7 Top Metaphor Examples In Literature

You can find thousands of metaphor examples in literature. As a literary device, it offers an easy way to show your readers what you’re saying.

Often you’ll see people confuse metaphors with similes. They are both figures of speech.

But where similes draw a comparison by saying one thing is like another, the metaphor indicates that they are literally the same. It’s easier to show the difference between the types of figures of speech by showing examples.

These are examples of metaphors: My heart is an open book. Her lips are rose petals.

On the other hand, a simile makes it clear that they are not the same, but similar: My heart is like an open book. Her lips are soft, like rose petals.

1. Understanding Simile in Comparison

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In English, we use similes and metaphors as figurative language. They can be simple or elaborate phrases, but the point is to evoke a vivid picture for the audience. We can’t discuss one literary device without the other because they are so often confused.

A simile is used to draw a direct comparison between two things that ordinarily don’t go together. This is a purposeful way to get the reader to see the image with greater clarity.

We teach children the difference between these two types of literary devices by noting that similes use the words “like” or “as”.

This is a simple way to tell the difference. Where a metaphor states that one thing is literally another, the simile makes the comparison clear. We know the subject is not another thing but is simply akin to that thing.

Some examples of a simile might be: You’re as brave as a soldier. He was sturdy like a great oak. She moved with grace like a swan.

2. Examples of Metaphors

Metaphor examples in Literature
Creative writing students use different types of metaphors, and they’re peppered in great works

There are plenty of examples of metaphors in English literature. From Emily Dickinson writing, “hope is the thing with feathers” to Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It by William Shakespeare, you can find examples of the use of metaphor throughout the English language. Creative writing students use different types of metaphors, and they’re peppered in great works.

The word comes from the Greek, “metaphora” which translates to “apply or I transfer”. Great writers and thinkers have come up with imaginative ways to turn their phrases. Sylvia Plath wrote a poem all in metaphors, called “Metaphors” which on the surface seemed just to paint the picture of her pregnancy. Digging deeper, of course, it said so much more.

William Shakespeare used many metaphors in his plays and other works. Some famous examples of these can be found in Sonnet 18 Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Margaret Atwood used them liberally. 

There are famous metaphors used in great works. Pop culture uses metaphors – from Katy Perry’s “Firework” to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”. Common metaphors like “black sheep” are so well used as to be a cliche. We use them in everyday life without even thinking about it.

3. Extended Metaphor

An extended metaphor is more than a phrase. It’s often a type of poetry, such as Emily Dickenson’s Hope, which is referenced above. An extended metaphor takes that comparison and discusses is for several sentences, stanzas, or an entire work.

The technique of using extended metaphor works by explaining a complex or thought-provoking topic in a different way. It draws comparisons between the two separate things, explaining the other so thoroughly that your perception of the actual subject is heightened.

Students often use this technique in creative writing. But you’ll find that it’s taught in higher education because the technique works so well in essays, longer forms of prose, speech writing, and poetry. 

4. Dead Metaphors

Dead metaphors are phrases that started as metaphors but have become so common that they no longer mean what they once did. George Orwell discussed dying metaphors at great length.

He also discussed an in-between, metaphors that are common enough that they’re not evocative but they still do work as metaphors.

A dead metaphor is a phrase that has changed to mean something else. For instance, the face of a watch. A watch has no literal face, it’s not human.

However, we’ve used the metaphor face for so long that it has become the actual term for a watch face. It’s no longer a metaphor.

If you look closely at the etymology of words and phrases, you’ll find many of them started as a figure of speech. Similes and metaphors have often become favorite literary devices. 

5. Metaphors in Your Writing

Dead metaphors are simply new phrases that no longer work as metaphors. But there is a space between original metaphors and dead metaphors that no longer work as that type of literary device. Overused metaphors.

You want to avoid anything that is overused or cliche. Editors and professional writers talk often about winnowing out cliche in your work. It’s easy to fall into because these phrases become common and therefore lifelike.

Some common metaphors might be acceptable if you have a character who is unoriginal in thought.

You can have cliches that are not metaphors, of course. But common metaphors do tend to read as cliche. So if you’ve heard them repeatedly, remove them from your writing unless you have a concise reason to include them.

6. Mixed Metaphors in English

Mixed metaphors are just what they sound like. It’s using two different metaphors in the same sentence or sequence to talk about a single person, action, or thing. Mixed metaphors are always frowned upon in writing because they confuse the description.

When you use a metaphor, you’re trying to paint a vivid picture. By using two metaphors that don’t work together, you’re often giving a description that doesn’t work well, or at all.

In many cases, if you literally thought out the wording it becomes impossible.

7. Personification as Metaphor

Personification, in literary terms, is giving the characteristics of a person to an object. The velveteen rabbit used personification. So did Winnie the Pooh and many of our favorite childhood stories that involved animals and toys.

Personification is often used in metaphor. The sun smiled down and the wind growled. 

The Final Word on Metaphor Examples in Literature

Metaphors can improve your ability to paint a picture for your audience. However, the best metaphors are original to the author. Here are some things to keep in mind when you employ this literary device in your writing.

FAQs on Metaphor Examples in Literature

Should you use common metaphors in your writing?

The general rule is that you should use original metaphors in writing whenever possible. There are some reasons why you would use a common metaphor.

For instance, if it’s a phrase that helps establish the character’s voice, a common metaphor can be perfect. Often, though, common metaphors border on cliche. They’ve been used so frequently that they lose their potency for the audience. 

Why are metaphors and similes used?

These types of figurative language help you paint a picture or illustrate a point in a simplified way. Writing a straight description can be burdensome and heavy for the reader. A well-developed simile or metaphor can clearly showcase your ideas in a shorter and more concise way.

What types of writing use metaphors?

You can find metaphors in virtually every type of writing. You’ll see them used in social media posts, articles, blog posts, and personal email. You’ll also see metaphors employed to a high degree in literature, pop culture, and song lyrics. 

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