Literary Devices: Exaggeration Examples in Literature

definition of exaggeration

Exaggeration is a literary device in which statements are heightened for emphasis beyond what is literally true or expected. It involves making something seem larger, better, worse or more intense than reality.

Writers utilize exaggeration to stress a point, convey emotion and create a bold impression. Though the assertions stretch the truth, there is an element of truth at their core. Its purpose is to spotlight something in a compelling, memorable way, not to deceive. Instead of plain facts, exaggeration presents intriguing possibilities and brings color to reality.

Types of Exaggeration

Here are two types of exaggeration:

Hyperbole – Clear, extreme exaggeration used to emphasize a point or evoke strong feeling. For example, “I’ve told you a million times!” or “She weighs a ton!” The goal of hyperbole is to stretch reality to spotlight the significance of something.

Overstatement – Exaggerating something to make a point or impression. More subtle than hyperbole. For example, “This car goes faster than lightning,” or “My homework will take forever to finish!”

Both forms intensify reality rather than reflect it accurately. Writers utilize them artfully to add color, emotion and memorable impact. They aim to delight rather than deceive.

Examples of Exaggeration

  • It took forever for the bus to arrive.
  • I’ve told you a million times to clean your room.
  • She ate enough food to feed an army.
  • The bag weighed a ton.
  • He is as slow as a snail.
  • The baby is crying loud enough to wake the dead.
  • I was so embarrassed I wanted to disappear into the floor.
  • The homework assignment will take me until the end of time to finish.
  • After climbing the towering mountain peak, I felt like I was on top of the world.
  • My dog was so excited to go to the park he was bouncing off the walls.
  • I’ve been waiting in line for ten years.
  • I’m so tired I could sleep for a year.
  • I told you a billion times to stop poking your sister.

Examples of Exaggeration in literature

Example#1

“Matilda” by Roald Dahl

“When she opened it, there was a small riot in her mouth as all the mints jostled to escape.”

In the aforesaid line, an exaggerated metaphor encourages the sensation and taste of a copious amount of mints. Making the statement that there was a “small riot” in Matilda’s mouth, Dahl applies hyperbole which likens tingling strong peppermint to something disorderly and out of control like a revolt.

The mints are personified as beings that try to fight for space in her mouth and escape it all due to the strength of peppermint flavor they have. As a result, the heightened sensory experience of this humorously overstated description enables the reader to visualize and feel all those sharp minty tastes. The hyperbole is figurative as there was no literal riot nor real kidnapping attempt. However, Dahl’s fantastical rendition portrays a scene that helps readers to associate with the protagonist more vividly through an exaggerated situation.

Example#2

“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

“Slowly, like a terrier who doesn’t want to bring a ball to its master, I started telling the story [of my summer].”

The above passage has a hyperbolic simile which highlights that narrator is less willing to describe details of his summer. It is a gross exaggeration of hesitation when Salinger compares his halting way to that of the stubborn terrier who will not release her ball. A terrier clinging to his toy with a possessive intent is an exaggerated and comical picture used as further stretching how the narrator lingers, illustrating him being damned small in not letting go of his story right away. Although not in a literal sense the tantrum-throwing dog, this hyperbolic personification helps readers to imagine and identify with such reticence and evasiveness at that instant. Salinger uses the exaggeration through terrier simile to give additional information about narrator’s state of mind and thoughts in an effective way.

Example#3

“A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman

“A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

In the poem, exaggeration can be seen in the repeated and escalating descriptions of filament after filament launching forth from itself. This amplification serves to highlight the substantial persistence exhibited by a spider as it extends its silk threads into an empty surrounding vast sphere despite being devoid of any adjoining limits. The dramatic representation of the spider web’s production processes underscores an isolated, focused effort to connect and create that is miraculous in its determination. The hyperbolization also represents the parallel searching and striving of human soul for relation in enormity of reality.

Example#4

“When I Have Fears” by John Keats

“When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;”

In this stanza, the writer uses exaggeration to portrays a grave fear in poet’s mind. The overstated language, such as the phrase “high piled books in charact’ry Hold like rich garners full-ripen’d grain,” brings out the fears of Jonson concerning an early death before his thoughts and ideas are fully mature. The hyperbolic images of barns brimming with books and ripening grain express the vast creative, intellectual wealth which he feels will go untapped. Finally, this hyperbole is used to point out the anxiety of a poet about losing his stockpile if unspoken ideas and undone feats in literature.

Example#5

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by S. T. Coleridge

“Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down, ‘Twas sad as sad could be; And we did speak only to break The silence of the sea!”

It is possible to observe the tendency of exaggeration due to repetition and increased description of an atmosphere desperate. The words ‘Twas sad as sad could be serve to accentuate the extent of grief and melancholy that dominated over everyone on board, making this scene even more vivid. Moreover, the symbolism of exaggerated silence is strengthened as sailors only talk in order to interrupt this sea’s unnatural and dominant hush that demands response. The intensified vocabulary and the high emotional level highlight that dark, despair mood created by the situation adequately reflecting total dejection of mariners.

exaggeration Examples in Literature
Exaggeration Examples in Literature

Related Terms with Exaggeration

Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a type of exaggeration used for emphasis or effect. It involves making extreme, often unrealistic statements to emphasize feeling or impact rather than being literally true. For example, “I’ve told you a million times!” or “She cried a river of tears.” Hyperboles in literature are exaggerations not meant to be taken literally.

Overstatement

Overstatement is a more general term referring to forms of exaggeration for emphasis and effect. While hyperboles are more extreme exaggerations, overstatement also includes less radical exaggerations to drive home or amplify a point. For example, “The bag weighed a ton” or “I waited for an eternity.” Overstatement encompasses the concept of stating things as more extreme or dramatic than the literal truth.

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