A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two seemingly unlike objects or concepts. By portraying a person, place, thing, or action as being something else, a metaphor incites the reader to gain a deeper understanding or more vivid description of the text. Metaphors are effective in writing because they allow for creativity and enliven language. As a literary device, metaphors encourage the reader to think and interpret various literary elements in a meaningful way through the development of characters, plot, settings, and imagery. For more examples of figurative language, read this article. By making connections and relating personal experiences to the objects being compared, the audience gains a deeper understanding of the text at hand. If you would like to improve your writing skills, using literary devices such as an extended metaphor will enhance creative writing. The course, Creative Writing: Turn your ideas into pages, provides a basic guide toward turning your ideas into a literary work.
What is an Extended Metaphor?
An extended metaphor is a comparison that is continued in a piece of literature for more than a single reference. It might be contained in a few sentences, a paragraph, stanza, or an entire literary piece. An author uses an extended metaphor to build a larger comparison between two things. This comparison creates a rich, unique description to enhance imagery in poetry as well as prose and create an intense comparison in the mind of the reader. Extended metaphors can also be referred to as the literary term conceit and are often used to teach a moral lesson to the reader through an anecdote. If you are interested in poetry, check out this course which explores poetry from the Romantic Era.
Examples from Literature
Hope by Emily Dickenson
In Hope, Dickenson compares the abstract idea of hope to a bird.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,
And 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 chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
In Dickenson’s poem, the bird (which resides in the soul) never stops singing. This image captures the idea that unflinching hope is a beautiful thing. Remaining hopeful in trying times such as the “chilliest land” or “strangest sea,” a bird’s song remains resilient and everlasting and is not affected by fear. Holding on to hope does not take anything away and has never “asked a crumb” of the narrator despite keeping “so many warm” with its song.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
In his famous poem, The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost uses an extended metaphor to compare two roads to various life paths and the weighty decision of which direction to follow.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Frost is comparing life journeys and experiences to roads that are traveled or bypassed. A fork in the road represents two life decisions that one must choose between. Through the used of extended metaphor, Frost explains that the harder path holds a greater reward. He took the road that “wanted wear” and few had followed. He goes on to explain that taking the road “less traveled by…has made all the difference.” Sometimes it is easy to go with the crowd or follow in the footsteps of what others have already done. However, if you forge your own path the rewards could be greater. Frost is reflecting on this monumental decision later in life and “ages and ages” since he made his choice. This shows that wisdom has confirmed that choosing one’s path will affect the rest of one’s life — as taking the less worn road has affected him tremendously.
Mother to Son by Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes compares life to a crystal stair in his poem, Mother to Son.
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor —
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now —
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
This extended metaphor is a bit different from the rest of my examples, because the narrator details how life is NOT like a crystal stair and uses imagery that is very opposite of crystal to create a message. The mother is detailing her experiences and struggles by describing her staircase as being tainted by “splinters” with “boards torn up” and “bare.” However, she has been and is still “climbing” which elevates the metaphor of the staircase as a means to get somewhere higher or better. By detailing her struggles to her son, she is imparting advice as well as inspiration.
Romeo and Juliet (Act 3, Scene 5)
How now! a conduit, girl? what, still in tears?
Evermore showering? In one little body
Thou counterfeit’st a bark, a sea, a wind;
For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea,
Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is,
Sailing in this salt flood; the winds, thy sighs;
Who, raging with thy tears, and they with them,
Without a sudden calm, will overset.
In this scene, Juliet is crying as Romeo has just left and she is to be married to Paris, a man whom she does not love. Seeing his daughter in tears, Juliet’s father compares her to a boat in a storm. Her eyes are the “sea”, and her body is the boat or “bark.” Her tears are the “ebb and flow” of a “raging sea. Juliet’s sighs are the “winds” of the storm.
Habitation by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood uses an extended metaphor in her poem, Habitation to describe marriage.
Marriage is not
a house or even a tent
it is before that, and colder:
The edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn
where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
we are learning to make fire.
Atwood is using the metaphor of habitation or where one resides to describe marriage. She does not believe marriage is a stable shelter such as a “house or even a tent,” but describes an unstable “edge” of a desert or forest. The poem describes the couple “learning to make fire” together while trying to survive both “painfully and with wonder.” This extended metaphor suggests that marriage is hard work but at the core is building a life together — usually from the ground up.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (passage from Chapter 2)
In his novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses an extended metaphor to describe the “Valley of Ashes” a seemingly hopeless, poverty stricken area.
“This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men, who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight. … The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and, when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an hour.”
Nick Caraway, the narrator, describes this stretch of desolate land as an area encompassed by ashes or smoke. These ashes, and the power attached to them, have grown into “grotesque gardens” seemingly having overtaken the dismal population. The ashes seem to have overtaken everything — the houses, the men, the cars. These ashes create an “impenetrable cloud” suggesting that either the rich ignore or do not see the plight of the less fortunate or the people who live here hide behind it to cover up “operations” that are corrupt.
Extended metaphors create stronger characters, stronger images, and stronger stories. Whether you are an engaged reader or a writer trying to convey a point, metaphors will take your writing or analyzing to the next level. As a student or aspiring writer, knowledge of various literary devices and use of figurative language will help to enhance your work. If you will be entering college and are looking to improve your writing skills, check out this course offered by Udemy. If you have an idea with which to run but do not know how to get started, explore Beginning Writer’s Workshop which details how to transform your idea for a novel, short story, play, or screenplay into reality. Are you lacking inspiration when it comes time to write? The following article includes creative writing ideas to get the juices flowing.