Analogy vs. Allegory: What Is the Difference?

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Here’s the difference between an analogy and an allegory:

An allegory involves representing an abstract principle with a concrete image of some kind. 

In contrast, an analogy simply compares two or more subjects frequently for the purpose of explanation.

If you want to learn all the differences between an analogy and an allegory, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s get started!

Analogy vs. Allegory: What Is the Difference? (+ Examples)

What Is an Analogy?

A beautiful young lady is reading a book in the garden
DefinitionA figure of speech that’s used to show a similarity between two different thingsA fictional literary or artistic piece that uses symbols to convey a message
How it’s expressedComparing two typically unlike things or subjects so as to find a likeness between themUsing symbolism so as not to explicitly state a message
ScopeWhat are some similar qualities between the two compared dissimilar things?What does a particular symbol, object, action, or person in a particular story stand for?
NatureCan be a short sentence or a paragraphCan be a story or a narrative, a painting, a picture, or any other form of artwork
SpecificityShows how two different things are alike in order to explain a point or an ideaConveys a hidden meaning or message, typically either a moral or political one

Analogy and allegory both involve the usage of any character, object, or situation to represent something other than itself, but how exactly they go about this is entirely different.

Analogies put simply, are a comparison made to make a point.

This comparison can read incredibly simple, almost like a basic math problem at times, or can be more nuanced and advanced.

Depending on how the analogy is worded, it may also constitute a simile or a metaphor, two different but similar literary techniques involving comparison.

Notably, analogies are meant to be broken down.

Rather than being some obtuse, hard-to-penetrate mystery, most writers would define an analogy as a comparison that makes explaining a concept easier.

This focus on using a comparison to educate the reader on a concept is one of the main dividing points that makes an analogy an analogy.

How Do Analogies Work as Explanations?

Thoughtful beautiful woman with laptop looking away

“The sky is to birds what the ocean is to fish.”

You may recognize this extremely simplistic “is to” syntax from your old schoolwork. 

In the above example, the analogy establishes that the relationship between birds and the sky is the same as the relationship between fish and the sea.

It doesn’t take a master detective to tell us that the key concept here is “where they live.” 

Fish live in the ocean while birds live in the sky.

While simplified, this is an apt expression of what analogies set out to do.

A more advanced example might use one concept that you would expect most people to know to explain a concept that very few people would know.

“Shorthand is to standard English what code is to binary.”

The above example is significantly more advanced and does a good job of showing what the ultimate purpose of an analogy is.

Most people will understand that shorthand is a way to write faster and more efficiently than if you were to take your notes in full proper English. 

As such, it stands to reason that code must be a way to write faster and more efficiently than if you were to write in binary.

An analogy compares one concept to another concept to make an explanation simpler than if you were to go into excruciating detail.

Of course, there are times when you may want to go into more detail.

The relationship between code and binary is significantly more complicated than such a short analogy can explain. 

But if the relationship between code and binary were not the main point of the paragraph, then getting it out of the way quickly with an analogy is an option a writer may choose.

What Is the Difference Between Analogy’s Relations with Simile and Metaphor?

woman working on laptop pensive

As a brief refresher, a simile is a comparison that uses a very specific syntax that usually includes the words “like” or “as” to directly and explicitly announce that a comparison is being made. 

As a result of their simplicity, many similes happen to be analogies.

Some examples of similes:

  • Her cat purred like an engine.
  • The dog was as fat as a horse.
  • His smile was soft and tender like a freshly born sunflower.

Metaphors aren’t quite as obvious as similes linguistically, but the concept is more or less the same. 

Metaphors tend to relate two unlike objects in a novel way that makes for unique imagery in a written piece. 

Metaphors do away with basic comparison terms, simply treating one object as the other entirely.

Some examples of metaphors:

  • He was a cloud, looming heavily over her life.
  • The red roses were the blood she left behind.
  • Each lie she told was another knife in his back.

Note that metaphors frequently use some conjugation of the verb “to be” to make the comparison (is, was, are, were, etc.). 

Metaphors are often used for poetic effect and might not be easily identified as an analogy in some situations, such as when metaphors are used for allegory instead.

What Is an Allegory?

the tortoise and the hare

Allegory can describe the entirety of a narrative or can be confined to a singular image or event within a written work. 

The key takeaway is that it’s used to reveal a deeper meaning of some kind.

This is most frequently used when discussing spiritual meanings, but an allegory could just as easily be political in nature.

An allegory may not be immediately obvious if it relies on symbolism and imagery as its primary driving techniques. 

For example, you could write a short story in which a donkey and an elephant have lunch together and refuse to get along.

In America, this would quickly be recognized as a possible allegory for Democrats and Republicans because those symbols are well-known in the United States. 

But due to cultural constraints, the meanings of the text could easily be lost on someone from another culture.

One interesting trait about the term “allegory” is that it’s commonly used to describe an entire work instead of just one scene or image. 

While analogies, similes, and metaphors are usually just used in passing, an entire novel may be allegorical in nature.

What Is an Example of an Allegory?

Beautiful medieval queen in white gown, holding a candlestick with burning candles in hand.

The book Lord of the Flies by William Golding is full of examples of allegory. 

Many of the characters can easily be argued to be representative of human qualities. 

Some of the boys try to keep the group together, representing such things as democracy and the voice of reason.

As the novel goes on, a handful of characters who could represent good qualities of humanity die off, thus potentially implying the loss of those qualities in the rest of the cast.

This text is also a perfect example of one of the more unusual qualities of allegory. 

Allegory is not necessarily universal.

Over the course of the book’s history, many readers have argued that it paints a dark picture of the nature of humanity, likening ‘the beast’ to the evil within us all.

However, many readers believe context is key.

The author worked as a teacher and had many firsthand experiences with unruly British schoolboys. 

So it could easily be argued that Golding was only trying to make a point specifically about what he saw as an overly spoiled demographic.

It is noteworthy, after all, that the plane was not full of random passengers.

There is significance in the realization that the entire cast is comprised of unsupervised British boys, specifically.

The flexibility of allegory, in that it can be interpreted differently by different people, is one of the hallmarks of the concept. 

Indeed, there have been entire novels that have been hotly disputed as to whether or not they were intended to be allegorical in the first place.

Human experience is, after all, highly subjective. 

While an analogy seeks to make a meaning clear and obvious using comparisons, an allegory will often let the chips fall where they may.