Dialogic Allegory

Are the dialogic and the allegorical fundamentally incompatible novelistic devices? As Matthew Taunton has argued, "Critics have tended to respond with a degree of embarrassment to novels that tackle moral, philosophical, or political problems by involving characters and narrators in argumentative dialogue"—not to mention those that are heavy-handed with symbolism. This paper contends that the two are not as strictly mutually exclusive as we once might have thought. Beginning by tracing a brief history of critical antipathy to allegory before situating the contemporary novel’s use of the allegorical within the so-called decline of the Anglo-American novel's interest in fiction, the paper then turns to Sheila Heti’s recent allegorical novel Pure Colour (2022), and its use of non-didactic dialogue, to make a case for how a combination of two previously incompatible modes could be useful mechanism to explore the pressure placed on the novel to continue to replicate and contest knowledge production.

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