Metaphors in English Lit: Tips & Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What are Metaphors?
  2. Why Metaphors Matter in English Lit
  3. How to Identify Metaphors in Text
  4. Metaphor Techniques
  5. How to Analyze Metaphors
  6. Tips for Writing about Metaphors
  7. Examples of Metaphors in English Lit

Metaphors are powerful tools in English literature, teaching us to view the world through a different lens. They allow authors to weave complex thoughts and emotions into their narratives, enriching the reading experience. This blog post will explore what metaphors are, why they matter, and how we can identify and analyze them. We'll also share some tips and techniques for writing about metaphors and delve into some examples from English literature. As we explore metaphors in English literature teaching resources, you'll gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating literary device.

What are Metaphors?

Metaphors are a kind of figurative language that describe one thing as if it were something else. They make our words more colorful and our ideas more vivid. Metaphors are like secret agents in a narrative: they blend in, but they carry a lot of important information.

Here are some key points to remember about metaphors:

  • Direct comparison: Metaphors make a direct comparison between two things that aren't usually linked. For example, in the sentence "Life is a roller coaster," life is compared to a roller coaster, suggesting ups and downs, thrills and scares.
  • No use of 'like' or 'as': Unlike similes, metaphors do not use 'like' or 'as' to make a comparison. They state that one thing is another.
  • Creates a vivid image: Metaphors can create a vivid image in the reader's mind, making abstract ideas more concrete and helping us to understand and feel the author's message more deeply.

While metaphors are often used in poetry, they're not limited to it. You can find them in all kinds of English literature, from novels and plays to essays and speeches. They are a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled writer and can be a treasure trove of insights when teaching English literature.

Why Metaphors Matter in English Lit

Metaphors are not just fancy decorations in a text. They have a big job to do. They help us understand complex ideas, feel emotions more deeply, and see the world from fresh perspectives. Think of them as VIP guests at a party: they light up the event and keep things interesting.

Here's why metaphors matter:

  • They make abstract ideas concrete: Metaphors can turn abstract concepts into vivid, tangible images. This helps readers grasp complex ideas more easily. For example, if an author describes love as "a consuming fire," it paints a clear picture of love's intensity.
  • They enhance emotional impact: By comparing emotions to physical objects or experiences, metaphors can make us feel those emotions more deeply. If a character's heart is described as "a block of ice," we can almost feel the chill of their indifference.
  • They add depth to characters and settings: Metaphors can reveal a lot about a character's thoughts, feelings, and worldview. They can also make settings more vivid and memorable. A city might be described as "a sprawling beast," hinting at its chaotic, overwhelming nature.

Metaphors are a valuable part of English literature teaching resources. They can spark lively class discussions, inspire creative writing, and deepen students' understanding of a text. So next time you come across a metaphor in a story or poem, don't just skim over it. Take a moment to ponder what it reveals about the characters, the setting, or the theme. You might be surprised by what you discover!

How to Identify Metaphors in Text

Spotting metaphors in a text is like a treasure hunt, you're searching for hidden gems. But how do you identify these literary jewels? Let's explore some useful strategies.

  • Look for the unexpected: Metaphors often involve surprising or unusual comparisons. If you read a phrase that makes you think, "Wait, that's not literally true!" then you've probably found a metaphor. For instance, if a character is described as having "a heart of stone," we know their heart isn't really made of stone—it's a metaphor for their lack of emotion.
  • Watch for the word 'is': Many metaphors use the word 'is' to draw a comparison between two things. For example, in the sentence "Life is a rollercoaster," the word 'is' tells us that 'life' and 'rollercoaster' are being compared.
  • Don't forget about implied metaphors: These sneaky metaphors don't state the comparison outright, they imply it. For example, saying "She blossomed under his praise" implies a comparison between 'she' and a flower, without stating it directly.

Identifying metaphors in English literature is a key skill in your teaching resources toolkit. It can help your students appreciate the richness of a text and understand its deeper meanings. So put on your detective hat, grab your metaphor-spotting magnifying glass, and start hunting!

Metaphor Techniques

The beauty of metaphors in English literature is that they aren't a one-size-fits-all tool. There are various techniques in the metaphors in English literature teaching resources bag to paint vivid pictures in the reader's mind. Here's a quick look at some of them:

  • Extended Metaphor: This isn't just a quick comparison. Instead, it's a metaphor that extends over multiple sentences, or even the entire work. For example, if you say that life is a journey, you can carry this metaphor throughout a piece, with references to roadblocks, long highways, or scenic detours.
  • Mixed Metaphor: This is a fun one! A mixed metaphor combines two or more unrelated metaphors into a single expression. While they can sometimes be confusing or unintentionally funny, a well-crafted mixed metaphor can create a striking image or idea.
  • Dead Metaphor: This is a metaphor that's been used so often it's lost its original impact—kind of like a worn-out pair of jeans. Phrases like "time is money" or "drowning in paperwork" are examples of dead metaphors. They're so common we often don't even recognize them as metaphors anymore.

Remember, a well-placed metaphor can make your writing more colorful and engaging. It's like adding a splash of paint to a blank canvas—it brings your words to life. So, why not experiment with these techniques in your own writing?

How to Analyze Metaphors

Breaking down a metaphor might feel like trying to solve a puzzle—it can be tricky, but with the right approach, you'll get there! Here are some steps to help you analyze metaphors in English literature:

  1. Identify the Metaphor: First off, you need to find the metaphor. Remember, a metaphor directly compares two things without using 'like' or 'as'. Look for phrases where one thing is described as if it's another.
  2. Understand the Literal Meaning: Next, you need to understand what each part of the metaphor literally means. What are the actual things or ideas being compared?
  3. Decipher the Figurative Meaning: Now, bring those two parts together to understand the metaphor's figurative meaning. What idea is the author trying to convey through this comparison?
  4. Consider the Context: Finally, think about how the metaphor fits into the overall context of the piece. How does it contribute to the themes, characters, or plot?

Analysis might feel like hard work, but it's the key to really appreciating the richness of metaphors in English literature. It's like being a detective, looking for clues and making connections. And the more you practice, the easier it becomes!

Tips for Writing about Metaphors

Writing about metaphors can sometimes feel like trying to catch a cloud—elusive but not impossible. Here are some tips to make your task easier:

  1. Be Clear and Specific: When you're talking about metaphors, precision is your friend. Try to be as clear and detailed as you can when explaining your thoughts and interpretations.
  2. Use Evidence: Nothing strengthens an argument like solid evidence. Always refer back to the text to back up your points.
  3. Stay Focused: It's easy to go off on tangents when you're exploring a metaphor. Make sure each point you make is relevant and helps to build your overall argument.
  4. Practice Makes Perfect: Like any skill, writing about metaphors gets easier the more you do it. Keep practicing, and don't be disheartened if it's tough at first.

Remember, writing about metaphors is not about finding the "right" answer. It's about exploring ideas and interpretations. So be brave, be creative, and most importantly—have fun with it!

Examples of Metaphors in English Lit

When it comes to metaphors, English literature is a treasure trove. You can't turn a page without stumbling upon a metaphor or two. Here are some classic examples:

  • "The world's a stage": William Shakespeare used this famous metaphor in his play 'As You Like It.' He portrays the world as a stage and people as actors, suggesting that our lives are like performances.
  • "It is the east, and Juliet is the sun": Another gem from Shakespeare, this time from 'Romeo and Juliet'. Here, Romeo uses a metaphor to describe Juliet as the sun, highlighting her importance and brightness in his life.
  • "Time is a thief": This is a common metaphor used in many literary works. It represents time as a thief, suggesting that it steals away moments and experiences.

These examples only scratch the surface of metaphors in English literature. Once you start looking, you'll see them everywhere. They add depth and color to a text, making it richer and more engaging. So, next time you read, keep an eye out for metaphors—you'll be amazed at what you find!

If you're intrigued by the use of metaphors in English literature and want to improve your own writing skills, we recommend checking out Alieu Drammeh's workshop, '10 Minute Poetry Challenge: THINK LESS, WRITE MORE!.' This workshop will help you tap into your creativity and teach you how to incorporate metaphors and other literary devices into your poetry.