They're related, but generally a metaphor is used to draw a comparison between two distinct objects, whereas a symbol is used as a stand-in for a much more complex, and generally more abstract, idea. In literature, a metaphor would typically be used in a specific instance to compare two objects, but a symbol would be used throughout the work as a major part of the theme.

Taking into account the explanation, it seems to me the animals in the story Animal Farm could be different symbols.

If so, what about an example as ti metaphor?

  • Is "example as ti metaphor" a typo? I'm not sure what you mean and "ti" isn't a word that fits in this case... and "it" wouldn't be appropriate, either...
    – Catija
    Mar 23 '15 at 0:06

If so, what about an example as ti metaphor?

My favorite example of a metaphor is a computer's interface.

A computer stores information as collections of zeros and ones. Early computers were driven by punchcards to represent this, and it was incredibly difficult to learn.

To make it easier, someone used the metaphor of a traditional paper-driven office to explain what was happening inside the computer.

Don't think of your document as a set of zeros and ones - metaphorically, it's a file. Don't think of that fike as being stored on a magnetic disk - metaphorically, it's in a folder.

Although it's not strictly true, it is meaningful and useful.


So a file is a computer document and a magnetic disk or place on a drive or in the cloud is a file folder. These are METAPHORS in which one object = a different object. But a computer in a literary work might SYMBOLIZE a larger abstract concept, such as dehumanization, which could be one of the work's themes which runs throughout the piece.

But I would add that metaphors are not always object-based. For example a smile can be a metaphor for happiness, both intangibles. The smile could also be a symbol of happiness, so here, the line blurs again. I suppose the smile could move from metaphor to symbol in a story about, say, a lost loved one whose smile haunts a surviving family member; smiles could torment this character, who ultimately rips through a Walmart, destroying every smiley face they see. But I fear my answer is still fuzzy. I want to think more about it. I will think about the red coat in the film Schindler's List. It could be both metaphor and symbol too...

  • 1
    computer files are not metaphors.
    – Lambie
    Dec 6 '19 at 20:48

A symbol stands for something.

For example, a heart can stand for love. A cross for Christianity.

They can be physical things (a drawing of a heart or an actual cross) or they can be used by authors to mean love or Christianity.

Whereas a metaphor, is just an image.

Here is a famous poem by Robert Burns, the great Scottish poet:

A Red, Red Rose

O my Luve is like a red, red rose That’s newly sprung in June; O my Luve is like the melody That’s sweetly played in tune.

He is calling his love, the person he loves, a red rose. That is a simile: he compares his love to the red rose.

Whereas, if you say: love is a rose, that is using the image of a rose to describe love. It is a metaphor. Or a symbol, depending on your interpretation.

However, you could write a book and the roses could be symbols of love or just about anything.

Umberto Eco's very famous book The Name of the Rose is a symbol, according to the author himself, but he really does not say of what. Wikipedia goes into the subject rather well:

The Name of the Rose

The point is that the same word can be used as a metaphor or as a symbol. Everything depends on context. Is an author using a thing to represent something else or is an author using a word (or phrase) merely as an image? That is the crucial question one must ask in deciding.

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