"The streets were a furnace, the sun an executioner." - Cynthia Ozick (Rosa)
Languages are enriched with various literary tools, that help express ideas in the clearest manner and clothe them in the most elegant form. There are various figures of speech used in the English language that serve to convey our thoughts in the most lucid and creative fashion. Two such figures of speech are similes and metaphors, which are often confused to be the same thing, but are actually quite different. The first quote listed above, is an example of simile usage, while the second one exemplifies the effective usage of a metaphor. The aim of writing this Buzzle article is to present a clear exposition of the exact differences between a simile and metaphor.
What is a Simile?
A simile highlights the similarities between two concepts, ideas, people, things and entities to describe something. When you say, 'Dead as a dodo' or 'loud like a trumpet', you are actually making use of the figure of speech, we refer to as a simile. Through our imaginative powers and the rare gift of the human intellect to identify similarities between different patterns, similarities and therefore similes, naturally arise.
Their genesis occurs due to connected experiences that exist in the human mind, which find expression in writing. It links two concepts, things or actions by identifying a similar thread that connects them. Using 'as', 'like' and 'than' as connectors, a simile takes form. Here are some examples of similes in literature, which will help you grasp what I am talking about.
- Her eyes look like lamps blaring up just before the oil is gone. - William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying).
- I would have given anything for the power to soothe her frail soul, tormenting itself in its invincible ignorance like a small bird beating about the cruel wires of a cage. - Joseph Conrad (Lord Jim)
- His face was deathly pale, and the lines of it were hard like drawn wires. - Bram Stoker (Dracula)
A metaphor substitutes the actual or literal word, concept or entity with a concept that has similarities with it. It is used by an author when the similarities between the two things are so overwhelming, that one is substituted for the other. A metaphor is a substitution of an actual thing with its symbolism.
For example, the famous line by Shakespeare - "All the world's a stage and men and women merely players", is an example of a metaphor where he substitutes the world with a stage and people with actors, playing their part. Not only is this a profound metaphor that connects the similarities between acting on stage and living life, but it also conveys what the author is trying to say, quite aptly. Thus, metaphors help grasp the real idea, by planting a similar symbolic idea in its place. There are various types of metaphors differing by the degree and fashion in which the prime idea to be conveyed has been substituted with symbolism. Some of the exotic types of metaphors are 'Allegory', 'Parable' and 'Root metaphors'. Here are some examples of metaphor usage.
- He was worried by the hawks waiting to pounce on his slightest mistake and bay for his head.
- She was a feline purring in her peaceful reverie.
- Urban streets have their own breed of predators waiting for their prey in dark alleys.
The prime difference between a simile and a metaphor is that while the former only compares the similarities between two entities, the latter goes so far as to equate two similar ideas. The sentence - 'He was like a lion in the field' is an example of a simile, but the same sentence when composed as - 'He was a lion in the field' becomes a metaphor. In the second sentence, the man is not just compared but equated with a lion for literary effect. Metaphor is substituting the symbolic similarity with the actual idea, while similes stop at identifying the similarity. Ergo, metaphors are much more powerful and potent tools in the hands of good writers as they can convey greater truths symbolically, without explicitly stating them.
To conclude, remember that a simile only goes as far as comparing the similarities between two different ideas, while metaphors go as far as substituting a real object with a similar parallel idea. As literary instruments, metaphors are powerful tools that serve to enrich poetry and literature, providing authors and poets with the freedom to draw broad parallels between various aspects of life.
Great writers use similes and metaphors effectively to breathe fire and substance into a narrative, making it more alive and imaginable! Ergo, an appreciation of both these literary devices is an essential part in the training of a literature student and budding writers.