Assume we have a literary masterpiece that is abundant in symbolism and metaphors. Within this masterpiece, the author uses a brook running through a glade of trees to represent a couple of things within his novel. Here is where I get confused with the true difference between what is a symbol and what is a metaphor.

The brook supposedly represents a character within the book, so to me this means it's a symbol. Yet the path that the brook takes through the glade is also supposed to represent various aspects of the life of the character, which to me is a metaphor.

So here is my question: can an object be both a symbol and a metaphor at the same time? If not, then how does one determine which of the two it is?


They're related, but generally a metaphor is used to draw a comparison between two distinct objects, whereas a symbol is used a stand-in for a much more complex, and generally more abstract, idea. In literature, a metaphor would typically be used in a specific instance to compare two objects, but a symbol would be used throughout the work as a major part of the theme.

  • I really like your description of a metaphor and a symbol. – Jagd Aug 18 '10 at 14:51

I would think that both can be used at the same time because a symbol doesn't necessarily transcribe directly into the novel. It's more of an abstract thought whereas a metaphor is more directly given to the reader.

Think of it this way, if the brook wasn't a symbol for the character, but it still contained the metaphor for his life, who would it apply to? The symbol is required otherwise the metaphor doesn't belong to anyone.

protected by RegDwigнt Jun 9 '12 at 9:19

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