Symbolism is a very old, common and broad trope used to represent an idea, belief, event or other similar things by using a lesser object or event to represent it. For example, the color green will often represent envy and jealousy or red may represent wrath. Objects can symbolize many different things as well: An apple could easily represent temptation, conflict or knowledge depending on how it's used. In a mundane way, you can even have very common cases like a flag representing a country.
As such a widespread and useful trope for making a point, symbolism has a massive amount of usage and subtropes, so please do not list examples on this page.
Compare Motifs, Stock Visual Metaphors, Shapes and Symbols Tropes.
- Arc Symbol: A symbol appears over and over again, often with no explanation for what it means until much later.
- Blue Is Heroic: Blue is associated with calmness, kindness and the heavens, and it's frequently the go-to color for intellectual heroes.
- Bluebird of Happiness: Blue-colored birds are used to symbolize happiness.
- Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: Because of their famous metamorphosis, butterflies are used to symbolize life and death.
- Caged Bird Metaphor: A character is associated with a caged bird to symbolize their sense of confinement and longing for freedom.
- Canary in a Coal Mine: A canary is often used to determine if a mine is safe or not.
- Color Motif: Colors often represent complex emotions or ideas such as passion, warmth, wisdom or love.
- Crucial Cross: A cross is used to convey goodness or hope (especially that of a heroic character) in the face of suffering and evil.
- Crucified Hero Shot: A character makes a grave sacrifice and ends up with their body positioned as though it were crucified.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Metaphoric symbolism.
- Dying Candle: When a character dies, so does the light.
- Dying for Symbolism: Death of a character is death of hope.
- Ending by Ascending: A character going up a staircase or ladder symbolizes rebirth, rest or new adventures.
- Environmental Symbolism: The setting represents the mood.
- Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: Everything can be seen as religious symbolism.
- Everyone Is Satan in Hell: Everything can be accused of having nefarious subtext.
- Eye of Horus Means Egypt: Where the Eye Of Horus is used to symbolize that something's Egyptian.
- Faux Symbolism: When a trope seems symbolic, but closer examination reveals that it makes no sense.
- The Flame of Life: Fire used to symbolize life and vitality.
- Freud Was Right: Whatever it is, for a character it represents sex.
- Gold and White Are Divine: Gold and white are precious, rare and valuable and therefore associated with God or the gods.
- Good Colors, Evil Colors: Certain colors indicate morality and personality.
- Handshake of Doom: A handshake indicating a Deal with the Devil or similar unwise alliance.
- Healing Serpent: Snakes and snake-like entities used to symbolize the healing arts.
- Heart of the Matter: Something so vital, it is likened to a living heart.
- Heavenly Blue: Divinity or holiness are associated with blue due to the association with the sky.
- Madonna Archetype: She's the Virgin Mary.
- Mating Dance: Represents sex.
- Messianic Archetype: This guy represents Jesus.
- Mental Monster: Represents inner struggles.
- Moses Archetype: This guy represents Moses.
- Pelvic Thrust: Pelvic thrusts represent sexual intercourse.
- Phallic Weapon: Weapons represent penises.
- Pink Heroine: Pink is associated with youthful femininity so the heroine of a girl-targeted show is often decked out in pink.
- Pink Is Erotic: Pink is associated with eroticism and is used to emphasize/symbolize the act of sex.
- Pop Culture Symbology: Mystical and/or conspirological symbolism in popular culture.
- Purple Is Powerful: Purple is regal, powerful and amazing.
- Queer Colors: Certain colors are associated with LGBTQ pride and romance.
- Queer Flowers: Certain flowers are associated with homosexuality and romance between people of the same-sex.
- Red and Black Totalitarianism: Red and black are associated with totalitarian political regimes
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: Red eyes are unnatural and red is a color with a mixed reputation, making red eyes dangerous.
- Red Is Heroic: Red is associated with blood, masculinity and power, so action heroes often wear red.
- Red Is Violent: Red is associated with blood and fire, a color used to represent violence, anger and rage, worn by both good and evil sides.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Reptiles are associated with villainy.
- Rule of Symbolism: When symbolism is used in a manner that would otherwise break the Willing Suspension of Disbelief but is swallowed by the reader because it gets across the real point so well.
- Scary Symbolic Shapeshifting: A non-shapeshifter symbolically transforms to illustrate their unpleasant nature.
- Scenery Based Societal Barometer: A single piece of scenery represents the health of a setting.
- Separated by the Wall: A physical barrier to represent an emotional one.
- Serpent of Immortality: Snakes symbolize immortality, regeneration and rebirth.
- Something Else Also Rises: Something represents an erection or arousal.
- Stock Monster Symbolism: Certain monsters represent certain fears like drug addiction or STDs.
- Swan Boats: Riding swans, having swan-shaped boats or boats pulled by swans represents love, romance, leisure or art.
- Sweets of Temptation: Candy, cake, and other sweet food is used as symbolism for temptation and hidden danger.
- Symbolically Broken Object: A broken object represents the death of a person or destruction of a relationship.
- Symbolic Baptism: A character's immersion in water marks the beginning of a new phase in their life.
- Symbolic Blood: It's not blood... technically.
- Symbolic Mutilation: A missing body part or injury reveals something about the character.
- Symbolic Serene Submersion: Floating motionless underwater represents the character's internal state.
- Symbol Motif Clothing: A character's clothing regularly represents something important about them.
- Tempting Apple: Apples symbolize temptation and desire.
- Tools of Sapience: A nude character (human or non-human) is shown to be sapient by carrying and using artifacts.
- Virile Stallion: A horse is used to represent a man's masculinity and potency.
- Weeding Out Imperfections: Bad guys use flowers, weeds, and other plants as metaphors for "desirable" and "undesirable" people.
- White Is Pure: When a character wears white to reflect how they are morally pure and obsessed with being clean.
- Winds Of Change: A change in the wind means a shift in the story.
- World of Symbolism: The story is built out of symbolism.
- Yellow Eyes of Sneakiness: A character with yellow eyes is thought to have a sneaky and conniving nature.