A Symbol That Takes on Increasing Emotional Associations Visual or Verbal
This is another Plot Deepening Technique, as it too tends to extend throughout an entire plot. It can either be an object or a verbal phrase.
The American flag is an example of this type of symbol. What does the flag mean? It means a lot of things democracy; courage; the right to live the life you choose; freedom of speech, thought, and religion; a nation ruled by law; Yankee ingenuity, and more.
Remember, when we look at the flag, we don't intellectually think of all these meanings. They're more like emotional experiences we associate with the flag. When we see the flag, we feel these emotional associations.
Symbols shouldn't make you think they should evoke feelings. Or, if they do make you think, they should also evoke emotions.
When a symbol reappears over and over again during emotionally charged moments, some of the emotion rubs off on the symbol and the symbol literally takes on more and more emotional associations.
Visual Example from Film
An interesting symbol recurs throughout the film Braveheart a thistle, and then a handkerchief with a picture of a thistle sewn into it. This symbol (the thistle and the handkerchief with a thistle) takes on more and more emotional associations as the film goes along.
Braveheart centers on William Wallace (Mel Gibson), an historic revolutionary leader in Scotland. When Wallace is a young boy, a little girl, Murron, gives him a thistle at the funeral of his father and brother, who were killed by the British. So the thistles are associated with love. When they're older, the two begin dating, and he gives her back this same, dried thistle. Once again, it is associated with love. When Murron marries him, she gives him a handkerchief with a picture of a thistle sewn on it. It still is associated with love.
Later Murron is murdered. Had symbolizing love been the only way the handkerchief had been used, whenever Wallace looks at it with sadness, we would understand and feel his personal anguish. It would evoke in him (and in us) emotional memories and feelings about Murron's specialness, the beauty of their love, and the sadness of her passing.
The handkerchief, however, continues to take on additional emotional associations throughout the plot:
Throughout the film, the handkerchief with the thistle keeps reappearing, always during emotionally charged moments, and always associated with love, revenge, freedom, or courage. By the end, the handkerchief seems saturated with emotional associations, just like the American flag.
As when we see the American flag, or when we see the handkerchief in Braveheart, we don't think about all these meanings or associations. Instead, the handkerchief evokes feelings in us drawn from all those emotional experiences (the loss of his wife the anger of revenge the passionate struggle for freedom, and so on).