An allegory is an extended metaphor; the elements of the story – characters, setting, objects, plot points – mean something beyond the literal. They can be interpreted to represent something else.
In rare cases, it is possible to interpret an allegory in multiple ways, but most times each part of the story can only be interpreted one way if it is all to make sense. All the major parts of the story should reasonably parallel something to class it as an allegory.
Fables and parables are forms of allegory.
A fable is a short tale, often with non-human characters. The story illustrates a moral, sometimes stating the lesson directly at the story’s end.
Parables typically have human characters and illustrate a moral or lesson.
Here are some stories that might interest an avid reader, or that might be suitable short stories for middle school kids.
The Bound Man | Ilse Aichinger
A man awakens on a path robbed, bleeding, and with arms and legs bound. He struggles to his feet and tries to make his way to the nearest town.
A Hunger Artist | Franz Kafka
A hunger artist – a professional faster – puts on public fasting exhibitions. The public responds enthusiastically at first, but eventually loses interest.
This allegory could represent the misunderstood artist who isn’t appreciated by the public.
The Appointment in Samarra | W. Somerset Maugham
A servant meets Death in a Bagdad marketplace and flees from him.
This parable shows it’s impossible to avoid death.
The Unicorn in the Garden | James Thurber
A man sees a unicorn in his garden eating flowers. He tells his wife but she dismisses it.
This story contrasts fantasy and reality.
Menagerie, a Child’s Fable | Charles Johnson
When the owner of a pet store doesn’t come in for a few days, the animals get out of their cages and try to survive and govern themselves.
Despite the title, this story is written for the adult reader. It deals with the oppression, racism, fascism, and war in the world.
The Zebra Storyteller | Spencer Holst
A Siamese cat learns to speak to Zebras, taking advantage of the shock of it to tie them up and kill them.
This fable illustrates the function of the storyteller.
A Day Goes By | Luigi Pirandello
A man finds himself in a deserted train station with no memory of how he got there or who he is. He leaves the station, trying to get a sense of his identity and what is happening.
This allegory parallels a man’s life from birth to shortly before death. More specifically, it is likely an allegory for Pirandello’s life.
Before the Law | Franz Kafka
A man tries to gain access to the law. He waits for years, but the doorkeeper prevents him from entering. The man tries various bribes to gain entry.
This parable could illustrate the futility of searching for meaning in life, or the indifference of the universe to humans.
The Travelers and the Plane Tree | Aesop
Two travelers rest under a plane tree and complain about how useless it is.
The lesson of this fable is that there’s good in everything, or to appreciate small blessings.
The Destructors | Graham Greene
A gang of teenage boys decide to demolish a house when the owner goes away for a few days.
This is an allegory about postwar England: the authority, traditions, and values of the past are rejected by the younger generation.
It can also be read as an allegory about power, such as the young postwar generation seeking power or dictators who escalate conflicts.
Half a Day | Naguib Mahfouz
A young boy has his first day in school. His experiences parallel the events of a lifetime.
The Minister’s Black Veil: A Parable | Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Reverend of a small church turns up one day for the service with a black veil covering his face. His parishioners are confused and uncomfortable with the change. There is much speculation about the reason for the veil, and they hope it’s just a passing fancy.
The black veil could represent Original Sin, secret sin, or pride.
The Country of the Blind | H. G. Wells
Nunez, a mountain climber and adventurer, falls during a climb and ends up finding a village in a nearby valley. The inhabitants have been blind for generations. Nunez has found the legendary Country of the Blind and, as a sighted man, believes he will rule this people.
This parable shows that the adage “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”, is false.
The Widow and the Parrot: A True Story | Virginia Woolf
Mrs. Gage is an elderly widow, lame, short-sighted and poor, who gets a letter informing her of her brother’s death. She is to inherit her brother’s possessions and money, so she borrows some money from her minister to make the trip to her brother’s town.
This fable has the moral that kindness to animals will be rewarded.
The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket | Yasunari Kawabata
The narrator sees a group of children with colorful lanterns looking for singing grasshoppers. They put a lot of effort into making their lanterns and take pride in them. Eventually, a boy, Fujio, finds a grasshopper.
This parable offers a lesson about looking for someone to love – finding someone who is rare like a bell cricket is difficult, and after a heart break even a rare woman will seem common.
The Fence | Hamsad Rangkuti
It’s raining heavily in Sumatra and an old vagrant man is taking shelter under the eaves of a family’s house. The mother doesn’t like this. She’s worried the man will knock on their door. The father doesn’t mind; he would even let the man inside if he knocked. They debate the merits of building a fence to keep people away from the house.
This story can be interpreted as an allegory about society’s responsibility to less fortunate ones.
The Jewbird | Bernard Malamud
The Cohen’s lives change when a crow flies into their lower-middle class New York apartment seeking refuge from anti-Semitic birds. The Jewbird, Schwartz, wants to stay, but Mr. Cohen is against it.
This could be an allegory of Jewish self-hatred.
The Alligator War | Horacio Quiroga
A group of alligator’s is worried when a large boat comes by their home. It scares away all the fish. To preserve their food supply, they decide to build a dam to keep the boats away.
The Gentleman of the Jungle | Jomo Kenyatta
An elephant asks a man if he can put his trunk inside his hut to keep it out of the rain. The man agrees but soon the elephant pushes the man out completely. An argument ensues causing the king (the lion) to appoint a Commission of Enquiry into the matter.
This is an allegory for European colonialism in Africa.
The Star Beast | Nicholas Stuart Gray
There is a streak of light in the night sky and a loud noise is heard. Soon after, at a farm, a creature shows up, human-like, hurt and afraid. They help it, and it attracts a lot of attention from those nearby.
This parable shows that people are capable of being cruel, arrogant or stupid in their dealings with humans and animals.
Blemish | John Christopher
A young salesman goes to Swan Upping to sell TV’s. He is told that no one there uses technology of any kind. Meanwhile, the Galactic Ambassador is visiting earth to determine if they can be admitted as a member planet in the Galactic culture.
This parable shows that pride in technology isn’t everything and that simple values shouldn’t be ignored.
The Flying Machine | Ray Bradbury
In ancient China, Emperor Yuan is relaxing when a servant excitedly gives him the news that a man was seen flying with wings. The Emperor enjoys simple things, and this amazing development makes him think about his people’s safety and way of life.
This parable could illustrate resistance to change or a desire to hold on to power.
The Stones | Richard Shelton
The narrator likes to watch stones grow in the desert. Young stones move more and seek adventure; old stones are sedentary and suspicious of change.
This could be an allegory for the way the young and old view life, or how older people tend to be more conservative than younger people.
Tiffany | Stacey Richter
The protagonist is told to divide or die, but she doesn’t want to—she wants to be intact and singular.
This story could be a parable about resisting peer pressure or being yourself.
Read “Tiffany” (Coarse language)
The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind | Ray Bradbury
A city, probably in ancient China, is surrounded by a wall shaped like an orange. The leader gets a message that the adjacent city, Kwan-Si, is going to build a wall shaped like a pig. Since a pig could eat an orange, the inhabitants are worried that their city will suffer and Kwan-Si will prosper. At the suggestion of his daughter, the leader consults with the city’s stonemasons and builders to come up with a plan.
This story can also be read as an allegory for the cold war.
Young Goodman Brown | Nathaniel Hawthorne
Goodman Brown has to go on a journey through the forest one night on an errand. The walk is unsettling, and he meets others from his town on the way.
This could be an allegory for loss of faith in God or humanity.
The Swimmer | John Cheever
While relaxing at a friend’s pool, an affluent man decides to make his way home by swimming the length of the pools in his neighborhood.
This could be an allegory for aging or the stages of the life cycle.
Twilight | Wladyslaw Reymont
Sokol, an old horse, lies dying. He is neglected, aside from an occasional visit from the hunting-dogs. Sokol is miserable and afraid as he dies alone.
This could be an allegory for the plight of the Eastern European peasant.
The Other Side of the Hedge | E. M. Forster
A man stops to rest on the side of the road. He is passed by some people, and also thinks of his brother whom he left behind. He notices a small opening in the hedge that lines the road. He pushes his way thru it.
This parable might be encouraging a more relaxed, altruistic, pastoral life over a modern, impersonal life centered around accomplishment.
Totem | Thomas King
Some visitors and staff at the Southwest Alberta Art Gallery and Prairie Museum are annoyed by the noise coming from a totem pole. The director, Walter Hooton, didn’t even know they had a totem pole. He decides to have it moved into temporary storage until they can remove it completely.
This seems like an allegory for the way First Nations people have been treated in Canada.
See also: On Discovery (Women), The House Behind (Murder)
I will try to add more stories that could be helpful for teaching reading and reading comprehension to middle or high school students. Eventually, I hope these pages will become a teaching resource.