In ordinary usage, allegory is “when the events of a narrative obviously and continuously point to another simultaneous structure of events or ideas, whether historical events, moral or philosophical ideas, or natural phenomena” (Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics 12). Perhaps the finest example of allegory in its purest form is the medieval play Everyman.

For Barfield, allegory should be understood as “a natural development from myth rather than its enemy” (Barfield is paraphrasing Paul Piehler’s The Visionary Landscape [Rediscovery of Meaning 136]). “viewed historically,” he argues, “allegory was figurative by inheritance from a pre-rational mode of perception” (Rediscovery of Meaning 152). But “Is it not clear,” Barfield asks, “that we find allegory desiccated precisely because, for us, mere words are themselves desiccated—or rather because, for us, words are ‘mere’?” (Saving the Appearances 96).

Barfield hypothesizes that we might well experience a “rediscovery of allegory” with the coming of final participation and the advent of a new, less literal conception of language.