While some fictional characters are only meant to represent themselves, others are meant to represent something larger than themselves in order to make a point. The author uses this character to represent X, whether X is "Women," "Christians," "Atheism," "Illegal Aliens," "The Bush Administration," or even "You." It's the difference between "Oh, Bob just tripped over the cat again; he is such an idiot" vs. "Bob just tripped over the cat again; men are such idiots."
Sometimes characters are created to be this. Other times, an existing character is (either temporarily or not) drafted into the role by being written as the voice/face/advocate of (topic) for an episode. This can even happen outside of the official canon; in fact, the more this is used outside of the original work, the stronger the case may be for the character being an effective symbol of X.
Please note that the character in question may be a perfectly well-rounded and very much individualized character, but he is so closely linked to a certain concept, that he is often used allegorically as a way of talking about that concept (e.g. Superman and idealism).
If all of the characters in the work are written this way, then you might just have a full-blown Allegory on your hands.
When no extra meaning is intended by the creators, then it may be that you have Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory — although adherents to Death of the Author would point out that just because the allegory wasn't intended, doesn't mean it isn't there.
- Audience Surrogate — This Character is You
- Anthropomorphic Personification — This Character is an Abstract Concept
- Homegrown Hero — This Character is from the same country as you
- The Three Faces of Adam — This Character is a phase of life that men go through
- The Three Faces of Eve — This Character is an aspect of femininity
- The War on Straw — This Character is All Members of an Ideology the Author Disagrees with
- Captain America — This Character is The American Dream (and often the Dream's disconnect from modern American politics and social trends).
- Wonder Woman — This Character is Women's Strength & Courage (often associated with Feminism).
- Superman — This Character is the pinnacle of humanity's ideals and faith in humanity.
- The Joker — This Character is Chaotic Evil/Madness.
- Game of Death: The characters in the pagoda are this in the original version. One could ask if they spend all of their lives in the pagoda waiting for some challenger, however, they represent the formalized system of martial arts that Bruce Lee wanted to prove wrong. They are all beaten with some ease, however Kareem-Abdul Jabbar has an unknown fighting style that represents the highest level of martial arts.
- Godzilla himself started in Gojira as an allegorical character representing the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the destruction caused. His flesh was designed to resemble the keloid scarring of the hibakusha, and footsteps were deliberately made to sound like explosions.
- The Three-headed Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail can be seen as a Take That! towards bureaucracy. The body of the knight can only act once all three heads agree. But by that time, new developments have taken place that render their previous agreement useless. In this case, Sir Robin appeared, causing the Three Headed Knight to argue how to deal with him. But after reaching an agreement, Robin already left. Likewise, a large company or institution might run into trouble adapting to new technological advancements or other societal developments. When the administration of said company or institution finally decided how to deal with said developments, other developments have already taken place.
- X-Men Film Series:
- Across the First Class trilogy, Professor X represents empathy, and depending on the story, he can also be a figure of peace, hope or love. For X-Men: First Class, he's emblematic of serenity, and without his participation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the planet would've plunged into World War III (no Charles = no peace). For X-Men: Days of Future Past, his 1973 self must regain hope, otherwise by 2023, mutantkind is doomed to extinction (a hopeless past Xavier = a hopeless future for mutants). For X-Men: Apocalypse, his love is the only thing that can conquer fear (Jean Grey's trepidation over her Phoenix Force disappears when she senses the utmost trust the Professor has in her), hate and anger (the last two are felt by Magneto, but once he recalls how much he loves his old friend, he betrays Apocalypse); in this case, Charles = The Power of Love.
- Furthermore, Xavier's emotional state is a metaphor for America's mindset during the time period these movies depict. In 1962, the character's optimism is an extension of the hopeful outlook President Kennedy's administration tended to exude, whereas Charles' melancholia in 1973 is not unlike the general malaise American citizens felt while under the shadow of The Vietnam War. Xavier's descent into despair began in 1963, which is the same year Kennedy was assassinated—the end of "Camelot"note parallels the end of Professor X's school. At least in the Alternate Timeline, Charles starts to piece himself together again shortly after the Paris Peace Accords are signed. The '80s in the USA was an era of excess and materialism (both were regarded as not just acceptable, but desirable), so Xavier's vanity is at its peak in 1983, and we get to see much more of his lavish estate and everything he owns within its boundaries. The combination of his smug demeanour, dressing like he had just stepped off the set of Miami Vice, and driving around in a gorgeous, well-maintained vintage car announces to everyone that "I'm beautiful, I'm rich, and I love it."
- The Thief: Toljan clearly symbolizes Josef Stalin. The Stalin tattoo on his chest is the most obvious sign. Katya and Sanya represent the Russian people, looking for a father figure/protector, meekly submitting and accepting his crimes as the Russian people submitted to Stalin.
- Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is meant to represent a naive Germany unaware of the actions of Nazis.
- The Garden of Eden atop Dante's Purgatorio is littered with people who represent moral and religious concepts, some falling under Anthropomorphic Personification and some being too weird to fall under a specific sub-trope:
- The twenty-four elders with wreaths on their head represent the books of the Old Testament of The Bible.
- The four green animals with six wings each and many eyes represent The Four Gospels.
- Two elders appear in together, one being a doctor to represent Luke's Acts of the Apostles and the other a swordbearer to represent Saint Paul's letters.
- Four humble men who follow without comment represent the writers of the lesser epistles.
- At the end of the parade, an old man who looked as if he was asleep advances, representing the Book of Revelation.
- Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo has characters portraying the status of the Philippines and its people during its colonial era.
- Atlantis in the dialogues of Plato, Timaeus and Critias. Atlantis was an empire that embodied everything Plato saw as flaws that an ideal nation state should avoid. This is why despite all of Atlantis' power it still ultimately is unable to overcome Athens and sinks beneath the seas.
- In Magic: The Gathering the ancient sphinx Azor represents colonialism, specifically the conceit that it's done to benefit the colonized — he travels between planes remaking their governance into what he considers to be perfect, orderly systems, and when chaos and suffering result because of his interventions he blames the people for failing to live up to his designs.
Azor: I fixed this plane—
Vraska: This plane was never broken!
- In Steven Universe, Steven and Connie fusion Stevonnie serves both as an allegory for a first relationship and entering puberty.
Rebecca Sugar: [Stevonnie] serves as a metaphor for all the terrifying firsts in a first relationship, and what it feels like to hit puberty and suddenly find yourself with the body of an adult, how quickly that happens, how it feels to have a new power over people, or to suddenly find yourself objectified, all for seemingly no reason since youre still just you...
- In Over the Garden Wall, the Beast can be read as a representation for depression and/or suicide. When people either pass the Despair Event Horizon or are close to death, he turns them into trees, which he then burns in his magic lantern. This makes more sense when you realize that the show borrows heavily from The Divine Comedy, where suicides are punished in Hell by turning into trees.