I’ve always believed that symbolism in a piece of writing is what the READER makes of it through their personal interpretation and perception, as opposed to the idea that the writer plants it deliberately to evoke a feeling, image or understanding.
Concrete, the symbolism should feel organic and vital to the narrative (the writer’s role!) and abstract, it should flow from the writer’s sub-conscious to the reader’s imagination and experience.
If symbolism arises from the gut feelings a reader may experience from the stimulation of the writer’s descriptive narrative, it can never feel forced or deliberate. When a writer unconsciously gets it right, for the reader, symbolism can evoke completely different feelings and interpretations of the same words and meanings; a personal connection.
I came across this fascinating article on the topic, Famous Novelists on symbolism in their work, and whether it was intentional, in which some of the great masters of the craft give their own tuppence worth on the topic, including the late and great Ray Bradbury, who is quoted with the following:
“No, I never consciously place symbolism in my writing.
That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to let the subconscious do the work for you, and get out of the way.
The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural.”
Enough said! And you can read the article in its entirety here: http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/130315