A metaphor is a common figure of speech that refers an object, idea, or action to another thing to help make a comparison or suggest that they are similar. For example, “drowning in money.”
Metaphors are a literary device that add imagery, color, symbolism, or humor to language to make comparisons, objects, and ideas more memorable. They are commonly used in poetry, literature, songs, and movies to represent abstract concepts.
Readers can identify a metaphor when a writer applies a word or phrase to something figuratively instead of using the literal meaning.
A metaphor’s form has two parts – the tenor and the vehicle. In the metaphor "life is a rollercoaster":
Common metaphor examples and samples include the following:
Authors use metaphors to develop characters and themes in creative writing. For example:
|Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck||"Well, you keep away from her, cause she’s a rattrap if I ever seen one."||Curley's wife to a rattrap|
|Matilda by Roald Dahl||“The parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away.”||Matilda to a scab|
|To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee||“As a result, the town remained the same size for a hundred years, an island in a patchwork sea of cotton fields and timberland.”||The town to an island|
Poets use metaphors to increase the depth and meaning of their poems.
For example, the poem "Dreams" by Langston Hughes:
Hold fast to dreams / For if dreams die / Life is a broken-winged bird / That cannot fly.
Langston Hughes compares dreams to birds for this metaphor.
Another example of a poem that uses metaphors is "since feeling is first" by E.E. Cummings:
we are for each other: then / laugh, leaning back in my arms / for life’s not a paragraph / And death i think is no parenthesis
E.E. Cummings is using a metaphor to compare Life to a paragraph; death to parenthesis.
Songwriters and lyricists also make use of metaphors to add depth without increasing length. One example is "Life is a highway" by Rascal Flatts, where life is compared to a highway.
Another example of metaphor is in the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen where life is compared to being stuck in a landslide.
One more famous song that uses a metaphor is "Titanium" by David Guetta ft. Sia. Sia sings "I am titanium" obviously comparing herself to titanium.
Metaphors in movies allow audiences to relate to characters and follow thematic ideas. For example:
|Cinderella||"A dream is a wish your heart makes."||Dreams to a wish|
|The Princess Bride||"Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."||Life to pain|
|Aladdin||"Seek thee out the diamond in the rough."||Diamond to a person|
In literature, the different types of metaphors to show symbolism are standard, implied, visual, extended, mixed, and dead.
Standard, direct, and explicit are all names for a simple metaphor where the comparison is obvious and direct. All other types are defined based upon the understanding of a standard metaphor.
An implied metaphor, also known as implicit or indirect, compares two dissimilar things without identifying one of them. These metaphors do not identify the tenor. For example:
The children squealed in excitement when school was canceled for a snow day.
Writers provide vivid imagery and develop ambiguous through this type of comparison.
A visual metaphor uses graphic elements to suggest a specific connection between objects. Advertisers and artists commonly use these metaphors in art, advertising, and film.
For example, Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory" ("Persistencia de la Memoria") is a visual metaphor. The painting includes a desolate background with multiple melting clocks in the foreground.
Through a visual metaphor, Dali provides the viewer with commentary on the notion of time.
An extended metaphor is a comparison that occurs over multiple lines, pages, chapters, or an entire work. Its use allows writers to develop complex comparisons and foster insightful connections.
In "Hope is the Thing with Feathers," Emily Dickinson uses an extended metaphor to compare hope with a perched bird that never stops singing:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune - without words,
And never stops at all,
And the sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
A mixed metaphor combines two unrelated metaphors, creating an illogical comparison. Ultimately, there is no connection between the compared items. For example:
He has been burning the midnight oil at both ends.
Writers typically use mixed metaphors to produce a comedic effect or highlight the naivety or ignorance of a character.
A dead metaphor occurs when the original meaning of the comparison is lost either due to excessive repetition or a semantic shift (words losing or changing their initial meaning over time). Readers understand these metaphors without knowing their original connotations; therefore, they are viewed more literally in a reader’s mind.
An example of a dead metaphor is the phrase "falling in love," which was once a metaphor equating love with the process of falling – risky and sometimes resulting in injury.
A simile is a metaphor that uses the words "like" or "as." These identifying words allow writers to make their comparisons much more obvious; however, a metaphor’s direct comparison is often considered more powerful.
Consider the following difference between metaphors and similes:
The simile suggests that the players have the qualities of fireworks, while the metaphor emphasizes that the players are fireworks, creating a much stronger connection.
When writing a metaphor, follow the following steps and metaphor rules:
Learn about other English language literary terms like personification, hyperbole, and idioms.
After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:
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