7 Examples of Figurative Language In Literature

Definition of Figurative Language

In the world of literary devices, the figurative language is taken as a style of writing. The writers by employing this technique uses non-literal words and expressions in their writing. There are many types of figurative language including metaphor, simile, hyperbole, oxymoron and so on. The authors use such methods to make phrases that are colorful and meaningful. It also makes the writing dynamic, dazzling and stimulating.

For instance, ‘metaphors’ refers to the one in which things are directly compared without making use of any connectives such as “as” and “like”. The words that connect, similes; do comparisons and when things are stretched to bring out a point hyperbole. Other types of figurative language impute human qualities and feelings to a non-human they help readers get connected easily.

Writers also use such literary devices to spark imagination, convey emotions, highlight ideas and let readers interpret meanings in their own way. This adds depth, artistry and subjectivity to the text. Figurative speech features commonly in poetry, literature and even casual conversations. It communicates in a more subtle yet profound way than plain, blunt statements.

Types of Figurative Language

Following are the types of figurative language: –

  • Metaphor A direct comparison between two unlike things that states one thing as another. For example, “Her eyes were crystals”.
  • Simile A comparison between two different things using “like” or “as”. For example, “He runs like the wind.”
  • Personification – It attributes human traits, emotions, abilities and behaviors to non-human things. For example, “The trees sighed in the wind.”
  • Hyperbole – It is the exaggeration for emphasis and effect. For example, “I’ve told you a million times!”
  • Alliteration The use of the same initial consonant sounds in the sentence repetitively. For example, “bright blue ball”.
  • Onomatopoeia – These are words that imitate the sounds they refer to. Like “buzz”, “hiss”, “crackle”.
  • Idiom – Idiom is taken as an expression with a meaning that is different from the literal meaning of its words. For example, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
  • Oxymoron A figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms. For example, “deafening silence”.
  • Symbolism – In symbolism, the writer uses an object, situation, word etc. to represent something else. For example, a dove representing peace.

Examples of Figurative Language in literature



“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

In the closing line, the author uses impactful figurative language to manifests the exploration of the novel i.e. American Dream. The individuals are compared to vessels striving against a tide, which evokes the human struggle against the unrelenting forward passage of time. This symbolizes the attempt of character to grasp at the past. It pursues their idealized conceptions of what they desire life to be, though these dreams remain ultimately out of reach.



“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe.”

McCarthy uses symbolic language to convey a bleak and hopeless view of the world. The “gray light” and “cold relentless circling of the intestate earth” symbolize a lack of warmth, life and order in the world. The word “intestate” refers to dying without a will, which implies the world is moving directionlessly. The “darkness implacable” represents the unrelenting inescapable nature of this gloom and barrenness consuming the earth. The “blind dogs of the sun” is a complex metaphor of the days chasing each other fruitlessly, with time itself made meaningless. And the “crushing black vacuum of the universe” evokes an utterly indifferent cosmos, crushing in its emptiness and void of any light or hope.

Through these vivid symbols of gloom, barrenness, terror and meaninglessness, the writer creates a stark and haunting picture of the absolute truth of the world. The symbols powerfully convey the absence of life, purpose and hope beyond survival.



“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare

“O brawling love, O loving hate, O anything of nothing first create! O heavy lightness, serious vanity…”

Shakespeare employs oxymoron’s in the excerpt. He juxtaposes the contradictory terms to express the complex and conflicting emotions which Romeo feels towards love in the early stages of the play. The use of oxymoron’s captures the tumultuous nature of love and the confusion. These oxymoron’s highlight the theme of love as a powerful and paradoxical force.



“The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe

“How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, In the icy air of night! While the stars that oversprinkle All the heavens, seem to twinkle With a crystalline delight…”

The poet uses onomatopoeic words to phonetically imitate sounds. These type of sounds evoke the tinkling and high pitched ringing of bells. Specifically, the word “tinkle” directly mirrors the crisp repeating chime of bells ringing one after another. The repetition of “tinkle, tinkle, tinkle” mimics this series of bell sounds echoing through the frosty night air. The onomatopoeic effect closely associates the word itself with the sharp and metallic ring it describes. Additionally, the rhythm of poem gains an auditory crispness and punctuated quality from the clipped and staccato impact of the punctuating “tinkle” sounds. The onomatopoeic verse audibly evokes the imagery and sensation of bells chiming brightly on a freezing winter night. The sounds of the language itself reflect the frosty, crystalline clarity and pristine beauty of both the landscape and the ringing bells.



“Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville

“Ahab and all his boat’s crew seemed asleep but the Parsee; who crouching in the bow, sat watching the sharks that spectrally played round the whale, and tapped the light cedar planks with their tails.”

In the passage, the writer uses onomatopoeia to imitate the sound of sharks tapping the wooden boat with their tails. The phrase “tapped the light cedar planks with their tails” employs the sharp clicking consonant sounds of “tapped” to evoke the sudden and crisp knocking of shark tails colliding with the side of the boat. This audible language echoes the abrupt and repetitive impact of sharks unintentionally battering the boat through their spectral movements. The passage allows readers to nearly hear the eerie and rhythmic click of shark tails thumping into light cedar wood. The onomatopoeic effect closely associates the word “tapped” with the actual percussive sound being described in the scene.



“The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway

“He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman.”

Hemingway shows his love for the sea by personifying it as a woman. He refers to the sea using “la mar” which means “the sea” in Spanish, but the word is feminine. So grammatically he treats the sea like a woman. This shows his affection. Also, he says people who love the sea might sometimes complain about her or say bad things, but they still talk about the sea the way someone would talk about a woman they care about deeply. The writer gives the human, female qualities to the sea to expresses his emotional connection to the ocean.



“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

The opening lines of the novel contain extreme and exaggerated language to emphasize the contrasts and turmoil of the time period. The use of words i.e. “the best of times” and also “the worst of times” are hyperbolic. They denote that no time can be the absolute best and simultaneously the absolute worst. The parallel structure of the opposites – best and worst along with wisdom and foolishness highlights the extremes.

The hyperbole effectively emphasize how it was a period of hope, progress, enlightenment as well as terror, violence and ignorance. These all are existing side by side. This hyperbolic phrasing grabs the attention of the reader dramatically. It sets the tone for the complex setting of the French Revolutionary era that the rest of the novel depicts. The hyperboles are not meant to be taken literally but they use exaggeration to highlight the strange contrasts.

Examples of Figurative Language in Literature
Examples of Figurative Language in Literature

Read also: Figurative Language Types

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