory, there are a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to the allegory, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality.

(source: Wikipedia)

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