Summer is a time of golden, glowing moments – punctuated by the sun, a white-hot tin ball in the sky. The pavement sizzles like bacon and children play games together, screaming like wild birds. Many writers have tried to capture the months of summer in their writing using metaphors and symbols.
If we are to believe Carl Jung, most of these symbols conjure archetypes: instinctual examples of the inherent quality of the summer, itself. To writers and readers, especially, symbols are important ways to recognize and evoke the essential qualities of summer.
So, what are some of the best symbols of summer to incorporate into your writing?
The Sun: Nothing says summer like the sun. Ray Bradbury was a master of symbols and metaphors, and he played with them endlessly. His list of summer metaphors is exhaustive and he often invents new symbols for old ideas. A fine example hides in his short story, All Summer In A Day. The story involves a group of children, living on the planet Venus, who have never seen the sun. It rains endlessly in their wet world and the sun appears only once every seven years.
Consider this passage: “The Sun is a flower, that blooms for just one hour.” Bradbury compounds his symbolic metaphor when he describes the children, whirling around under a single sunbeam: “They turned on themselves, like a feverish wheel, all tumbling spokes.”
The poet, Allen Ginsberg, also plays with the sun as a symbol. As he and Jack Kerouac sat in a dismal place, nursing a hangover, Ginsberg wrote a poem in which he used a sunflower to represent the summer of his youth. Though the flower itself is dirty and haggard, it evokes hope for warmth and happiness to come. “A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence!”
The Picnic: Friends and family gather to eat a light lunch in an idyllic setting. The grass is bright green, the sun is warm, and the ants are threatening to steal away the apples. The picnic has long been a symbol of summer. Writers have used the picnic as a launchpad for action, a theatre for exposition, or as a break from a harrowing narrative. There are even some steamy examples, like the picnics of D. H. Lawrence.
Picnics are complex symbols of summer, both dark and light. Initially, a picnic seems to be all fun and carefree, but there is always the threat of rain to spoil the lunch. Anton Checkhov uses a nontraditional picnic in his novella The Duel and Ian McEwan uses a picnic in the opening of his novel Enduring Love to frame a tragic event that catapults the novel’s dark action.
Fireworks: Fireworks are probably the most dynamic and explosive of summer symbols. Though fireworks are used to celebrate numerous holidays, they are especially associated with summer in the United States, due to the Fourth of July. China also has a rich history of firework literature, and literally thousands of poems have been composed to capture the magic of this multicolored explosion. J. R. R. Tolkien uses the symbol of fireworks in his famous book, The Fellowship of the Ring. He celebrates the birthday of Bilbo Baggins, and heralds the end of happiness just before the dark lord begins his assault.
Vacations: Ask any school-age child what idea best captures summer for them, and you are bound to hear, “summer vacation!” The trips taken during those three months of freedom are a perfect symbol of summer. Writers have used the vacation as a summer symbol in a variety of ways. For example, William Wordsworth used it to frame an entire section of his autobiographical poem, The Prelude.
Whether it’s the smell of a backyard BBQ or the smear of a yellow dandelion on a child’s hand, symbols of summer abound.
What are some of your favorite summer symbols to include in your writing?