Figures of speech add color, depth and emotion to literature. Writers around the world employ these linguistic devices to create vivid and impactful imagery, convey complex ideas and evoke strong feelings in their readers. Metaphors and similes, for example, enable writers to draw comparisons between two things, often enhancing the reader’s understanding or emotional connection to the subject matter. A metaphor describes one thing as if it were another, whereas a simile uses “like” or “as” to make a comparison. Consider William Shakespeare’s famous metaphor from “As You Like It”: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Here, the world is likened to a theatrical stage, emphasizing the performative nature of human existence.
Personification, another figure of speech, involves attributing human qualities or characteristics to non-human entities. By doing so, the writers breathe life into their descriptions, which invites readers to relate to inanimate objects or abstract concepts on a more personal level. For example, in Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I could not stop for Death,” Death is personified as a courteous gentleman who kindly takes the speaker on a carriage ride.
Famous Writers Who Used Figures of Speech in Their Works
Here are some famous writers known for their adept use of figures of speech in literature:
- William Shakespeare
- Jane Austen
- Charles Dickens
- Maya Angelou
- Edgar Allan Poe
- Langston Hughes
- Emily Dickinson
- Mark Twain
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Virginia Woolf
Figures Of Speech Examples In Literature
“Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare
Romeo uses a metaphor to describe Juliet:
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”
Here Romeo metaphorically compares Juliet to the sun saying that her beauty shines as brightly as the rising sun coming over the eastern horizon. He uses this metaphor to express Juliet’s radiance and her power to banish the “darkness” of his life in the same way the sun dispels the night with its light. The metaphor poetically conveys deep passion and admiration through this implicit comparison of the woman Romeo loves to the most brilliant object in the sky.
Through this vivid figure of speech that equates Juliet with the majestic sun, Shakespeare employs imagination and artistry to draw up a far more evocative and resonant image than using plain literal language to describe a beautiful woman. This demonstrates the power of figurative techniques to elevate both meaning and emotive impact for readers.
“Hope” by Emily Dickinson
She uses a metaphor to describe hope:
“And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm.”
Here Dickinson metaphorically portrays hope as a small bird that sings sweetest in difficult gusts of wind and weather. She suggests that hope enables us to survive even the most battering storms and trials of life. Through using this extended bird metaphor, she captures the fragile yet resilient nature of hope and its power to uplift the human spirit amid adversity.
“Macbeth” by Shakespeare
Macbeth uses a simile to indicate his burning ambition:
“I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself And falls on the other.”
He compares his unrelenting political aspiration to a horse that leaps so aggressively that it overjumps and crashes down, injuring itself due to excess momentum. The simile conveys reckless passion and unchecked yearning through the vivid imagery of a rider-less horse trying to launch itself beyond its limits out of pure impulse.
So both these examples use creative figurative techniques to imaginatively communicate deeper emotional and philosophical meanings. The artful metaphors and similes make the expressions far more compelling than matter-of-fact statements could achieve.
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison
“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”
The given text contains an example of a metaphor. The speaker describes someone as “a friend of my mind,” portraying a deep, intimate connection that goes beyond mere acquaintance. The metaphorical language conveys the profound impact this person has on the speaker by gathering and organizing their fragmented thoughts and emotions. The metaphor helps to illustrate the extent of the relationship, which emphasizes the role of this person in providing support, understanding, and emotional harmony to the speaker.
“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”
Dickens uses hyperbole to describe the idea that every person is a puzzle to those around them as “a profound secret” and “mystery” to convey that we can never truly know anyone completely. The exaggeration highlights each person’s essential inner unknowability.
These excerpts showcase how different rhetorical techniques can craft resonant metaphors, emphasize poignant themes, and creatively communicate perspectives on the human experience through figurative language.
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
Walker uses personification to ascribe the very human characteristic of getting angry to God. The speaker suggests that not paying attention to the color purple in a field could upset God, imbuing the color with human-like emotions and reactions. This personification gives the color a sense of importance and reverence, emphasizing the idea that the beauty of nature should be appreciated and not overlooked. By attributing feelings to a non-human element, the speaker adds depth and significance to the act of noticing and acknowledging the beauty in the world around us.
“The Odyssey” by Homer
“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.”
Here Homer addresses the Muse, the goddess of inspiration, as he begins recounting Odysseus’ long journey back home after the Trojan War. Personifying the creative spirit as a divine being was characteristic in ancient epic poetry traditions, but also serves to emphasize the demanding creative endeavor the narrator is embarking upon.
So personification and ascribing very human traits to non-human subjects creatively brings to life abstract concepts in order to highlight deeper truths about the world and human experience. The figures of speech make the expressions more imaginative, compelling, and meaningful.
“Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place…”
The provided text is an example of hyperbole. The speaker exaggerates by stating that the ranch workers are “the loneliest guys in the world,” emphasizing the profound sense of isolation and disconnection experienced by these men. The hyperbole serves to underscore the extent of their alienation and emphasize the emotional impact of their isolation, shedding light on the deep loneliness and lack of belonging they feel.
“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
“You may write me down in history, With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt, But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
Angelou utilizes an extended metaphor of “dust” rising up after being trodden down to symbolize resilience in the face of oppression. By linking her ability to transcend racism and marginalization to the inevitability of dust particles regaining airborne form even when crushed into the dirt, her spirit and dignity become as certain to elevation as a law of physics through this figurative comparison.
In both cases, skilled manipulation of rhetorical techniques layers richer dimensions of meaning and emotion into the text to creatively convey the authors’ messages and perspectives with more depth, artistry and persuasive impact on readers.
“Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf
“the shell had burst, and the pearl had rolled out of it.”
Here, the figure of speech metaphor has been employed. The phrase “the shell had burst, and the pearl had rolled out of it” uses metaphorical language to compare the emergence of something precious and valuable to the act of a pearl rolling out of its shell. The metaphor emphasizes the significance and beauty of this emergence, suggesting that it is akin to the unveiling of a hidden treasure. This comparison adds richness to the description, creating a vivid image of something valuable coming to light.