In 1963, some smart-ass high school student (who later became an English teacher) sent questionnaires to 150 novelists, asking if they intentionally put symbolism in their work. And, shockingly, Ayn Rand replied.
The student asked:
“My definition of symbolism as used in this questionnaire is represented by this example: In The Scarlet Letter there are four major characters. Some say that Hawthorne meant those four to be Nature, Religion, Science or other similar symbols in disguise. They apply the actions of the four in the story to what is presently happening or will happen to Nature, Religion, Science, etc.”
And Rand replied:
“This is not a ‘definition,’ it is not true—and therefore, your questions do not make sense.”
Yes, this is a very Rand thing to say. She did not fill out the rest of the questionnaire. Though Jack Kerouac, Ralph Ellison, Ray Bradbury, John Updike, Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, and others did. You can see their responses here.
“Do you consciously, intentionally plan and place symbolism in your writing?… If yes, please state your method for doing so. Do you feel you sub-consciously place symbolism in your writing?”
Jack Kerouac: “No.”
Isaac Asimov: “Consciously? Heavens, no! Unconsciously? How can one avoid it?”
Joseph Heller: “Yes, I do intentionally rely on symbolism in my writing, but not to the extent that many people have stated…No, I do not subconsciously place symbolism in my writing, although there are inevitably many occasions when events acquire a meaning additional to the one originally intended.”
Ray Bradbury: “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.”
John Updike: “Yes—I have no method; there is no method in writing fiction; you don’t seem to understand.”
Norman Mailer: “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for a working novelist to concern himself too much with the technical aspects of the matter. Generally, the best symbols in a novel are those you become aware of only after you finish the work.”
Ralph Ellison: “Symbolism arises out of action…Once a writer is conscious of the implicit symbolism which arises in the course of a narrative, he may take advantage of them and manipulate them consciously as a further resource of his art. Symbols which are imposed upon fiction from the outside tend to leave the reader dissatisfied by making him aware that something extraneous is added.”
Saul Bellow: “A ‘symbol’ grows in its own way, out of the facts.”
Richard Hughes: “[Consciously?] No. [Subconsciously?] Probably yes. After all, to a lesser extent, the same is true of our daily conversation—in fact, of everything we think and say and do.”