Here’s an interesting article about what authors think about perceived symbolism in their works. A 16 year-old high-school student in 1963 decided to go directly to the source and ask 150 famous authors whether they intentionally placed symbolism in their writings, and what they thought about the symbolism that readers and critics perceived.
I especially liked one of Richard Hughes’ answers, “Have you considered the extent to which subconscious symbol-making is part of the process of reading, quite distinct from its part in writing?” This reminded me that reading is also an art in the exercise of imagination. Iris Murdoch went even further, making the point that, “There is much more symbolism in ordinary life than some critics seem to realize.” Ralph Ellison noted that symbolism is unavoidable because, “Man is a symbol-making and –using animal. Language itself is a symbolic form of communication.”
As an avid reader and aspiring author this was a refreshing and encouraging article. I feel that I should stop worrying about how all the parts of my story will fit together, what they will mean and how to manipulate it all like some puppeteer. The gist of the survey results for me is that authors sometimes do make conscious choices in placing symbolism in their works, but that it is not necessary to impose it artificially. Just tell the story and let both the author’s and reader’s natural and innate interpretation of symbols enrich it.