For an account of the late 19th-century movement in poetry and the arts, known as Symbolism, see symbolism (arts).
Symbolism is the systematic use of symbols to represent or allude to something. In the most literal sense, all language is symbolic. In a narrower sense, symbolism is the use of iconic figures with particular conventional meanings. Symbolism is an important element of most religions and the arts. Many cultures have complex symbolic systems which assign certain attributes to specific things, such as types of animals, plants or weather. Reading symbols also plays an important role in psychoanalysis, especially as envisioned by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
Many writers, in fact most or all fiction authors of any merit, use symbolism as a rhetorical device central to the meaning of their works. Joseph Conrad and James Joyce, for example, used symbolism extensively.