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Glossary of Literary Theory
by Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown

Allegorical Interpretation:

Of or relating to the interpretation of allegory, a form of stable symbolism and extended metaphor such that there is a one-to-one correspondence between concrete text and abstract subtext. The characters, events, and setting on the literal level of the narrative correspond to ideas and concepts -- political, philosophical, theological, historical -- on the symbolic level. The levels referred to in the interpretation of scriptural and allegorical texts are fourfold: literal or historical meaning, the level of immediate narrative and reference; allegorical meaning, the level of reference to Christian doctrine, often involving the sense in which Old Testament episodes correspond to New Testament truth; tropological meaning, the level of reference to moral truth; and anagogic meaning, the level of reference to Christian eschatology (death, judgment, heaven, hell) and to mystical and spiritual significances. For example, literally, Jerusalem is a city; allegorically, it is the Church; tropologically, it is the faithful believer; and anagogically, it is the City of God.

© Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown,
University of Toronto
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University of Toronto English Library
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Last modified: March 31, 1997