When numbers and amounts of numbers receive their symbolic representation called figure, and various objects take a distinguished shape these representations or shapes are called figures. In the exact same way, the locutions can also change shape and become figures of speech. Such a phenomenon is called a figurative expression. According to a dictionary article, a figure of speech is “an expression of language, such as simile, metaphor, or personification, by which the usual or literal meaning of a word is not employed” (figure-of-speech, n.d., para. 1). Both in spoken language and in writing the use of figurative speech is usually considered a bon ton, as it makes a story shine in new splendor, gaining liveliness and depth. Among other celebrated writing authorities, David Auburn, Kate Chopin, and John Updike have used this technique in their works to present their readers with vivid and powerful characters and the environment.
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In a short story by Kate Chopin named “The Story of an Hour”, a few of the figurative language examples are used indeed, and while the use of such artistic device is subtle and in no way excessive, it still allows the reader to gain insight into the world of protagonist and feel her emotions. For example, the florid metaphors like “the storm of grief,” “the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life,” or “the delicious breath of rain” (Chopin, 1894, p.205), create a presence effect for the reader, at the same time revealing the personality of protagonist, depicting her as a delicate and sensitive, even dreamy. “The bitter moment,” “elixir of life,” or “piercing cry” metaphors, as well as the onomatopoeic expressions like “sparrows twittering” are serving the same cause (Chopin, 1894, p.205-206). The metaphors in the text are probably used due to the greater power of artistic expression than the one gained by the use of similes; the text almost contains no such figures of speech, except a few: “her will as powerless as her two white slender hands” or “carried herself like a goddess of Victory” (Chopin, 1894, p.205-206).
John Updike’s “A&P” utilizes a plethora of figurative expressions, as this short story is told in the first person and Updike’s unique style illustrates the author’s vision on the characters and the events of the story. The liberal use of metaphors here is justified by the narrative, as the protagonist and the story-teller is a young man of 19, simple, sarcastic and romantic at the same time. “A witch about fifty,” “got her feathers smoothed,” “the sheep pushing their carts,” as well as the simile like “bare plane of the top of her chest… like a dented sheet of metal,” or “back stiff… as if he … had an injection of iron” (Updike, 1961, p. 234-238). Another popular figure of speech in this text is an exaggeration, or hyperbole, which is also helpful for better understanding of the narrator’s inner world. For example, the hyperbole about setting off dynamite in the shop when people would not even notice that illustrates the protagonist’s attitude to the clients and his work in general. Another ironic and subtle example of hyperbole shows the widespread idea of a possibility of a Soviet takeover of the United States through naming the A&P shop of the future “The Great Alexandrov and Petrooshki Tea Company” (Updike, 1961, p. 235).
The short play “Proof” by David Auburn is at the same time a humorous and dramatic work of literature, where the author does not overload the text with florid metaphors, rather he recourses to ironic and sometimes even sarcastic notions of the events. However, a few metaphors and similes can be found in the text, emphasizing the colloquial speech of the characters, for example “days are lost, you threw them away,” or a beautiful metaphor of a human’s mind as a complex set of machinery and the conscience as an auto mechanic, trying to fix it (Auburn, 2000, p. 1208-1259). Some hyperboles are also met throughout the play, also very colloquial, like “freezing my ass off” and “you slept all week” (Auburn, 2000, p. 1208-1259). The use of these artistic devices allows the reader and the audience to grasp the realistic approach in describing the characters, which makes them closer to the reader and easier to understand and identify with.
So, figurative expressions allow for bending the language in a way that lets the author make a more dramatic, bright and living story with distinct and expressive characters and the environment. Indeed, the use of such expressions in aforementioned works was definitely one of the reasons they are so widely known and loved by the public, contributing to the special and unique styles of their authors. While the skillful yet moderate use of figurative speech, is considered a sign of good taste, the lack thereof is able to render any text bland and lifeless, not worthy of attention. It would be safe to say that a text without figurative language is just like food without any salt or spices.
Auburn, D. (2000). Proof. In L. G. Kirszner & S. R. Mandell (Eds.) Compact Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing (8th ed.). (pp. 1208-1259). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Chopin, K. (1894). The Story of an Hour. In L. G. Kirszner & S. R. Mandell (Eds.) Compact Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing (8th ed.). (pp. 205-206). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
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Figure-of-speech (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Web.
Updike, J. (1964). A&P. In L. G. Kirszner & S. R. Mandell (Eds.) Compact Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing (8th ed.). (pp. 234-238). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.