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  Allegory (Greek, ‘putting it another way’) is a technique widely used in fine art (especially Western narrative painting) and in literature. In narrative painting, allegory involves an action being the vehicle for a covert meaning or interpretation. The ‘real meaning’ of a Renaissance nude, for example, may not be sensual pleasure but the personification of Truth. The presentation of fable and myth in history painting, and the presentation of dogmatic parable in religious painting, are clear examples of allegory, to the point where the ‘meaning’ of the painting can be entirely lost unless the allegory is understood. Such presentations are common throughout the history of Western narrative painting, from medieval depictions of the Seven Deadly Sins to the representation of Liberty as a semi-clad woman in Delacroix\'s Liberty Leading the People (1830), or the snakes, insects, lions, rats and other creatures into which our leaders are regularly turned in political cartoons. Other allegories are more occluded and need a more complicated set of references to decode them. Thus the representation of the story ‘Hercules at the Crossroads’ is allegorical, as he must choose between the rocky path of virtue or the broad plain of vice—each indicated by an alluring woman. Allegory in painting is not a genre, or even of itself a narrative. It relies on the beholder\'s ability to interpret devices such as the personification of abstract notions (for instance, good and evil as human figures) or the use of convention and symbol (for example the ant for industry or the lily for purity).

In Western art, three favourite sources of allegory were Ovid\'s Metamorphoses (perhaps the origin of the technique, as it consists of stories of people who change into objects such as trees or rocks), the Bible, and the various knight-errant epics and fables (such as George and the Dragon and the Holy Grail saga) which were a staple of medieval European imaginative literature. Allegory largely disappeared from art with the advent of modernism, though 20th-century artists have since developed a variety of symbolic iconography of their own (for example, Giorgio de Chirico\'s and Salvador Dali\'s landscapes, and Joan Miró\'s eared ladders), which is as rich and complex as anything from the past.

In literature, allegory is a technique in which events or symbols of one kind stand for those of another. Examples are the way the physical journey and adventures described in John Bunyan\'s The Pilgrim\'s Progress stand for the journey and temptations of the Christian soul, and in J.D. Salinger\'s novel The Catcher in the Rye the way Holden Caulfield\'s exploration of the underbelly of New York stands for the emergence of adult sensibility from adolescent hope and angst.

Allegory is a form of irony; one in which the added meanings are generally more significant than the events onto which they are grafted. Religious allegory was especially popular in medieval Europe, when stories of love, descriptions of nature and tales of heroic adventure were all allegorized to have a deeper, Christian meaning. Typical examples are versions of the Holy Grail and Parsifal legends, in which knights stand for the beleaguered Christian soul, dragons and wizards for the Devil and his minions, and attainment of the goal is overlaid with images of transfiguration and ascension into heaven.

Allegories may also be philosophical and political. Philosophical allegory underlies works as diverse as Virgil\'s Aeneid, Edmund Spenser\'s The Faery Queen, Voltaire\'s Candide, Albert Camus\'s The Plague and William Golding\'s Lord of the Flies (in which the social degeneration of a group of boys marooned on a desert island allegorizes the author\'s view of the immanence of evil in human life). Political allegories include such works as Aristophanes\' Knights (in which a contest between two slaves for their master\'s favour stands for the place-seeking of politicians), Geoffrey Chaucer\'s Parliament of Fowls, Joseph Conrad\'s The Heart of Darkness (reworked as an antiwar allegory in Francis Ford Coppola\'s 1979 film Apocalypse Now), Arthur Miller\'s The Crucible (in which the witch-hunts of Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th century symbolize the McCarthy anti-Communist hearings of the 1950s), and George Orwell\'s Animal Farm (in which a power struggle in a farmyard represents the rise of Stalinism in the USSR).

Outside the West, allegory has been used less overtly. For instance, Persian and Arabic literature consistently uses the image of a beautiful garden as an allegory for philosophical order and tranquillity of the soul. The Japanese writer Murasaki Shikibu\'s The Tale of Genji is, in part, a political allegory; Sufi preachers use anecdotes (similar to Aesop\'s Fables) to allegorize the religious, social and ethical problems human beings face, and the ways they should deal with them. PD KMcL

See also symbolism.Further reading J. MacQueen, Allegory.



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