Metaphor, Figurative Language, and Silos

My parents have a patio that backs up against a small pond, surrounded by a forest preserve along the opposite side from where I’m sitting. It’s pretty, lush, and verdant (green!). The air conditioning unit just kicked on, and it’s drowning out the sounds of distant birds squawking (I haven’t learned my bird calls yet) and the pitter-patter of the usual Florida afternoon rain against the gutters. It’s nice outside, even though it’s humid and warm. My dad will go days without stepping outside. When I asked him about this, he just shrugged. I don’t know how he does it.

I had been giving metaphor and figurative language a lot of thought, not lately, but in general, when I find a great metaphor in a book I really enjoy it. Here’s a couple I love:

Arthur Dent was grappling with his consciousness the way one grapples with a lost bar of soap in the bath.

The Restaurant At The End of The Universe

“Thousands of refugees wailed as if attending a funeral, the burial of their nation, dead too soon, as so many were, at a tender twenty-one years of age.”

The Sympathizer

Creativity with metaphor and figurative language is a gift, but I think it can also be learned. These don’t come naturally to me. I had been searching for books and articles that go beyond definitions to figure out how I could learn this. And then, after much thought and contemplation, it dawned on me: metaphors compare what something does, not what something is. For example, if I say, love is fire, I’m saying that love burns (what love does), rather than love is painful (what love is).

In the first simile, Arthur Dent grapples with his consciousness because he is confused. Rather than Adams trying to relate grappling with confusion, he relates grappling with being lost (a verb!), and somehow comes up with a hilarious image of groping in the bathtub for a lost bar of soap. In the second simile, Nguyen relates the death of Vietnam with the death of a person with mourners. He relates it with the way one feels after a tragic, violent death, rather than what it is. I hope you follow what I’m saying.

As of late, I have been feeling quite siloed. Perhaps it’s COVID. Perhaps it’s me checking out from my military unit. Perhaps it’s combining households with my parents and having everyone in one place. Perhaps it’s me. Whatever the reason, my mind is a pinball machine and my thoughts rattle around with no place to go. See! I’m getting better already.

One thought

  1. “Arthur Dent was grappling with his consciousness the way one grapples with a lost bar of soap in the bath.” I love the way this metaphor combines something so serious (consciousness/being lost) with something comical (grappling with soap). Thanks for sharing!

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