An extended metaphor is a detailed comparison that extends through multiple lines, paragraphs, pages, or an entire work. Much like a standard metaphor, extended metaphors use figurative language to compare two things that are not alike yet have some underlying connection.
A writer uses an extended metaphor for various purposes that help their audience understand and connect to the ideas they present. The versatility of extended metaphors makes them a useful literary device in poems, books, speeches, and song lyrics.
Authors incorporate extended metaphors to develop complex comparisons, elaborate on the subject matter, present insightful connections, or add humor to their work:
Examples of extended metaphors are everywhere—in famous poems, literature, and speeches, as well as in various areas of popular culture.
Consider the following general examples:
Examples of extended metaphors found in poems include:
"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost
Frost uses an extended metaphor to compare life's path to "two roads diverged in a yellow wood."
Initially, each path represents a different life choice, yet the narrator eventually indicates that both are essentially the same. Frost incorporates the metaphor to suggest that people believe their choices are unique and give their lives meaning.
"Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes
Hughes incorporates an extended metaphor by comparing a crystal staircase to the speaker's life.
The poet highlights the differences between the staircase and the life of the titular mother, emphasizing how her path was not like climbing crystal stairs. Instead, it "had tacks in it, / and splinters, / and boards torn up."
Hughes showcases how an extended metaphor can create contradictory images, helping him develop the contrast needed to understand the poem’s meaning.
These poems also contain extended metaphors:
Examples of extended metaphors used in longer literary works include Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
In the famous balcony scene, Romeo compares Juliet to the sun:
"But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun."
Shakespeare’s Romeo suggests that like the “fair sun,” Juliet can "kill the envious moon," representing the misery created by his previous love's rejection. Juliet has the power to end Romeo's despair and bring him into the light.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway utilizes an extended metaphor to compare Santiago, the old man, and the marlin he catches.
Much like Santiago's battle against his advancing age, the marlin fights for its survival, so much so that the fisherman sees himself in the fish. He recognizes its endurance and dignity. However, as hard as the marlin fights for its life, it succumbs to Santiago's spear.
Like the marlin, Santiago too will one day perish despite his strength and fortitude.
The following novels also contain popular extended metaphors:
These examples showcase how speechwriters use extended metaphors to make information more relatable and easier to understand:
Lyricists and scriptwriters use extended metaphors to make abstract concepts easier to comprehend. Examples include the following:
Conceit makes a comparison of two seemingly unrelated objects, then explains how the comparison is valid or relevant. Some find conceit synonymous with extended metaphors; however, others find conceit more far-fetched and elaborate.
Renaissance writers such as William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, and John Donne were well known for using this type of extended metaphor.
"The Flea" by John Donne
Sonnet 130 ("My mistresses' eyes are nothing like the sun") by William Shakespeare
An extended metaphor includes two parts, the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the initial concept, while the vehicle is the second concept figuratively compared to the first.
In the Shakespeare comedy As You Like It, one of the main characters remarks:
All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
In this metaphor, the tenor is the world, and the vehicle is the stage. Shakespeare expands upon the comparison within the monologue, thereby classifying it as an example of an extended metaphor due to its length.
Metaphors and extended metaphors differ based upon their length. Unlike a simple metaphor that can be presented in just a few words (America is a melting pot), an extended metaphor takes place over multiple lines, paragraphs, or an entire poem.
After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:
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