In creative writing, adding visual elements to words on the page can enrich your writing and help readers connect to your story on a deeper level.
Metaphors are powerful tools in writing: they allow you to make direct comparisons between two completely different things. For example, when you say, “The clouds are ocean billows,” you are comparing the clouds to the waves on the ocean, which are two distinctly different things.
What Is an Extended Metaphor?
While the comparison of the clouds and ocean billows above is made in just one line, some metaphors can be expanded into several lines, paragraphs, or even entire stories. These are called extended metaphors.
An extended metaphor allows you to develop your comparison in great detail using different subjects, ideas, images, and situations. This is very common in poetry, but also in prose.
A good example of a piece of literature whose metaphor is carried through from beginning to end is the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The story has nothing to do with the actual killing of mockingbirds, but the author uses the metaphor to describe what happens in the story.
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”From Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
In the story, mockingbirds are used as a metaphor for innocence, and the book revolves around the unjust trial of an innocent man.
What Is the Effect of an Extended Metaphor?
Extended metaphors give writers the chance to elaborate on a comparison between two objects or ideas. Instead of just limiting yourself to one point of comparison, you can go on and see more parallelisms between the two objects.
For example, in the film Daddy Day Care, the school directress, Miss Harridan, likens children to plants. If you want to describe the education of children as being akin to gardening, you may be able to use extended metaphors like the following:
- We regularly “feed” our children with ideas, as we water plants regularly;
- We put a stop to destructive habits, or pull out the weeds around our plants;
- We tend to both children and plant lovingly, spending time with them everyday and speaking tenderly to them.
Remember, however, that although you may find several points for your extended metaphor, it will always have its limits. It’s very rare to find a perfect analogy between two totally different ideas.
In the gardening example above, we might wonder if the metaphor of a plant shriveling under intense heat applies to children—although it might, to some degree, such as in the case of traumatized children, but children may adapt or have the ability to move away from the “heat” of troubles, unlike plants, which are literally stuck in the ground.
Another function of an extended metaphor is humor. Some writers purposefully draw out a metaphor to show the absurdity of the connection.
Most importantly, authors use extended metaphors to highlight imagery and corresponding emotions, especially when writing about abstract ideas.
Allegory vs. Extended Metaphor
An allegory represents abstract ideas with figures, characters, or events in pictorial, dramatic, or narrative form. An allegory can use extended metaphor, but an extended metaphor does not automatically constitute an allegory.
Examples of Extended Metaphor in Literature
To help you understand the extended metaphor better, here are some examples:
Example #1. The allegory used by Nathan in the story of David in the Bible
In the Bible, when King David sins by killing Uriah and taking his wife Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan confronts him with an allegory that also uses extended metaphor.
Nathan tells King David a story about a poor shepherd who only had one pet lamb, who ate out of his plate. But a rich neighbor, while entertaining a guest, seeks to kill the poor man’s lamb instead of his own.
After the king reacts with anger and disgust to this story, Nathan reveals that David was that rich man, who sought to destroy Uriah, represented by the poor shepherd in the story. The effective use of the extended metaphor helped Nathan get his message across to King David, who may not have listened had he spoken directly from the get-go.
Example #2. “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson
“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.
This poem likens hope to a bird. First, she describes hope as “perching in the soul,” “singing the tune without the words,” and then proceeds to describe hope as not being easily abashed. Finally, she says that hope never “asked a crumb of me.”
Example #3. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The Bard is known for including many metaphors throughout his plays. Take this example from Romeo and Juliet:
ROMEO: “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief.”
In this passage, Romeo compares Juliet to the sun, a bright but untouchable object. Shakespeare extends the metaphor by adjuring Juliet to rise quickly and chase the moon away—which he also describes as being pale in comparison with Juliet’s beauty.
Using Extended Metaphor
As a writer, extended metaphors allow you to add depth to your writing, which will give your readers a more fulfilling experience.
Just make sure you know how to use the appropriate symbolism, so that readers will be able to connect to the story.
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