Allegorical Books

These novels, or portions of them, are allegorical—the elements of the story represent something beyond the literal.

This includes fables which often use animals as stand-ins for humans, and illustrate a moral or life lesson.

It also includes parables which frequently show the results of a character’s bad decision.

Novels that are Allegories, Fables, or Parables

The Woman in the Dunes | Kobo Abe

An unnamed man looks for an unclassified insect. He comes across a village that is being buried by drifting sand dunes. It is arranged for him to stay overnight in one of the homes, so he lowers himself by a rope ladder and stays with a woman who feeds him. She makes some statements that the man finds unusual. The next morning, the rope ladder is gone; he panics, unsure how to get out.

This can be read as an allegory for the monotony of modern society, the meaninglessness of life, or the human condition.

On the Beach | Nevil Shute

It has been one year since a nuclear war has devastated most of the world. Australia is the last safe zone from the radiation, but not for long. Naval officers Holmes and Towers go on a mission looking for life, and to find the source of a radio signal.

This can be read as a cautionary fable for the results of nuclear war.

Tom Jones | Henry Fielding

Tom is an abandoned baby who is taken in by a wealthy squire. He grows up to be a rogue, and becomes alienated from his household. He eventually falls in love with a squire’s daughter, Sophia, and he pursues her.

Tom Jones can be read as an allegory for the quest for wisdom. (Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom.)

Read “Tom Jones”

The Giver | Lois Lowry

Jonas lives in a futuristic society that is peaceful and regulated. He is nearing the Ceremony of Twelve, where a child is given their profession. He sees his friends receiving normal assignments, but his abilities cause his selection as the new Receiver of Memory. This will mean leaving his normal life and also undergoing severe pain.

The Natural | Bernard Malamud

Roy, nineteen, is on a train with his manager to try out for the Chicago Cubs. Also on the train is Walt Whambold, a batting star in the American League. When the train has to make a stop, the passengers go to a nearby carnival where Roy excels at a baseball contest. This leads to a little baseball showdown between Roy and Walt. The narrative jumps ahead fifteen years with Roy signed, now as a batter, to help a losing major league team. Neither the reader nor the characters are aware of the details of Roy’s life these past years.

The Pearl | John Steinbeck

Kino and Juana are in a panic when their baby, Coyotito, is stung by a scorpion. They take him to the doctor, but are turned away. Kino is intent on securing more money, so he goes pearl diving; his wife prays for a big find. Kino uncovers the “Pearl of the World”, and Coyotito seems to be improving.

This could be an allegory for the danger of greed, or for the fallacy of the American dream.

Read “The Pearl”

Gulliver’s Travels | Jonathan Swift

Lemuel Gulliver returns from his fourth and final trip and tells about his adventures. He visited Lilliput, populated by tiny people; Brobdingnag, populated by giants; and several other places on the third and fourth trips, each with their own peculiarities.

Read “Gulliver’s Travels”

The Trial | Franz Kafka

Josef is arrested on his thirtieth birthday, accused of a crime that isn’t made clear to him. He goes to court and talks to his lawyer, trying to make sense of his situation.

Read “The Trial”

The Call of the Wild | Jack London

Buck is a dog living a life of ease at the California ranch of Judge Miller. A ranch hand, Manuel, needs money because of his gambling problem. He sells Buck to a dog breaker, who, in turn, sells him again to Perrault and Francois. Buck has to adapt to the hierarchy of living with other dogs, as well as dealing with human masters.

Read “The Call of the Wild”

Howards End | E. M. Forster

Helen Schlegel and Paul Wilcox have a brief engagement. Helen returns to Wickham Place where she lives with her sister Margaret. The Wilcox’s move in next door to the Schlegel’s, and Margaret becomes friends with Mrs. Wilcox. She wants to leave her home, Howards End, to Margaret when she dies.

Robinson Crusoe | Daniel Defoe

Young Robinson Crusoe sneaks away to sea, against the wishes of his parents. On one of his expeditions, a terrible storm shipwrecks him on a deserted island. He tries to ensure he has sufficient food and shelter. He wonders if there is anyone else on the island, and what their reaction to him might be.

Read “Robinson Crusoe”

Looking Backward: 2000 – 1887 | Edward Bellamy

After being treated for insomnia, Julian West awakens 113 years later, in the year 2000. He gradually learns of all the changes that have occurred, covering commerce, human rights, labor, gender roles, and class distinctions.

The first chapter can be read as an allegory for the society of its time; it is compared to a huge coach being pulled by the masses with the elite riding, trying to maintain their positions.

Read “Looking Backward”

The Plague | Albert Camus

In the town of Oran, in North Africa, rats begin dying in the street. Shortly after, a person gets sick and dies. When others die, it is suspected that the strange malady is bubonic plague. The authorities convene and take measures against it, but they’re half-hearted.

East of Eden | John Steinbeck

Spanning almost sixty years, the narrative covers three generations of the Trask and Hamilton families. It begins with Samuel Hamilton, who has five sons. His family does well despite not having a lot of money. Meanwhile, Cyrus Trask has two sons, Adam and Charles. Adam joins the army while Charles stays at the ranch. They meet Cathy Ames, who shows up at the ranch seriously injured.

This novel can be read as an allegory of the biblical story of Cain and Abel.

The Ugly American | William J. Lederer & Eugene Burdick

Louis Sears is the U.S. ambassador to Sarkhan, a country in Southeast Asia. He doesn’t know the local language or understand the concerns of the people. The local communists are hostile to the American influence in their country. When Sears is recalled to the United States, he is replaced by Gilbert MacWhite, an accomplished diplomat conversant with communism, Marxism, Soviet theory, and Sarkhanese history and politics.

The episodes in this novel can be read as parables for the success or failure of U.S foreign policy, especially in its fight against communism.

The Ox-Bow Incident | Walter Van Tilburg Clark

Art and Gil, cowboys, enter a small town after a winter of tending cattle. They go to the saloon to drink and play poker. There is talk of cattle rustlers in the area. A rider rushes in and says a local ranch hand, Kinkaid, has been shot during a cattle raid. A friend of Kincaid’s, Farnley, is ready to go after the robbers and murderers, and lynch them.

The Ox-Bow Incident can be considered a parable for the rise of fascism and the success of fascist leaders to influence people.

The Castle | Franz Kafka

The protagonist, identified only as K., arrives in a village to work as a land surveyor. His presence was requested by the Count. He wants to visit the Castle but this is against the rules. He also finds he can’t stay at the inn, as it is exclusive to gentlemen from the Castle. It is difficult for him to get anything done with the complex bureaucracy that is in place.

The Castle could be an allegory for complex or inefficient government.

Read “The Castle”

The Little Prince | Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The narrator remembers when his plane crashed in the Sahara desert. He meets a boy who wants him to draw, but the narrator wants to repair his engine. This little boy, the prince from the title, is from another planet. The prince has a treasured rose on his planet that he misses. Before coming to earth, the prince visited many asteroids, each with an inhabitant who behaved oddly. The prince has an innocent perception of life, different from most adults.

The characters the prince meets during his travels are allegorical – they represent a human trait best avoided.

The Alchemist | Paulo Coelho

Santiago is a young shepherd traveling the Spanish countryside. He has had a recurring dream about finding his fortune in an Egyptian pyramid; a gypsy woman tells him he must go to Egypt. He makes his way to Tangier. After he is robbed of all his money, he starts working at a crystal shop to save enough money to get back home.

Sections of The Alchemist can be read as parables for the way that Coelho thinks people should live. Readers can make generalizations about living from various incidents in the story.

Read “The Alchemist”