Discover what is an analogy and learn from examples of this literary device in usage.
Literary devices help your prose have more color and vividness while allowing the reader to make associations. For example, an analogy is a comparison of two seemingly unlike things to help draw a conclusion by comparing their similarities. Unlike other comparisons, like simile and metaphors, analogies give more details about the comparison to help the reader understand it better.
While there are many different types of analogy to study, the best way to understand this and other figures of speech is to look at examples. After reading a few analogies, you will be better able to spot them in the works you read or write your own analogies.
- What is An Analogy?
- What are the Benefits of Using an Analogy?
- 1. A Name Is a Rose from Romeo and Juliet
- 2. Life is a Shadow from Macbeth
- 3. The Crowd Is Like a Fisherman in “A Hanging”
- 4. Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates from Forrest Gump
- 5. Pulling Out Troops is Like Salted Peanuts from Henry Kissinger
- 6. The Futility of a New Author from Cocktail Time
- 7. The Mystery of Life in Let Me Count the Ways
- 8. The Push for Freedom Is Like Summer’s Heat in “I Have a Dream”
- 9. A Needle in a Haystack
- 10. Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic
- What is the Opposite of an Analogy?
What is An Analogy?
An analogy compares two concepts, usually to explain or clarify an idea. Writers use analogies to help people understand complex or abstract topics by relating something abstract to the familiar or concrete. They also use them as a type of literary device to improve the readability of their works.
What are the Benefits of Using an Analogy?
By highlighting similarities, a writer helps readers see how one thing works or behaves by comparing the characteristics of abstract ideas to more familiar ideas. As a result a concept or idea becomes easier to understand and even more memorable.
For example, a news reporter could employ this word analogy: “The presidential race for 2024 is like a chessboard…”
Teachers use different types of analogies to demonstrate a concept to a student. For this reason, analogy tests often form part of an standardized tests in any good English curriculum.
Analogies work in the real world too! For example, if a running coach wants to explains how a runner can run faster, they could use an analogy like “Pump your arms like a train” to help people understand how that they should use their arms and legs to run faster.
1. A Name Is a Rose from Romeo and Juliet
Often, analogies compare abstract concepts to something you can touch and feel. There are several examples of analogy in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Here is a common one:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called.”
In this analogy, the playwright compares someone’s name to a rose. The rose retains its sweet smell no matter how it is named, as does the person, regardless of his name. Read our guide to the best books of classic literature.
2. Life is a Shadow from Macbeth
Life is a difficult concept to understand, making it a favorite topic for people who write analogies. In Act V of Macbeth, Shakespeare creates an analogy by comparing a person’s life, and its brevity, to a fleeting shadow:
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Because life is so fleeting, this analogy works. The reader can see the shadow flitting about on the stage, then disappearing, reminding the reader how short life really is.
3. The Crowd Is Like a Fisherman in “A Hanging”
Some analogies take a little more time to explain yet still compare unlike things to make a point. For example, in his essay entitled A Hanging George Orwell describes the crowd gripping a man as they lead him to the gallows. The analogy is the comparison to the way a man would hold a slippery fish:
“They crowded very close about him, with their hands always on him in a careful, caressing grip, as though all the while feeling him to make sure he was there. It was like men handling a fish which is still alive and may jump back into the water. But he stood quite unresisting, yielding his arms limply to the ropes, as though he hardly noticed what was happening.”
This analogy is also an example of a simile because it uses the word “like” to make the comparison. However, because it extends beyond just one statement but has a complete description and explanation, it brings more imagery to the reader’s mind and thus is an analogy. Read our guide to the best satirical authors.
4. Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates from Forrest Gump
Some analogies are short and sweet, rather than taking up an entire literary work. In the movie Forrest Gump, both the title character and his mother refer to life as a “box of chocolates.” In one of the most famous figures of speech from this movie, Forest says:
“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Though this is a simple statement, it is an example of an analogy. The reader has probably experienced the feeling of grabbing chocolate and wondering what flavor it is, so this is a good analogy. But, like life, that box of chocolates always has the potential to give you the unexpected.
5. Pulling Out Troops is Like Salted Peanuts from Henry Kissinger
Though technically a historian and not a literary genius, Henry Kissinger was famous for many of his analogies. One of his most commonly quoted is this:
“Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded. This could eventually result, in effect, in demands for unilateral withdrawal.”
This quote comes from a memorandum Kissinger sent to President Nixon regarding the conflict in Vietnam. He warned the president that bringing troops home a little at a time would create demand for more withdrawal, just like eating tasty peanuts makes you want to eat more.
6. The Futility of a New Author from Cocktail Time
Writing a book is definitely challenging, especially when doing so for the first time. This fact is the source of one famous analogy in literature. In Cocktail Time, P.G. Wodehouse compares a new author to someone performing an impossible task:
“It has been well said that an author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.”
Clearly, expecting to hear an echo from a rose petal at the Grand Canyon is foolishness. Thus, based on this analogy, the logical argument that expecting to see significant returns from a first novel is also foolish.
7. The Mystery of Life in Let Me Count the Ways
In his novel Let Me Count the Ways, Dutch author and journalist Peter De Vries compares life and a safe. He writes:
“If you want my final opinion on the mystery of life and all that, I can give it to you in a nutshell. The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe.”
In this analogy, the safe can’t be unlocked. Similarly, the mystery of life is something people can’t fully understand.
8. The Push for Freedom Is Like Summer’s Heat in “I Have a Dream”
Speechwriters who are good at their job will often use analogies to make their words more memorable. In his famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” Martin Luther King, Jr., makes an analogy between the anger of African-Americans and the heat of summer in this quote:
“This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.”
Just like the heat of summer is unquenchable, the frustration of those facing endless prejudice cannot be quenched. Yet when freedom comes, it is like the relief of the cool autumn breeze. This quote is still used today when people remember the famous civil rights activist.
9. A Needle in a Haystack
Finding a needle in a haystack is a nearly impossible task. This catchphrase is often used to apply to tasks that seem to be out of reach. For instance, one common analogy says:
“Finding a good man is as easy as finding a needle in a haystack.”
This analogy indicates it is nearly impossible to find a “good man.” Though unfair to the male gender, it does make its point through the use of analogy. Most people can picture the task of digging through the hay to find a needle, but to no avail, which makes the analogy work.
10. Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic
This analogy does not come from any famous literary work or speech but from a well-known historical moment. The sinking of the Titanic was one such event. Sometimes people, when talking about something futile, will say:
“That’s as useful as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Since the Titanic was a doomed vessel, the futility of the effort is seen in this use of figurative language. The phrase can apply to any effort that would not matter because the result is a failure like the sinking of the infamous ship.
What is the Opposite of an Analogy?
An antithesis highlights the differences between two contrasting ideas. For example, the analogy “Man plans, and God laughs” shows how we can strive and work towards a goal, only for God or fate to intervene and uproot our best plans.
For further reading on a similar subject, check out our post on examples of metaphors in literature.
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