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Literature Glossary

Don’t be an oxymoron. Know your literary terms.

Over 200 literary terms, Shmooped to perfection.



A symbol is something that represents something else. We know—super helpful, right?

Want more clarity? Okay, how about this: a symbol is a word, an image, or anything that somehow represents a larger idea. In other words, what you see is not just what you get. Symbols are more than meets the eye. They're loaded with meaning.

Example? In America, eagles are a symbol of freedom. In punk rock, the safety pin is a symbol of rebellion. In Western literature, the apple is often a symbol for sin. See how that works?

But when talking about symbols, it's also important to remember that the symbol is still itself, in addition to what it symbolizes. So when you see an apple in a book and immediately think of sin, don't forget that it's also just an apple. And someone's probably going to eat it. Or at least bake it into a pie.

Symbols carry great power in literature. In fact, we here at Shmoop set aside entire sections of our literature and poetry learning guides just to discuss them.

To see the Shmoop analysis gnomes in action, check out holes in, um, Holes or the birthmark in, uh, The Birthmark. Hmm, we're sensing a pattern here…