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What is Figurative Language?

What is Figurative Language?

The subtlety of the English language is not unknown to anybody. What can be said literally can also be transformed easily into a beautiful flow of words that adds so much profoundness to what has been said. This is what figurative language is, the ability to inconspicuously define the literal. Here's a look into the depths of figurative language.
Penlighten Staff
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

~The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, T. S. Eliot
This verse from the famous poem by T. S. Eliot is perhaps one of the best examples of figurative language and its purview. Figurative language goes beyond the literal, and tries to create an association that may appear vague (initially), between an object and a situation, a person and a situation, or an object and a person. There are numerous types of figurative language, and one of the types used in the example above is that of personification. For instance, the line, The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes is a personification example, where the yellow fog is given a humane quality to carry out an action itself. So in simple terms, figurative language is the use of words and phrases that are symbolic of the literal, for the purpose of emphasis or uniqueness in writing. Here, we will discuss various types of this language, along with some examples that will help you understand what this manner of writing actually is.
Figurative Language: Definitions and Examples
You don't have to be a connoisseur of the English language to understand what figurative language is. In fact, you may have noticed the presence of figurative language in literature and poems, and understood it too. All you now need to know is what type of figurative language you have been reading. So here's a list of all those types, commonly used in pieces of writing.
Allegory or Parable
An allegory is a kind of extended metaphor, where it runs through an entire piece of writing to highlight an underlying message. The piece of writing has a subliminal message running through and through, and this message is the reason why the work was written in the first place. Some of the best examples of allegory in literature include pieces of writing such as:
    • Animal Farm: This is an allegory of the communist regime in Russia before the onset of World War II written by George Orwell, depicted in terms of animals overthrowing the human owners of the animal farm and taking over.
    • The Divine Comedy: Written by Dante Alighieri, this allegorical piece marks the journey of his soul through heaven, hell, and purgatory. This is symbolic of the journey of the human soul to finally reach God.
    • Aesop's Fables: This collection of short stories by Aesop has used animals as allegorical means to teach various morals important to live an honest and happy life. Such tales include those such as The Lion and the Mouse and The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing to teach the importance of friendship, strength, unity, and several other morals.
    • A Rose for Emily: An allegorical masterpiece by William Faulkner, this piece of writing serves as a symbol of the attitude of the Old South or the South before the Civil War. By representing the prime character as Emily, who sleeps with the corpse of another important character, Homer, Faulkner attempts to depict how the people of the South haven't let go of their old attitudes to embrace change and newness.
    • Terrible Things - An Allegory of the Holocaust: The name itself explains the allegorical nature of this book written for children by Eve Bunting. Based again on forest animals, the book revolves around how Terrible Things come to take away first feathers with creatures, then the others, until only one little white rabbit remains, who lives to tell the story of the Terrible Things. One may also consider this as an allusion to Anne Frank whose diary revealed a significant portion of the morbid truth about the Holocaust.
Antithesis
Antithesis is a type of rhetoric that describes opposition to the original concept, idea, or proposition made in the first part of a statement. It is considered to be a form balanced sentence or statement construction. Some examples include:
    • Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. ~Brutus in Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
    • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. ~A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
    • I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time. ~Jack London
    • Too black for heav'n, and yet too white for hell ~The Hind and the Panther: Part 1, John Dryden
    • And let my liver rather heat with wine Than my heart cool with mortifying groans. ~Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare
Apostrophe
As part of figurative language, an apostrophe is a figure of speech used where the speaker addresses an abstract concept, idea, object, or a person who isn't around them, as if it was a conscious entity before them. You may understand apostrophe better with some of these examples.
    • Busy old fool, unruly sun,
      Why dost thou thus,
      Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
      ~The Sun Rising, John Donne
    • Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone
      Without a dream in my heart
      Without a love of my own.~Blue Moon, Lorenz Hart
    • Is this a dagger which I see before me,
      The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee!
      I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. ~Macbeth, William Shakespeare
    • O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? ~Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
    • Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour:
      England hath need of thee...~London, William Wordsworth
Euphemism
A euphemism is a type of figurative language that is most often used in order to be politically correct. If you are aware of the saying 'a diplomat is a person who tells you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip', you would understand that this definition is based on a euphemism. In simple terms, one may use a euphemism in order to avoid offending the listener or receiver of the remark. For instance, when an employee is fired in an organization, the management usually uses the phrase 'We have to let you go'. Some more euphemism examples have been enlisted below:
    • Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone... just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had. ~The 'advantages' in this line from 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald refer to the availability of luxurious resources (such as a lot of money) provided while growing up.
    • "...for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions." ~Another example from The Great Gatsby, this statement expresses how the younger generation is so gullible, yet considers itself to be the fountain of originality.
    • What in the sam hill are you doing? ~Spoken by Scout in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the highlighted phrase is actually a euphemism for the commonly spoken phrase What the hell?
    • This was not called execution. It was called retirement. ~From the popular 1982 movie Blade, this euphemism signifies how the topic of death is always discussed subtly to reduce the gravity of the situation.
    • If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown
      me,
      Without my stir.
      : The highlighted phrase is a euphemism used by Macbeth in the play by William Shakespeare, where in reference to the prediction by the three witches about him becoming the king, he believes he may not have to kill the king after all, i.e. without my stir or him having to do anything about it at all.
Hyperbole
When you hear someone exaggerating, it is likely that the person is using a hyperbole for emphasis. More often than not, a hyperbole is simply used to create drama at extreme levels, even when the situation in question may not be as dramatic. Hyperboles have also been used in jokes and as insults. Some hyperbole examples include:
    • Here once the embattled farmers stood,
      And fired the shot heard round the world.
      ~The Concord Hymn, Ralph Waldo Emerson
    • I have seen this river so wide it had only one bank. ~Mark Twain
    • Rudolf Steiner was a true adventurer. Few were the evenings on which he did not go forth from his hall bedchamber in search of the unexpected and the egregious. ~From the short story The Green Door by O. Henry, these lines serve as hyperbole because in reality Rudolf looked for adventure only in a limited zone and didn't go beyond. It wasn't such a daring adventure after all.
    • If thou dost slander her and torture me,
      Never pray more; abandon all remorse;
      On horror's head accumulate;
      Do deeds to make heaven weep, all earth amazed;
      For nothing canst thou to damnation add
      Greater than that.
      ~In these lines in Shakespeare's Othello, Othello himself tells Iago that if he is being lied to, the consequences will be so grave that 'heaven will weep' and the whole 'earth will be amazed'. The hyperbole has been used to ensure that Iago understands how intensely Othello feels about being lied to.
    • People moved slowly then. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. ~To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Idiom
The use of idioms is most common in spoken language. It refers to the use of a phrase or an expression that is nowhere close to the literal meaning of those terms. What an idiom is can be better understood with these examples of idioms:
    • Solitary as an oyster ~A popular idiom from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, it implies that the person in question is alone but will not experience loneliness because oysters have no feeling of affinity in their community.
    • Those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but for mine own part, it was Greek to me. ~Most of us are familiar with this idiom and may have used it too. Having appeared in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, it simply means that the situation in question was incomprehensible by him. It is mainly used to describe anything that is not understood at all.
    • Are you content to be our general?
      To make a virtue of necessity
      And live, as we do, in this wilderness?
      : Cited from Shakespeare's play Two Gentlemen of Verona, this idiom refers to the ability to making the most or the best of a challenging situation.
    • And therefore think him as a serpent's egg,
      Which, hatch'd, would as his kind grow mischievous,
      And kill him in the shell.
      : When Brutus says these lines in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, he means that killing the serpent in the shell will take care of the problem at its root. This idiom is now popularly used as nipping the problem in the bud.
    • I have seen a medicine That's able to breathe life into a stone,: This idiom used in Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well refers to the fact that the medicine is so powerful it can cure any ailment.
Irony
A disparity between what is said and what is actually meant can sum up the meaning of irony. Often used to express humor and sarcasm, irony is another form of figurative language that enables the truth to be expressed in a subtle, and sometimes, a blatant manner. There are 3 types of irony, which have been explained here.
  • Verbal Irony
As the name suggests, verbal irony refers to a verbal disparity in what is said and actually meant. For instance, asking "who's the lucky one?" when a company has decided to fire an employee can be termed as verbal irony. Some more verbal irony examples in literature include:
    • But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. ~This statement by Huckleberry Finn in Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer is a clear example of verbal irony, as becoming a robber is not considered respectable in any society.
    • Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven's own method of retribution. ~In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Chillingworth tells Hester that he will allow God to take care of justice or retribution. However, eventually he is the one who vows to destroy Arthur Dimmesdale.
    • Since brevity is the soul of wit... I will be brief. ~This statement made by Polonius, in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet is a clear verbal irony example, as after this statement, Polonius goes on a continuous verbal spree where he describes how Hamlet is mad, how madness can further make a man mad, and how it is undeniable that Hamlet is indeed mad!
  • Situational Irony
An occurrence where the expected result is contradictory to the actual situation can be termed as situational irony. Situational irony could be humorous or tragic. Some examples of irony of this type are as mentioned below.
    • The Necklace ~This short story by Guy de Maupassant is an example of tragic situational irony, where Mathilde, the protagonist, who detests working hard and wishes the life of a princess, has to work through the best years of her life to replace a borrowed necklace that was fake!
    • How Much Land Does a Man Need? ~This short story by Leo Tolstoyexplains situational irony towards the end. Pahom, the protagonist, is made to believe that by walking around a piece of land and demarcating it, he will be able to receive the same for himself. However, due to the physical stress caused by walking beyond his body's capacity, Pahom dies, indicating that he needed only enough land to be buried. This ending addresses the question that the title of the story poses.
    • Lamb to the Slaughter ~This story by Roald Dahl speaks of the woman Mary Maloney as someone who deeply loves and reveres her husband. This can be verified by the statement, She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man, and to feel - almost as a sunbather feels the sun - that warm male glow that came out of him to her when they were alone together. Surprisingly, she kills her husband in the very next instance. This is another great example of situational irony.
  • Dramatic Irony
Dramatic or tragic irony refers to a situation where the reader or the spectator is aware of the actual situation, unlike the character in the book/play, which is unaware of the truth. Some dramatic irony examplesinclude:
    • Othello ~A crisp example of dramatic irony, all along in William Shakespeare's Othello, we as the audience are aware that Othello is being deceived by Iago. However, Othello believes it is Desdemona who is cheating and deceiving him. This leads him to kill his wife, and then himself, at the end of the play.
    • The Kite Runner ~The biggest example of tragic or dramatic irony in this book by Khaled Hosseini is that Amir was aware of and watched his best friend Hassan's rape, which the audience is aware of, but not Hassan himself.
    • Emma ~This classic by Jane Austen is replete with examples of dramatic irony. With an overall view, the reader knows Emma's intentions when she wishes to 'control' the lives of the characters in the book, but the characters are unaware of her intentions. In a specific view, when Mr. Elton is actually interested in Emma and directs all his compliments to her, she assumes they are all meant for Harriet. She gives him due attention only so that she can bring Harriet and him together, which he perceives as Emma's interest in him. Here, the readers are aware of the dramatic irony, while Emma and Mr. Elton are unaware of the reality of the situation.
    Metaphor
    A metaphor is used as a figure of speech to liken an object or person to another object or person, based on certain similar qualities that both possess. Though a direct comparison, this is a type that is not applicable literally. The use of metaphors however, intensifies the significance of what is being said. With the following examples, you can understand this type of figurative language better.
      • He was a thin leathery man with colorless eyes, so colorless they did not reflect light. ~The description of Mr. Radley by Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, of his colorless eyes refers to a pair of eyes devoid of any emotion. The term 'leathery' has been used to describe the appearance or texture of the character's skin.
      • The spider Love, which transubstantiates all,
        And can convert manna to gall;
        ~The negativity of love has been metaphorically explained in this poem Twickenham Garden by John Donne. Love is an emotion we live for and live by, but it also has the capacity to destroy us. This he explains by using making the Biblical reference to 'Manna' a type of honey as provided by God, that love can change into 'gall', a disease causing intestine poison.
      • The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
        But I have promises to keep,
        And miles to go before I sleep,
        And miles to go before I sleep.
        ~These lines are often used as some of the best to explain what metaphors are. Belonging to the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, these lines serve to explain the many worldly responsibilities the poet is obliged to fulfill before he can rest in peace.
      • And right now it's a steel knife, in my windpipe,
        I can't breathe but I'll still fight, while I can fight
        .
        These lines in the song Love the Way you Lie by Rihanna and Eminem serve as a good metaphor example, where the steel knife in the windpipe gives a vivid description of a choking sensation. This refers to the way the feeling of being trapped is explained in the song.
      • I knew that the dark flat wilderness beyond was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry was Pip. A combination of imagery and metaphorical language, this excerpt from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens serves as a description of his country through his eyes.
    Metonymy
    Metonymy refers to the use of a phrase associated to an actual concept. A classic example of metonymy would be the age-old proverb The pen is mightier than the sword which simply means that the power of words and communication is greater than the power of violence. Metonymy is metaphorical in nature. Some metonymy examples are:
      • She married; O most wicked speed, to post
        With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
        ~Hamlet's reference in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare to his mother's marriage to his uncle can be cited as an example of metonymy. He terms the hastened marriage as a hurried rush towards 'incestuous sheets' or the relation between his mother and his uncle.
      • As he swung toward them holding up the hand
        Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
        The life from spilling.
        ~The reference to the phrase 'the life from spilling' in the poem Out, Out by Robert Frost refers to the spilling of blood from the body, considering it to be a life force.
      • Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
        Which smoked with bloody execution.
        ~From Shakespeare's Macbeth, the 'brandished steel' is used to refer to Macbeth's sword.
      • The serpent that did sting thy father's life
        Now wears his crown.
        ~The reference to the serpent in Shakespeare's Hamlet refers to the murderer of the king.
    Onomatopoeia
    Onomatopoeia refers to words that imitate sounds created by certain objects, actions, or animals. For instance, the bees 'buzz', the door 'creaks', the birds 'flutter'. These words are both sounds and verbs, and such verbs are termed as onomatopoeic words. This figure of speech has been used heavily in poetry and prose. Some examples of onomatopoeia include:
      • I heard the familiar "jug-jug-spat!" of a motor cycle, and a frantic policeman rode alongside. ~The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
      • And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
        Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
        ~The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe
      • The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
        And murmuring of innumerable bees.
        ~Come Down, O Maid, Sir Alfred Tennyson
      • Hear the sledges with the bells -
        Silver bells!
        What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
        How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
        In the icy air of night!
        ~The Bells, Edgar Allan Poe
      • As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
        And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.
        A tape at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
        And blue spurt of a lighted match
        ~Meeting at Night, Robert Browning
    Oxymoron
    The use of an oxymoron is made in order to define an object or situation by means of using a contradictory adjective. For instance, the phrase deafening silence is an oxymoron, that intensifies the silence by using a term that clearly contradicts it. Some examples of oxymoron include:
      • Do that good mischief which may make this island thine own forever. ~Macbeth, William Shakespeare
      • No light, but rather darkness visible... ~Paradise Lost, John Milton
      • Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate. ~Sonnet 142, William Shakespeare
      • O heavy ignorance! thou praisest the worst best. ~Othello, William Shakespeare
      • Faith unfaithful kept him falsely true. ~Idylls of the King, Sir Alfred Tennyson
    Paradox
    A paradox is very similar to an oxymoron. The only difference lies in the fact that an oxymoron is a contradictory phrase usually consisting of two words, while a paradox is a statement that contradicts itself. For instance, the statement, I can resist anything except temptation is an appropriate example of paradox, as opposed to the oxymoron examples mentioned above. Take a look at some more paradox examples in literature mentioned here.
      • Fair is foul and foul is fair. ~Hamlet, William Shakespeare
      • And I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy. ~The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
      • One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
        And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
        ~Death Be Not Proud, John Donne
      • What more miraculous thing may be told,
        That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice,
        And ice, which is congeal'd with senseless cold,
        Should kindle fire by wonderful device?
        ~Ice and Fire, Edmund Spencer
      • I was powerful glad to get away from the feuds, and so was Jim to get away from the swamp. We said there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft. ~The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
    Personification
    Personification is a figure of speech where an inanimate object, trait, or action, is given a life like disposition, by giving a human quality or trait. For instance, when we say, The camera loves me, it means that the person is question is actually photogenic. However, the camera is personified as a human being capable of 'loving' its subject.
      • It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and stared up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat. ~A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
      • I saw that the lamps in the court were blown out, and that the lamps on the bridges were shuddering... ~Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
      • A little light is filtering from the water flowers.
        Their leaves do not wish us to hurry:
        They are round and flat and full of dark advice.
        ~Crossing the Water, Sylvia Plath
      • I wander'd lonely as a cloud
        That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
        When all at once I saw a crowd,
        A host, of golden daffodils;
        Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
        Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
        ~Daffodils, William Wordsworth
      • O proud Death, what feast is toward in thine eternal cell that thou so many princes at a shot so bloodily hast struck? ~Hamlet, William Shakespeare
    Pun
    Often termed as the lowest form of humor, puns are used to substitute words that sound similar so that the overall effect is humorous. In some cases, the word may be the same, but will have more than one meaning. For instance, coffee beans have to face the daily grind is an example of a pun. Some more examples of pun in literature have been given here.
      • A trade, sir, that I hope I may use with a safe conscience, which is, indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles. ~These lines spoken by the cobbler in the famous play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare make the use of a pun, where the cobbler's job is described as a 'mender of bad soles', but the term 'soles' (souls) can also be related to the conscience, as it is unclear to which part of the statement this reference has been made.
      • Ask for me to-morrow and you shall find me a grave man. ~When these lines were quoted by the dying Mercutio in the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, the pun 'grave man' (though meaning 'serious'), also meant that he would be in a grave, and served to lighten the moment.
      • And how many hours a day did you do lessons?" said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.
        "Ten hours the first day," said the Mock Turtle, "nine the next, and so on."
        "What a curious plan!" exclaimed Alice.
        "That's the reason they're called lessons," the Gryphon remarked: "because they lessen from day to day."
        ~ In this example from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, we can see how similar sounding words, i.e. lesson/lessen have been used to create a pun.
      • King: But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son - Hamlet: A little more than kin, and less than kind. ~Packed with several meanings, the use of this pun in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare could refer to the fact that Hamlet now perceives the king as more than a cousin, but definitely not as kind or similar to his biological father. It could also mean that Hamlet refused to be kind to him though they are a little more than kin, or that the King himself is an unkind man.
      • Romeo: I dreamt a dream tonight.
        Mercutio: And so did I.
        Romeo: Well, what was yours?
        Mercutio: That dreamers often lie.
        ~The highlighted pun from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is self-explanatory from the fact that dreamers must 'lie' when dreaming, and that dreamers may also 'lie' as in not speak the truth.
    Simile
    A simile as a figure of speech is used to draw a comparison between two objects, persons, or situations, by using the terms 'like' or 'as'. Though similar to a metaphor, the latter is a direct comparison between the two objects of comparison. Given below are some more examples of simile to help you understand it better.
      • I am old, Gandalf. I don't look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts...I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. ~The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien
      • It's been a hard day's night, and I've been working like a dog
        It's been a hard day's night, I should be sleeping like a log
        ~A Hard Day's Night, The Beatles
      • Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
        In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
        He moves in darkness as it seems to me
        ~Mending Wall, Robert Frost
      • "And how did little Tim behave?" asked Mrs. Cratchit...
        "As good as gold," said Bob, "and better"...
        ~A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
      • Life and these lips have long been separated:
        Death lies on her like an untimely frost
        Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.
        ~Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
    Symbolism
    In literature, symbolism is used to represent an actuality by using symbols that may be objects/events/subjects to do so. This is done in order to give a deeper meaning to a piece of writing and eliminates the need for literal representation of every concept. Some examples of symbolism in literature have been provided here.
      • Animal Farm: This allegorical tale by George Orwell is actually a symbol of the Russian revolution and the various events that contributed to the changes thereafter. While the entire book is symbolic, one particular event from the book can be described for better understanding. This is when the animals drive out the owners of the farm and take over, being a symbol of the actual event of the Russian Revolution.
      • Moby Dick: This popular novel written by Herman Melville symbolizes several things at once. For one, the entire novel is a representation of the concept of man vs. nature. Secondly, the whale represents a goal that is extremely challenging and in some ways unattainable. The white whale is also a symbol of goodness, and though Captain Ahab considers himself to be God-like trying to fight the evil whale, it is him in fact who is the actual evil represented symbolically.
      • The Masque of the Red Death: A suitable instance of symbolism in this short story by Edgar Allan Poe is that of the ever-clanging clock that serves to remind us about the constant fleeting nature of time and that death is inevitable. In the overall perspective, this short story speaks of seven rooms of different colors that are lined up from east to west. These symbolize the stages of life, from birth to death, with the color of each room being symbolic for a specific stage in life.
      • The Scarlet Letter: This extremely popular book by Nathaniel Hawthorne is replete with symbolism and cannot be ignored when discussing this figure of speech. An example of symbolism from the book is the naming of the infant as Pearl. The name has been given not to represent the magnificent beauty of the jewel stone, but as a symbol of the price that had to be paid by Hester for her illicit relationship with Dimmesdale.
      • The Kite Runner: Another masterpiece written by Khaled Hosseini, the Kite Runner is full of symbolism. An instance of this is the dream that Amir has when he is recuperating after saving Hassan's son. He dreams that his father is battling a bear and that his father emerges victorious. However, soon he sees his own face as the victor instead of his father's. This dream symbolizes his redemption for betraying his childhood friend Hassan. Another very evident symbol is that of the kite itself, symbolizing the freedom of childhood and reminiscent of the bond and friendship that Amir and Hassan shared as children.
    Synecdoche
    Synecdoche is used as a form of comparing by means of using a word (generic term or specific quality) that represents a whole (group) or vice versa. An example to explain this can include, 'I must work hard to earn my daily bread.' The term daily bread here refers to the food one eats daily to survive. People are often confused about metonymy vs. synecdoche, but they are different. Synecdoche is often referred to as a sub-class of metonymy and is also metaphorical in nature.
      • Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
        A couch for luxury and damned incest.
        ~In these lines quoted by the ghost in Shakespeare's Hamlet, the royal bed of Denmark stands for the kingdom and is relegated to a mere couch due to the 'incestuous' marriage between Hamlet's mother and his uncle.
      • Steady thy laden head across a brook;
        Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
        ~The reference to the 'laden head' in these lines from Keats' To Autumn represents the laborers working during the autumn harvest who are also those who will plan for the season ahead.
      • I enjoyed the counter raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. ~The use of the term 'counter raid' in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby actually refers to how Carraway enjoyed the war and all the excitement it brought along.
      • I should have been a pair of ragged claws
        Scuttling across the floors of silent seas...
        ~ The reference to the ragged claws in T. S. Eliot's The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock is to that of crabs in the sea, that are protected and do not have to face the loneliness and hostility of the world.
      • Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. ~This popular highlighted phrase from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in effect refer to a request to be heard by the speaker.
    Understatement
    An attempt by a writer to undermine the gravity of a situation by addressing it lightly can be termed as an understatement. For instance, if someone refers to an extravagant mansion as a 'nice place', it is an understatement as the mansion is not being described or appreciated in its entirety. In essence, an understatement is the opposite of a hyperbole. Some more examples of understatement have been given here.
      • The grave's a fine and private place,
        But none, I think, do there embrace.
        ~A classic example of understatement is reflected in these lines from Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress. A grave always has a serious connotation but the poet undermines it by calling it a 'fine and private place'.
      • No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
        church-door
        ; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve:
        ~Mercutio in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet describes his fatal wound by understating it as not very deep, neither very wide, but enough to kill him.
      • It's just a flesh wound. ~These lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a British comedy, were quoted by the Black Knight after both his arms were cut off!
    Figurative language is meant to be subtle, not direct. That is the beauty of literature and poetry; it allows the reader to understand, imagine, and interpret in her/his own way, without being given directions. With this piece on the many types of figurative language, you will be able to understand it better, look for it in the works you are reading, and identify the various figures of speech used in these works. Enjoy all that every piece of writing has to offer, for it is truly what brings out the creative thinker in you and introduces you to an aspect of your thought process you didn't know you had.