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Linguistics Allegory

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Picture This

The imagery in Fox in Socks serves as a type of allegory for Ferdinand de Saussure's idea of the signified and signifier. Wait, seriously? Isn't this a children's book? Sure it is, but that doesn't mean we can't use it to enlighten some interesting philosophical issues. And we're going to do it.

Hope you brought your thinking caps because it's going to get a little theoretical.


Saussure is a fancy pants thinker who came up with the idea of the sign in linguistics. Basically, the sign is a part of any system—in this case language system—that separates itself from all other parts of the system due to its distinctions. For example, if someone says apple, you know he's not talking about a car because the word apple conjures up a distinct sign. In this case, the apple is different than the other because it's (a) a fruit and (b) doesn't run on a combustible engine.

The sign creates this distinction based on two components: the signifier and the signified. The signified is the thing the sign represents (i.e., a physical apple you'd find hanging from a tree or at a grocery store). The signifier is the word used to represent the signified (i.e., the word apple as appearing on your screen this very second).

So What?

The reason we bring this up is because Fox in Socks really brings the idea of the sign, signifier, and signified to bear in many interesting ways.

For example, the image of Slow Joe Crow doesn't look like a typical crow, and we accept this fact. Why? For starters, because it's a children's book, so we are willing to accept a wider array of signified for the signifier crow.

But if we were reading a scientific article on crows, would we picture something like Slow Joe Crow. Um, no. Why? Because that would be an unacceptable signified for a signifier appearing in such an article. In other words, a word like crow doesn't just mean crow and that's that. Where we encounter the word crow, the type of book we encounter it in—whether a children's book or scientific journal or science fiction novel—alters how we will imagine the signified.

But We're Not Done Yet!

Fox and Socks can also uncover the dark side of the sign…; okay, maybe the term dark side is a little much.

Anyway, you'll notice as you read that Bim and Ben receive no description in the text. They literally just "come" into things bearing brooms (32.1-2). We know they are cat(ish) critters wearing pajamas because the illustration shows us they are, but the words never give us this impression.

Without the illustration, we could have mentally conjured up any look we wanted for Bim and Ben. They could have been people or anthropomorphic frogs or robots wearing party hats. But the illustration combined with the words provides a signified that can never been undone in the reader's mind. Bim and Ben must look a certain way because that's what these words represent.

It leads to some interesting questions about imaginative power in children's books. Sure, the author/illustrator deserve to have their will imprinted upon the book, but in cases like Fox in Socks we find that sometimes the author's vision can actually lessen the imaginative vision of the readers.

On the other hand, as we discuss in our "Illustrations" section, it's possible that without the pictures, our mind would simply skip over the words, never bothering to imagine Bim and Ben in any meaningful way.

Now, we're not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing. We're simply saying these are interesting ideas to consider, and Fox in Socks is a great book to consider them with.

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