Figurative language

Simile: comparison using “like” or “as.”

Metaphor: comparison without the signal “like” or “as,” and therefore a little harder to spot. Examples: the narrator of “Rip Van Winkle” calling Dame Van Winkle a “termagant” or Douglass using “mental darkness” to mean forced ignorance. Metaphor stresses identity over mere similarity.

Metonymy: a relationship by contact, touch, nearness, adjacency, proximity. Look out for realistic descriptions. Here’s the opening of The Scarlet Letter: “A throng of bearded men . . . intermixed with women . . . was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes” (45). It was brought up in class that “Washington” is an example of metonymy. Yes! When you say “Washington,” you mean to suggest a series of associations, such as party politics, ideology, deadlock, corruption, aloofness, and so on. Focus on the descriptive version for the quiz (wink, wink).

Synecdoche: a part-whole relationship, such as Douglass using “sails” for ships, or a container-contained relationship, such as Rip Van Winkle accusing the “flagon” instead of the ale for his troubles.

Irony: perhaps the hardest to spot because often an entire situation is an ironic situation. Irony is not always restricted to a noun. The sentence might be your best bet. What you are looking for: hypocrisy, discrepancy, gap. Between: appearance/reality, action/intention. In Douglass’ Narrative: “Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy” (9). Or from Ruth Hall, we see the gap between saying one thing and meaning another: “I remember she gave me (poor dear!) a five-dollar note, instead of a two; but that was a thing I had n’t the heart to harass her about at such a time. I respected her grief too much, ma’am” (71). Respect, pah!


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