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Myth and Symbol in Modern Literature

Updated on June 20, 2012
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Myth and Symbol


In the modern literature myth and symbol have gradually acquired a great significance as the appropriate language and the appropriate form for expressing man’s deepest thoughts and highest aspirations. Myths embodying accounts of supernatural beings and actions originated to project philosophical speculation and explain religious beliefs. In course of time, their popularity increased and they became significant because of their spontaneity and collectivity, expressing some lastingly and generally satisfying account of the experience of man. Owing to their universal nature and timelessness and power to convey that which cannot be otherwise expressed, the modern writers have found in myths a useful media for communicating the predicament of the contemporary human situation in a larger perspective of time and leave an immediate impact upon readers who because of their previous knowledge of myths find their response enriched by an element of recognition.

Like myth symbol also as visible sign of something invisible or as that which embodies and is capable of evoking indefinite suggestiveness becomes a useful tool for modern writers for the comprehension and communication of their profound vision of reality and the secret and indefinable impulses of the human spirit. Charged by their imagination, symbols acquire greater evocative and perceptive power. A mythic symbol, i.e. a symbol derived from a myth, emerges as an archetypal image and evokes deep emotional response in the reader it resonates with an image already existing in his unconscious mind.

By its original meaning in Greek, the word symbol implies throwing or putting together. This connotation of symbols has led Cassirer to describe them as mediatory tools which help man to participate both in the realm of the spirit and the realm of matter, and made Jung consider them as means of uniting the conscious with the unconscious. It is, however, Whitehead who has discovered in this meaning of symbol the significant idea of its power and function to join parts of literary work together in the service of the whole and thus create a full vision of reality and put it to he apprehension of readers.

While poets have been using myths and symbols for a long period as appropriate tools to communicate their profound view of life, novelists have made a conscious use of them only in the modern period. While Thomas Mann and Kafka have found myths and symbolism as appropriate devices to convey their view of contemporary man’s predicament in the universe, Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Lawrence express hidden recesses and motives of human through them.

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    • anupma profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Anupma Srivastava 

      4 years ago from India

      Thanks Dan for reading and your precious comment.

    • Dan Barfield profile image

      Dan Barfield 

      4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Love your writing - and on a topic I find fascinating too. I read about a concept of symbol as the best (if still imperfect) method of trying to communicate or describe the true nature of things. The theory is that unlike regular writing which one decodes using rational linguistic faculties of thought, a symbol like a hieroglyph speaks to us on an aesthetic level as well thus stimulating the hemispheres of our brain into a more harmonious (and thus open to insight) state...

      At least I think that's the jist :) - it certainly piqued my interest.

      Great writing Anupma! I look forward to reading more...

    • profile image

      IntegrityYes 

      6 years ago

      You are very welcome. Keep them deep and powerful.

    • anupma profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Anupma Srivastava 

      6 years ago from India

      Thanks Integrity Yes

    • profile image

      IntegrityYes 

      6 years ago

      Your writing is amazing!

    • anupma profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Anupma Srivastava 

      6 years ago from India

      Thanks Laurasmother. Of course I will share some more information about it.

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