Metaphor: Definition and Examples in Literature

what is metaphor?
Metaphor definition and examples

Metaphor: To see the world in a new way

A metaphor is a figure of speech where we describe one thing as if it were something else. It’s a way of making a comparison without using words like “like” or “as,” which are used in similes. For example, if someone says “Life is a journey,” they are using a metaphor. They don’t mean that life is literally a trip from one place to another. Instead, they are suggesting that life is similar to a journey because it has ups and downs, new experiences, and challenges, just like a journey does. Metaphors are useful in making our language more interesting and helping us to see things in a new way.

Metaphor example
Life is a stage

Types of Metaphors in Literature

There are various types of metaphors commonly found in literature:

  1. Standard Metaphor: This is a basic type where you describe something as if it were something else to make a comparison. Like saying, “Life is a rollercoaster,” suggests life has ups and downs.
  2. Extended Metaphor: This metaphor is stretched out over a long part of the story or poem. It keeps giving more examples of the comparison. Like a whole poem describing life as a journey with many roads.
  3. Implied Metaphor: This doesn’t directly say one thing is another, but suggests it. If you say “He barked orders,” you don’t mean he’s actually a dog, but he’s acting like one.
  4. Dead Metaphor: This is used so much that people don’t think of it as a metaphor anymore. Like saying “the foot of the bed.” We don’t actually picture a foot.
  5. Mixed Metaphor: This is a bit of a mistake, where metaphors get mixed up. Like saying “That’s the icing on the cake, but it’s not my cup of tea.” It’s confusing because it mixes different ideas.
  6. Absolute Metaphor: This one is more creative. It compares things that don’t seem related at all. Like saying “Thoughts are butterflies.” It’s unusual and makes you think differently.
  7. Visual Metaphor: This metaphor creates a picture in your mind. For example, describing a scene as “drowned in a sea of darkness” makes you picture a very dark place.
  8. Conceptual Metaphor: This is when you understand one idea or thing by thinking of it as something else. Like when we talk about time as if it’s money (“saving time”).
  9. Personification: This gives human qualities to things that aren’t human. Like saying “The sun smiled at us” makes it seem like the sun can smile.
  10. The Concretive Metaphor: This makes something hard to understand (like a feeling or idea) seem more real. Saying “A blanket of sadness covered him” makes sadness feel like a real blanket.
  11. The Animistic Metaphor: This gives animal qualities to non-animal things. Like saying “The car roared to life” makes you think the car is like an animal roaring.
  12. The Humanising (‘Anthropomorphic’) Metaphor: This makes non-human things seem human. Like saying “The old house groaned and creaked” as if the house can groan and creak like a person.
  13. The Synaesthetic Metaphor: This mixes up our senses. For example, “sweet sound” uses taste (sweet) to describe a sound, which is usually heard, not tasted.

These different types of metaphors enrich the text, providing depth, and helping readers to connect with the material in a more meaningful way. They are tools that writers use to convey complex ideas, emotions, and experiences in a relatable and often imaginative manner.

Metaphor examples in literature

Metaphors are a key element in literature across various languages. Let’s look at some notable examples from English, French, German, and Russian literature:

  1. English Literature: William Shakespeare, in “As You Like It,” uses the famous metaphor “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” This metaphor compares the world to a stage and life to a play, suggesting that our actions are like roles we play in a theater.
  2. French Literature: In “Le Petit Prince” (“The Little Prince”) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, there’s a metaphor in the statement, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” This metaphor suggests that the most important things, like love and friendship, cannot be seen with eyes but are felt with the heart.
  3. German Literature: In Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” the protagonist’s transformation into an insect is a metaphor for alienation and loss of humanity. It symbolizes how he feels disconnected from his family and society.
  4. Russian Literature: In “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy, there’s a metaphor where history is compared to a river. Tolstoy suggests that just as one cannot step into the same river twice, history is always moving and changing, and no event can be replicated exactly.

Metaphor Study Guide Questions

Here are some metaphor-related exam questions suitable for English literature students:

  1. Identify and Analyze a Metaphor:
    • “Choose a metaphor from a literary work you have studied this term. Explain what two things are being compared and discuss how this metaphor enhances the overall meaning of the work.”
  2. Comparative Analysis:
    • “Compare and contrast the use of metaphors in two poems from different authors that you have studied. How do these metaphors contribute to the themes of the poems?”
  3. Metaphor in Character Development:
    • “Select a character from a novel you have read. Discuss how metaphors are used to describe this character and how they contribute to your understanding of the character’s personality and role in the story.”
  4. Metaphor and Imagery:
    • “How does the use of metaphor enhance the imagery in a specific scene of a play you have studied? Provide examples to support your answer.”
  5. Metaphor in Historical Context:
    • “Choose a metaphor from a work of literature written in a historical period we have studied. Explain how this metaphor reflects the cultural or historical context of the period.”
  6. Creative Interpretation:
    • “Pick a metaphor from any literary work you have studied and write a short creative piece (a poem or a short story) that expands on this metaphor.”
  7. Critical Thinking:
    • “Do you think metaphors are necessary for effective storytelling in literature? Support your argument with examples from texts you have studied.”

These questions are designed to test a student’s understanding of metaphors, their ability to analyze and compare literary works, and their creative and critical thinking skills.

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