Allegory Is My Nemesis

Studio shot of man with stack of books on head
Studio shot of man with stack of books on head

Don't you hate allegory? Seems to me that allegory was created to separate readers into two groups: people that understand allegory, and people who don't.

I'm in the latter group. I'm a pretty experienced reader, and I feel fairly confident that I can absorb, with some regularity, an author's message, slant, intent and, most important, emotion. But when I read something that suggests a hidden meaning, I start to feel the sweat of nervousness accumulating on my neck.

Recently, I started reading a book that, according to reviewers and other sadists, was sure to win a prestigious award. I should have known better. Awards, some say, are given to very good books that few people actually want to read. My own overweight bookshelves are a pretty good testament to that adage. I have hard cover editions of all the major tomes, their perfect, unbroken bindings taunt vertically at me from a sloping shelf. Did I buy them because I thought they'd make me seem erudite? More likely, they were on sale at Costco. My copy of one hefty prize-winner is currently in use as a footstool under my desk.

The definition of allegory is a short story, poem or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. The book I'm reading is clearly trying to reveal something, but what is it? My husband commented that he'd never seen me read more slowly. "That's because I'm missing something," I explained. "This story is trying to say something about something. But I can't figure out what it is. I feel like a half-wit!" I took off my reading glasses and massaged my eyes. "It could be about communism or love or risk. It's sort of like the Odyssey." I took off my reading glasses and massaged my burning eyes. "It's a quest, with choices that impact the entire world. And there are serfs, and..." I stopped. "Ugh. I'll have to find my book on mythology. " I put the book on the nightstand, giving up for the night. "I know I'm supposed to glean something," I said to my husband. "But I just don't know what to glean." I'd hoped for a response but he was was already asleep.

There are many literary devises to enthrall the reader. Take metaphor, for example. Metaphor is easy. Spoiled rotten. Pleased as punch. Metaphor is a frequent participant in ordinary speech, and no one walks away with creases in the forehead trying to figure out what a punch has to be pleased about. We get it.

Hyperbole looks harder than it is. Hyperbole is simple exaggeration. I have a million things to do today. That's hyperbole (unless, of course, you work at the speed of an android like Data of Star Trek the Next Generation). No one is confounded by hyperbole, as far as I know.

Parody is one of my favs. Parody is a distorted imitation of a famous person with the intent to ridicule. SNL parodies people in the news every week, exaggerating slips, missteps, blunders or generalized idiocy. Parody is fun. At least the people employing parody appear to be having fun.

Allegory is not fun. Allegory requires a herculean effort, a nose-to-the-gindstone attitude, and David v. Goliath determination. I am going to finish this book if it takes a lifetime, even though I do not possess the patience of Job or the will of Pegasus.

I thumb my nose at allegory! With reading glasses my shield as and ice tea as my sword, I'll conquer the last thirty pages of this irksome narrative without spilling a drop of blood. (See what I mean?) Let's hope I finish before Godot comes back.