Exploring the Meaning: What Does the Number 3 Symbolize in Literature?

If there’s one thing that’s consistent in literature, it’s that the number three always seems to pop up. From three witches in Macbeth to the three musketeers, the significance of three in literature and storytelling can’t be understated. But why is this number so important and what does it symbolize?

For starters, three is often seen as the magic number. In fairy tales and other stories, the third of something often holds a special power or value. Think of the three wishes in Aladdin or the three little pigs – the third attempt is often the successful one. In Christianity, the Holy Trinity – God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – is a fundamental doctrine that has influenced much of literature.

The number three can also be seen as a representation of balance and completeness. The triad structure – introduction, body, and conclusion – is a common format for essays, speeches, and other forms of communication. Additionally, the three act structure is widely used in storytelling and theater. There’s a beginning, middle, and end to a story – three parts that work together to create a complete narrative. Whether it’s in literature or in everyday life, the power of three is a force to be reckoned with.

The Holy Trinity in Christianity

In Christianity, the number 3 is often associated with the Holy Trinity, which represents three distinct persons in one Godhead. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three separate entities that make up the divine nature of God. This concept is crucial to the Christian faith and is mentioned throughout the Bible as the three persons work together in creating and sustaining the world.

The number 3 is also significant in the Christian tradition as it represents the culmination of events, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. The Holy Trinity is mentioned in several key Christian texts, including the Nicene Creed, which describes the fundamental beliefs of the church.

The Symbolism of the Number 3 in Literature

  • The number 3 is often used in literature to signify completion or wholeness, representing a beginning, middle, and end. This structure is common in storytelling, where the three-act structure creates a satisfying narrative arc.
  • The number 3 can also represent a balance of opposing forces, such as good, evil, and neutrality. This symbolism is evident in stories like “The Three Little Pigs,” where the three pigs represent different levels of preparation and resilience.
  • The use of the number 3 can also signify repetition or progression, with the third time being the charm or a culmination of efforts. This is evident in the fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” where Goldilocks tests out three beds, three bowls of porridge, and three chairs until she finds the perfect fit.

The Number 3 in Mythology and Folklore

Across various cultures and traditions, the number 3 holds significance in mythology and folklore. In ancient Greece, the three Fates were goddesses who determined the destiny of mortals, spinning the threads of life, measuring them, and cutting them at the end of one’s life. The Celtic Triple Goddess represents three aspects of femininity – the maiden, the mother, and the crone – and is a symbol of the cycle of life.

In Hinduism, the Trimurti represents the three aspects of the supreme being – Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer – and represents the three cycles of life. In Chinese tradition, the three-star gods represent good fortune, prosperity, and longevity.


The number 3 has many symbolic meanings across cultures and traditions, representing completion, balance, progression, and divine nature. In literature, mythology, and folklore, the number 3 is often used to create a satisfying narrative arc, representing the cycle of life and the balance of opposing forces. In Christianity, the Holy Trinity is a fundamental concept, representing the three persons in the one Godhead.

Symbolism of 3 Examples in Literature, Mythology, and Folklore
Completion Three-act structure in storytelling
Balance of opposing forces “The Three Little Pigs”
Progression or repetition “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”
Divine nature The Holy Trinity in Christianity

Overall, the number 3 holds significant meaning in various areas of life and culture, representing unity, balance, and completion.

The three Fates in Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, the three Fates, also known as the Moirai, are the three goddesses who control the thread of life of every mortal and immortal from birth to death. They were often depicted as old women, with one holding the spindle of life, one holding the thread, and the other holding the scissors to cut the thread.

  • Clotho: she spins the thread of life
  • Lachesis: she measures the length of the thread
  • Atropos: she cuts the thread of life to determine the end of one’s life

Their role in Greek mythology symbolizes the inevitability of fate and the idea that every life has a set course that cannot be altered. This belief is reflected in many literary works, where fate is often portrayed as a powerful force that cannot be changed. Characters in these works often try to resist their fate, but ultimately, their actions are futile.

The three Fates have been referenced in various literary works throughout history, from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Homer’s Odyssey. In Macbeth, the three witches are seen as a reference to the Fates who predict Macbeth’s future. In the Odyssey, they are described as “the Spinners” who determine the destinies of gods and mortals. The idea of the three Fates has also been used in modern literature and popular culture, including comic books and video games.

Symbolism Meaning
Spindle Beginning of life
Thread The path of life
Scissors End of life

The three Fates in Greek mythology represent an important aspect of storytelling. They serve as a reminder that every action has a consequence and every life follows a predetermined path. Their symbolism has influenced literature for centuries, and their legacy continues to inspire writers and readers today.

Third time’s the charm

The phrase “third time’s the charm” is often used to signify that success comes on the third attempt. The number 3 is often associated with good fortune, harmony, and completion. In literature, the idea of “third time’s the charm” serves as a common motif, representing the idea that persistence and determination eventually lead to success.

There are many examples in literature where the number 3 is used as a symbol of success. In the play “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare, the three witches that appear to Macbeth symbolize the three steps in his descent into madness and eventual downfall. Similarly, in “The Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, the Tin Woodman, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion all set out on a journey to get something they desire and only succeed on the third attempt.

Symbols associated with the number 3

  • Harmony and balance
  • Completion and wholeness
  • Persistence and determination

Examples of the number 3 in literature

The use of the number 3 as symbolism in literature is common. Here are some examples:

  • The Three Little Pigs by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe
  • Three Birds Alighting on a Field by Timberlake Wertenbaker

The power of the rule of three

The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, and more effective than other numbers of things. In literature, the use of three helps create a sense of completeness and satisfaction in the reader. Many writers use the rule of three to craft memorable phrases, such as “location, location, location” in real estate or “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.

Examples of the rule of three in literature
Veni, vidi, vici (Julius Caesar)
Faith, hope, and charity (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Stop, look, and listen (Traffic safety tip)

Three Primary Colors (Red, Blue, Yellow)

Colors are often used symbolically in literature to represent different emotions, moods, and ideas. The three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, have played various roles in literature and have taken on different meanings depending on the context in which they are used.

  • Red – In literature, red is often associated with passion, love, and strong emotions. It can also symbolize danger and warning, as in the case of a red warning sign or a red stop light. One classic example of the use of red is in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”, in which the protagonist, Hester Prynne, is forced to wear a red letter “A” on her clothing as punishment for committing adultery.
  • Blue – Blue is often used to symbolize calmness, serenity, and peace. It can also represent sadness and melancholy. In literature, blue is frequently used to describe the sky or the sea, as in the opening lines of Homer’s “Odyssey”: “Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.”
  • Yellow – Yellow is often used to represent happiness, joy, and optimism. It can also symbolize caution and warning, as in the case of a yellow caution sign or a yellow traffic light. In literature, yellow is sometimes used to describe the sun, as in William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 33”: “Full many a glorious morning have I seen / Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye, / Kissing with golden face the meadows green, / Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy.”


The three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, have been used symbolically in literature to represent different emotions, moods, and ideas. The meanings of these colors can change depending on the context in which they are used, but they remain powerful symbols that can enhance the reader’s understanding and appreciation of a literary work.

Color Symbolic Meanings
Red Passion, love, danger
Blue Calmness, serenity, sadness
Yellow Happiness, caution, warning

Understanding the symbolic meanings of these colors can enrich the reading experience and deepen our appreciation for the artistry of literature.

Three Musketeers

One of the most iconic literary works featuring the number 3 is Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. This classic novel tells the adventurous story of D’Artagnan, a young man who travels to Paris to join the musketeers, a group of elite guards serving the king. The book’s title refers to the three musketeers who become D’Artagnan’s closest friends: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.

  • Athos is known for his wisdom and stoicism.
  • Porthos is portrayed as a larger-than-life figure, with a love for wine, women, and fighting.
  • Aramis is the most sensitive of the three, and has aspirations of becoming a priest.

The three musketeers are known for their camaraderie, loyalty, and courage. Together, they face numerous challenges and obstacles, from duels to political intrigue, always standing up for what they believe in. The trio has become a symbol of fraternity and brotherhood, and has inspired countless adaptations and retellings across different media.

Interestingly, the number 3 also plays a significant role in the structure of the novel itself. The book is divided into three parts, each focusing on a different main plotline. Additionally, the main character D’Artagnan is often depicted as part of a trio himself, whether he is with the musketeers or with his love interests Constance and Milady.

Symbolism Meaning
Three musketeers Fraternity, loyalty, courage
Three parts of the novel Structure, unity, completeness
D’Artagnan’s trios Love, rivalry, dependence

All in all, the number 3 in The Three Musketeers serves as a powerful symbol of brotherhood, unity, and completion, highlighting the importance of loyalty, courage, and standing up for one’s beliefs.

Three Wishes in Fairy Tales

The number 3 often appears in fairy tales, particularly in the form of three wishes granted to a character. This trope has been used in countless stories throughout history, from Aladdin to The Monkey’s Paw to Cinderella. The concept of three wishes taps into a common desire to have all of one’s problems solved in an instant, without any effort or work required.

  • In many stories, the granting of three wishes is overseen by a magical being or object such as a genie or a fairy godmother.
  • However, the wishes are often granted with a catch or twist that ultimately leads to unexpected consequences for the wisher.
  • In some tales, the third wish is used to undo the first two or to set things back to how they were before the wishes were granted.

Overall, the concept of three wishes in fairy tales serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed and the importance of thinking through one’s actions and desires.

Examples of Three Wishes in Fairy Tales Lessons Learned
Aladdin and the Magic Lamp Be careful what you wish for, as the consequences may not be what you expect.
The Monkey’s Paw Think through your wishes carefully, as they may come with unforeseen and terrible consequences.
Cinderella Wishes can come true, but it’s important to have the courage to take action and work towards your goals rather than relying on magic.

In summary, the use of three wishes in fairy tales serves as a powerful symbol that warns against the dangers of greed and quick fixes. These tales encourage readers to be thoughtful and deliberate in their actions, and to recognize that true change and success often require effort and commitment.

The Three Little Pigs

The story of The Three Little Pigs has been a popular children’s tale for generations. Each pig in the story builds a house made of different materials, with the first two being easily destroyed by the big, bad wolf. It is only the third pig and his brick house that ultimately withstand the wolf’s attacks. Beyond being an entertaining story, The Three Little Pigs also has symbolic meaning.

  • The number 3: The story revolves around the number 3, with three pigs and three houses. The number 3 is often associated with completeness, balance, and harmony in literature. In this story, it symbolizes the importance of having a solid foundation and being prepared for unexpected challenges.
  • The houses: The three houses built by the pigs represent more than just structures. The first two houses made of straw and sticks represent quick and easy solutions that aren’t built to last. The third house made of bricks symbolizes the importance of hard work, determination, and investing time and resources into something that will withstand the test of time.
  • The wolf: The wolf is often seen as a symbol of destruction and chaos in literature. In this story, the wolf represents the unexpected challenges and obstacles that we may face in life. It is only through perseverance and determination that we can overcome these challenges and emerge stronger on the other side.

Overall, The Three Little Pigs uses the number 3 to convey the importance of building a strong foundation and being prepared for unexpected challenges. It encourages readers to take the time and effort to invest in something that will withstand the test of time, rather than settling for quick and easy solutions.

When we examine children’s stories through a literary lens, we can uncover deeper symbolic meanings that can be applied to our own lives. The Three Little Pigs is a prime example of how a seemingly simple story can hold valuable life lessons.

By examining these symbols, we can gain a deeper understanding of the story and apply its lessons to our own lives.

Third-person point of view in literature

Third-person point of view is a narrative technique used in literature to convey the story from an outside perspective. It is the most commonly used point of view in literature and gives the reader an objective view of the story being told. Third-person point of view can be broken down into three subcategories:

  • Third-person omniscient
  • Third-person limited
  • Third-person objective

Each subcategory differs in terms of the level of knowledge and insight provided to the reader. Third-person omniscient gives the reader access to the thoughts and feelings of any character in the story, while third-person limited only provides insight into the thoughts and feelings of a single character. Third-person objective is the most detached form of third-person point of view and simply presents the events of the story without any insight into character thoughts or feelings.

The significance of the number 3 in literature

The number 3 is a significant and recurring motif in literature. It is often used to create a sense of balance and completeness in a story or to emphasize a particular idea or theme. Three is considered to be a magical and powerful number in many cultures, and this is reflected in its use in literature.

There are many examples of the number 3 being used symbolically in literature. One of the most common examples is the use of the three-act structure in plays and films. This structure breaks the story down into three parts: the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution. This structure has been used for centuries and is still widely used today.

Another example of the number 3 being used symbolically is the rule of three. This rule suggests that things that come in threes are more satisfying, effective, and memorable. This is often seen in literature through the use of three characters, three events, or three key themes.




Completeness, balance, and harmony

The importance of hard work, determination, and investing time and resources into something that will withstand the test of time

The unexpected challenges and obstacles that we may face in life and the need for perseverance and determination to overcome them
Example Description
Goldilocks and the Three Bears A classic fairy tale that uses the rule of three to great effect.
The Three Musketeers The title alone is an example of the rule of three and suggests that there are three main characters.

In conclusion, the number 3 is a powerful and significant symbol in literature. It is commonly used to create balance, completeness, and emphasize important themes and ideas. Third-person point of view is the most commonly used narrative technique in literature and is often broken down into three subcategories. When used effectively, both the number 3 and third-person point of view can add depth and meaning to a story.

The Three Main Characters in The Lord of the Rings

The number three holds significant symbolism in literature, representing a variety of concepts such as unity, balance, and completeness. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the three main characters embody these qualities and help to drive the story forward.

  • Frodo Baggins: Frodo is the protagonist of the story, tasked with the burden of destroying the One Ring. He represents innocence and selflessness, as he willingly takes on this dangerous quest to save Middle-earth. His journey is also a test of his own inner strength and resilience.
  • Samwise Gamgee: Samwise is Frodo’s close friend and loyal companion throughout the journey. He represents hope and optimism, always reminding Frodo of the good in the world and encouraging him to keep going. Samwise also serves as a reminder that even the most ordinary individuals can achieve extraordinary feats.
  • Gandalf the Grey/White: Gandalf is a wizard who acts as a mentor and guide to the other characters. He represents wisdom and knowledge, possessing a deep understanding of the forces at play in Middle-earth. He also demonstrates the importance of sacrifice in achieving greater goals.

The three characters work together to achieve their shared goal of destroying the One Ring and defeating the evil forces of Sauron. Each brings their own unique strengths and qualities to the group, allowing them to overcome the numerous obstacles they face throughout the trilogy.

Tolkien’s use of the number three in these main characters helps to create a sense of balance and harmony, demonstrating the importance of cooperation and teamwork in overcoming adversity.

Character Symbolism
Frodo Baggins Innocence, selflessness, resilience
Samwise Gamgee Hope, optimism, ordinary heroism
Gandalf the Grey/White Wisdom, knowledge, sacrifice

Overall, the three main characters in The Lord of the Rings exemplify the powerful symbolism and significance of the number three in literature. Their journey together serves as a reminder of the importance of cooperation, balance, and working towards a common goal, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

The Three Witches in Macbeth

The three witches, also known as the Weird Sisters, are arguably the most iconic trio in all of literature. They play a crucial role in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, and their symbolism is rich with meaning and significance.

  • First and foremost, the number three represents unity and completeness. The witches always appear together and speak in unison. Their words, actions, and visions are all interconnected, creating a sense of harmony and singularity.
  • Their physical appearance is also a key component of their symbolism. They are described as having beards, suggesting that they blur traditional gender lines and defy societal norms. This aligns with the theme of power and subversion that runs throughout the play.
  • Furthermore, the witches are often associated with the supernatural and the mystical. They have the power to predict the future, manipulate events, and conjure spells. This makes them both fascinating and frightening to the other characters in the play, as well as to the audience.

Overall, the three witches in Macbeth symbolize the triumph of chaos over order, subversion over conformity, and darkness over light. They represent the danger of giving in to our darkest desires and the consequences that come with it.

In conclusion, the three witches in Macbeth imbue the play with an otherworldly energy, bringing themes of power, gender, and the supernatural to the forefront. Their symbolism and significance have cemented them as some of the most memorable characters in all of literature.

Symbolism Description
Unity and completeness The witches always appear together and speak in unison, creating a sense of harmony and singularity.
Subversion Their physical appearance defies traditional gender lines and societal norms, aligning with the theme of power and subversion in the play.
Supernatural The witches have the power to predict the future, manipulate events, and conjure spells, making them both fascinating and frightening to the other characters in the play.

What Does the Number 3 Symbolize in Literature?

1. What is the significance of the number 3 in fairytales?

The number 3 is often used in fairytales to represent a pattern of three events, such as three wishes or three tasks that must be completed. It can also represent a power struggle between three characters.

2. What does the rule of three mean in storytelling?

The rule of three is a common writing technique where three events or elements are listed in succession to create a pattern. It is used to create rhythm, emphasis, and a feeling of completeness.

3. What does the Holy Trinity have to do with the number three in literature?

In Christian literature, the number 3 represents the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is often used to represent divinity, completion, and unity.

4. What does the number 3 symbolize in ancient mythology?

In ancient mythology, the number 3 was often used to represent the three aspects of a deity, such as the Maiden, Mother, and Crone in the Triple Goddess tradition. It was also associated with three important events or concepts, such as birth, life, and death.

5. How does the number 3 relate to symbolism in poetry?

In poetry, the number 3 is often used to represent a triad of concepts or emotions, such as love, loss, and longing. It is also used to create a sense of balance or harmony between three elements.

6. What does the number 3 represent in Shakespearean literature?

In Shakespearean literature, the number 3 is often used to create a sense of completeness, such as the three witches in Macbeth or the three murderers in Richard III. It is also used to represent a pattern of conflict or resolution.

7. What is the significance of the three-part story structure in literature?

The three-part story structure, also known as the hero’s journey, is a common storytelling device used in literature. It consists of three stages: departure, initiation, and return. The number 3 is used to create a sense of progression and completeness in the protagonist’s journey.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for reading about the symbolism of the number 3 in literature! Whether it represents a pattern of three events, the rule of three, the Holy Trinity, or a three-part story structure, the number 3 is a powerful symbol that has been used in literature for centuries. Keep exploring the world of literature to discover even more hidden meanings and symbols. See you later!