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Figurative Language in the Short Story "Sweet Potato Pie"


Written during the Harlem Renaissance, the short story "Sweet Potato Pie" by Eugenia Collier is a touching portrayal of sacrifice and brotherly love. The protagonist, Buddy, is grateful to his humble brother Charlie for the sacrifices he made during childhood. Charlie helped Buddy to become "somebody" and lifted him up out of the family's impoverished situation. Part of the story's ability to tug at the heartstrings comes from Collier's masterful use of figurative language to convey the reality of the situation.

Simile and Metaphor

When describing Buddy's parents, Collier writes, "They sat huge and eternal, like twin mountains at my sides." In comparing his hardworking parents to mountains, she is making use of simile, which uses the words "like" or "as" to connect two ideas. She also uses metaphor. She writes, "The cramped, dingy classroom became a battleground where I was victorious," which depicts Buddy's intimidating classroom as a battleground. That difficult environment was a daily battle for Buddy, and her use of metaphor instead of the less direct simile drives this point home.

Personification and Hyperbole

Collier also uses personification in her story to make it come alive. She writes, "I entered the subway which lurks like the dark, inscrutable id beneath the surface of the city." The portrayal of the subway as an entity that has the ability to "lurk" gives it human features that bring more life to the description than a mere mention of a subway tunnel. Collier uses hyperbole when she writes, "The cheerful, impersonal tidiness of this room is a world away from Charley’s walk-up flat in Harlem and a hundred worlds from the bare, noisy shanty." While hyperbole can be an exaggeration, here it serves to show how different Buddy's early life was from his upbringing.

About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.

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