Can symbols have more than one meaning? How can you explain this?

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Jul 6, 2016

Symbols are basically metaphors that very culturally-rooted, so if you don't know enough about a culture, you might only have one interpretation that you are comfortable affirming.

But if you know enough, you'd know that multiple different interpretations may arise. It doesn't necessarily mean they're all correct, though, if you don't consider context.


For example, I've learned that jazz can be a contribution to society that people like W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes are particularly proud of, because it came around in #1919~1939# (the Harlem Renaissance), a time when these people wanted to produce great art.

So, my initial interpretation is that you could call jazz a symbol of black-peoples' innovation, and their contribution to society.

Upon further thought, here are reasonable interpretations that I can think of:

  • a symbol of musical creativity, due to its deviation from the structure and standard harmonies of classical music, or the amount of improvisation involved relative to classical music.
  • a symbol of breaking social norms, due to how it influenced young people in the 50s in terms of interracial sex and drugs (marijuana, heroin).

And here are some unreasonable interpretations:

  • a symbol of cats playing music instead of just beings with opposable thumbs (jazz has nothing to do with cats vs. human beings being able to play a keyboard).
  • a symbol of art (too general/broad; besides, jazz is a form of art, and it doesn't have to be discussed symbolically to convey that).
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