I recently read an article about Jane Austen, who I consider highly influential to me as a writer. The article was analyzing Jane’s use of such things as animals as symbolism to represent peoples’s behavior. It stated that for her to use such mechanisms was “strategic”, but it went on about the negative psychological aspects of her doing so – as if she were cunning, rather hateful, calculating & manipulative. Such criticism of Jane Austen’s work made instant sense to me because in her work, she exposes the underlying Jezebel spirit, queen bees of the world. And once you expose a queen bee, they are gonna come after you – trying to accuse & discredit you at all cost – even with boldface lies – there’s really no getting around it.
So, after I stopped mentally defending “poor little, muckraking, Machiavellian Jane” as one of my favorite writers, & because I’ve been so highly influenced by her, I had to do some serious soul searching & ask myself, “Have I been manipulated by writers like her or am I being manipulative to use such mechanisms/symbolism in my writing as well?” Would Edgar Allan Poe’s use of a raven in his poem “The Raven” be better served as “his neighbor Stan” tapping & rapping at his chamber door? I think not! That poem makes my skin crawl because it is a raven. And for that matter haven’t we all met our share of ravens in life?
Then I realized, all the writers I’ve been influenced by who have used similar symbolism – to name a few: Shakespeare, the Brontes, & throughout the Bible people are viewed as trees; John the Baptist calls hateful religious leaders “a brood of vipers;” & even beloved King David, “a man after God’s own heart”, in his Psalm 22:12 prophesied “The vicious bullocks of Bashan” surrounding Jesus at the cross. So I came to realize that if a person acts with the characteristics of animals – be it good or bad, vicious or gentle – sometimes such symbols /metaphors are the BEST, most appropriate, even highest use of our limited language.
Later, if someone chooses to refer to my work, thusly influenced as “strategic” or “manipulated” in such a way – I will have to say, “Yes. By all means, guilty as charged, of course it is!” Not that I can say I tried to do so; but rather, being so deeply influenced by others I naturally view things as such.
In my poems, I often refer to myself & others as all kinds of things – animals, flora, inanimate objects – you name it. In fact, in several of my poems I write of myself in very unbecoming terms when I feel the language calls for it. I also have been ridiculously criticized for using personification in my poetry.
Let us not forget we are, after all, writers of fiction! So, in my opinion: if the shoe fits, write it. I will continue to delight in filling my poetry with metaphor & symbolism whenever possible in order so that it may be several layers deep. And to those who spend even a moment criticizing Jane Austen’s gorgeous, fictional work as though she is acting in a nefarious way that is somehow damaging to society & bringing it up post-mortem in an attempt to shut the rest of us up, I’d have to ask: what is the real issue here? Because, to borrow from Shakespeare: “Me thinks thou dost protesteth too much.”
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