(I originally posted this in the English Language & Usage section, but was told it might fit in better over here.)

I'm writing an article for a pop/geek culture site I'm a part of, and I'm trying to figure out whether a certain element in a story is a metaphor or a symbol. I've done a bit of research on the two, but it's not helped much with the particular thing I'm trying to write about.


Here's what I'm dealing with: In the animated show, Star Wars Rebels, the character Kanan Jarrus is blinded in the second season, and from then onward he wears a mask to cover his eyes most of the time. However, in key moments he will remove this mask, and it allows you to see his whole face as well as his scar that was the result of the injury that also caused the blindness. A lot of fans have expressed curiosity over why it is that he does this, as it oftentimes seems odd for him to take off his mask as if to look at someone when he can't see them in the first place.

I'm trying to show how the mask is a metaphor/symbol for being open and vulnerable: The mask goes on, and he is hard to read and speaks in more of a monotone (this often happens in scene where he's fighting). The mask goes off, and he's much more open and personal (this often happens in scenes where he's dealing with his close crew members, or, in recent episodes, with very personal relationships between himself and another character).

I can't figure out if this is a metaphor or a symbol. I've written the article and just sent it to my editor, but now I'm worrying that I got it all wrong and was going to ask him if I could make a few more revisions to fix this problem before he publishes it.

To complicate it even more, I'm dedicating one section of the article to show how the symbol/metaphor works practically in the storytelling; because of the style of animation, it's very easy to see characters' thoughts and emotions by observing their faces, specifically their eyes. Their eyes are very lifelike in this way, and it's often very important to pay attention to details in them in order to understand what's currently going on with the characters, much like in a live-action media. Therefore, when Kanan wears his mask, you can't see his eyes and therefore don't have as much understanding of what's going on in his head, and this really contributes to the symbol/metaphor already going on. The mask works literally to help the audience feel the impact of the figurative symbol/metaphor.

Would anyone know whether I should classify this as a symbol, metaphor, or both? So far, I seem to be getting the answer that, while the mask is symbolic, the taking off/putting on of the mask is a metaphor. So essentially, the mask is symbolic and metaphorical? In in, when the character first began wearing the mask, it was symbolic of how he also pulled away from people who cared about him and started to bottle everything up inside, instead of sharing his feelings, but from that point on it also became a metaphor for opening up and being vulnerable? Can anyone else clarify if I'm getting it right here?

UPDATE: the post I'm writing goes live tomorrow, so I only have until then to figure out if I'm right or wrong, and make any changes based on that.

closed as primarily opinion-based by phantom42, NKCampbell, Möoz, TheLethalCarrot, recognizer Jan 19 '18 at 0:45

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    sometimes a blind Jedi's mask is just a blind Jedi's mask – NKCampbell Jan 18 '18 at 22:07
  • @NKCampbell: I wish it were that easy, but that answer doesn't help me keep my position as a writer for the site I'm part of... – Elven Padawan Jan 18 '18 at 23:03
  • without a word of god from Pablo Hidalgo or Dave Filoni you're going to be left entirely with speculation and interpretation. In other words, there is no 'right' answer unless one of those guys says so. Maybe just frame your article that way "a symbolic analysis blah blah blah". Also a bit of research as to what 'symbolism' is vs 'metaphor' would be helpful I think - english.stackexchange.com/questions/1173/… – NKCampbell Jan 18 '18 at 23:32
  • Yep and galaxy knows I won't be getting any sort of straight answers from either of them anytime soon. I just don't want to misuse the terms in their "literary device"-position and end up saying something's a metaphor when it's actually a symbol (or vice-versa) and looking like a complete idiot all across the internet. Especially when I'm trying to so hard to actually build a legit audience for my own stuff, and I don't want to get thrown off the writing team for the other site. – Elven Padawan Jan 19 '18 at 0:27
  • I think this is actually more on-topic for ELU, but the problem is that it would likely be closed as opinion-based there as well. There's really no hard and fast rule for what does not qualify as a metaphor, and anything in a work of fiction can potentially hold some metaphorical value. A character could intentionally use an object as a symbol within a narrative, and yet the author could simultaneously make the same object a metaphor for some other aspect of the character. – recognizer Jan 19 '18 at 0:48