Allegory vs. Metaphor — What's the Difference?
By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on October 3, 2023
Allegory is a narrative with symbolic figures, actions, or representations conveying a deeper meaning. Metaphor is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things without using "like" or "as".
Difference Between Allegory and Metaphor
Table of Contents
An Allegory is a comprehensive narrative that involves characters, events, or settings used symbolically to represent deeper, often moral or philosophical, meanings. On the other hand, a Metaphor is a direct comparison between two seemingly unrelated subjects, highlighting shared characteristics.
Allegory often spans a whole story, poem, or book, where every element can symbolize a separate aspect of the allegorical meaning. In contrast, Metaphor is usually a concise comparison within a broader context, not necessarily defining the entire work.
While both Allegory and Metaphor deal with representation, allegory is more about embodying abstract ideas into concrete forms throughout a story. Metaphor, however, focuses on an implied similarity between two distinct entities.
The use of Allegory tends to be extended and involves multi-layered meanings that can be interpreted in various ways. Whereas a Metaphor usually serves a specific point in a narrative or discourse, drawing a clear parallel between two elements.
Allegory often requires deeper reflection and interpretation to uncover its underlying message. At the same time, Metaphor offers a more immediate comparison that readers or listeners can grasp with ease, even if its depth can be explored further.
Extended narrative or story
Spans entire works
Characters/events symbolize deeper meanings
Implied similarity between two distinct entities
Clear, direct parallel
Encodes abstract ideas in concrete forms throughout a story
Highlights shared characteristics
Compare with Definitions
A story in which characters or events symbolize deeper meanings
Animal Farm is an Allegory of the Russian Revolution.
A direct comparison between two unrelated things
Life is a roller coaster.
A representation of abstract ideas through characters, events, or symbols
The Allegory of the Cave reflects on human perception.
An expression emphasizing shared characteristics
The classroom was a zoo.
A tale with a dual meaning - literal and symbolic
The Divine Comedy is an Allegory of the soul's journey towards God.
A figure of speech indicating one thing is another
Time is a thief.
A narrative technique to convey moral, philosophical, or political messages
The novel uses Allegory to critique totalitarian regimes.
A linguistic tool to convey similarity without using "like" or "as"
The world's a stage.
Extended metaphorical narrative
His poem is an Allegory of love and loss.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide (or obscure) clarity or identify hidden similarities between two different ideas.
As a literary device, an allegory is a narrative in which a character, place, or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences. Authors have used allegory throughout history in all forms of art to illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.
A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable
Her poetry depends on suggestion and metaphor
When we speak of gene maps and gene mapping, we use a cartographic metaphor
A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one
Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory of the spiritual journey
A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in "a sea of troubles" or "All the world's a stage" (Shakespeare).
The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.
One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol
"Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for the crass, the materialistic, the shallow, and the craven" (Neal Gabler).
A story, picture, or play employing such representation. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick are allegories.
The use of a word or phrase to refer to something other than its literal meaning, invoking an implicit similarity between the thing described and what is denoted by the word or phrase.
A symbolic representation
The blindfolded figure with scales is an allegory of justice.
A word or phrase used in such implied comparison.
(rhetoric) A narrative in which a character, place, or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences.
The use of an everyday object or concept to represent an underlying facet of the computer and thus aid users in performing tasks.
Desktop metaphor; wastebasket metaphor
A picture, book, or other form of communication using such representation.
(intransitive) To use a metaphor.
A symbolic representation which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, usually a moral or political one.
(transitive) To describe by means of a metaphor.
A category that retains some of the structure of the category of binary relations between sets, representing a high-level generalisation of that category.
The transference of the relation between one set of objects to another set for the purpose of brief explanation; a compressed simile; e. g., the ship plows the sea.
A figurative sentence or discourse, in which the principal subject is described by another subject resembling it in its properties and circumstances. The real subject is thus kept out of view, and we are left to collect the intentions of the writer or speaker by the resemblance of the secondary to the primary subject.
A figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity
Anything which represents by suggestive resemblance; an emblem.
Implied analogy or unstated comparison
His words were a dagger to her heart.
A figure representation which has a meaning beyond notion directly conveyed by the object painted or sculptured.
A short moral story (often with animal characters)
A visible symbol representing an abstract idea
An expressive style that uses fictional characters and events to describe some subject by suggestive resemblances; an extended metaphor
Can an entire book be an allegory?
Yes, many books are written as extended Allegories, where the entire narrative symbolizes deeper meanings.
Does a metaphor use "like" or "as" for comparison?
No, unlike similes, a Metaphor doesn’t use "like" or "as" in its comparison.
What's the primary function of an allegory?
An Allegory primarily serves to convey deeper symbolic meanings through characters or events.
Is a metaphor a type of comparison?
Yes, a Metaphor is a direct comparison between two seemingly unrelated things.
Which is typically longer, an allegory or a metaphor?
An Allegory is usually extended, often spanning entire works, while a Metaphor is generally brief.
Why are allegories used in literature?
Allegories are used to encode abstract ideas or messages in a way that's engaging and thought-provoking for readers.
Is every story with symbols an allegory?
Not necessarily; while an Allegory employs symbols, not every story with symbols qualifies as an allegory.
Can a metaphor exist within an allegory?
Yes, an Allegory can contain many literary devices, including Metaphors.
Is "The world's a stage" an allegory or metaphor?
"The world's a stage" is a Metaphor.
What's an example of a famous allegory?
"The Allegory of the Cave" by Plato is a well-known Allegory about human perception.
Are all metaphors symbolic?
While Metaphors convey implied similarities and can be symbolic, they're not always as layered or as extended as allegories.
Can a work have both allegorical and literal meanings?
Yes, an Allegory often has both a surface (literal) narrative and a deeper (symbolic) meaning.
Which is more straightforward, an allegory or a metaphor?
A Metaphor is typically more direct and immediate, whereas an Allegory often requires deeper interpretation.
Does a metaphor always need two elements for comparison?
Yes, a Metaphor involves comparing two distinct things, emphasizing their shared characteristics.
Can songs contain metaphors?
Absolutely! Songs often use Metaphors to convey emotions, ideas, or stories.
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Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.