The high school kid’s symbolism survey

Something wonderful for you: The Symbolism Survey.

In 1963, a sixteen-year-old San Diego high school student named Bruce McAllister sent a four-question mimeographed survey to 150 well-known authors of literary, commercial, and science fiction. Did they consciously plant symbols in their work? he asked. Who noticed symbols appearing from their subconscious, and who saw them arrive in their text, unbidden, created in the minds of their readers? When this happened, did the authors mind?

Yep, a smart aleck kid sent this survey to Saul Bellow, Jack Kerouac, Ralph Ellison, Norman Mailer, and Ayn Rand, among others. And many, many of them responded. And, if I ever needed reason to love Ray Bradbury more than I already do, this is it:

Do you feel you subconsciously place symbolism in your writing?

I trust my subconscious implicitly. It is my good pet. I try to keep it well fed with information through all my senses, but never look directly at it.

Read the rest — it’s well worth it.

5 responses to “The high school kid’s symbolism survey

  1. Gutsy of that kid to write to those authors. Very cool that he got answers back. I like Rand’s answer. She was right!

  2. What a great essay. Thank you for posting it. I agree with you about Ray Bradbury. The man is a towering legend.

  3. Amazing. I’m surprised that so many of them wrote back and allowed a ‘peek behind the curtain’. Bradbury’s answer was great.

  4. I enjoy symbolism that seems to emerge naturally from the work (or the writer’s subconscious) and is subtly threaded throughout. That said, I was never good at those symbol questions in school unless they were whack-you-upside-the-head ones like those giant eyeglasses in Gatsby.

  5. Yes, Bradbury in his Afterword to Fahrenheit 451 writes that his protagonist, Montag (the fireman book-burner) is named after a paper manufacturing company and that the last name of Professor Faber, who hides precious books from the government, is also a maker of pencils. Bradbury writes, “What a sly thing my subconscious was, to name them thus. And not tell me!”

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