The Characteristics of a Metaphor

Metaphor is a common literary device that allows a writer to create a comparison between two unlike objects, ideas or situations by activating preexisting knowledge and describing one as actually being the other. Metaphors are used in poetry, fiction and nonfiction alike. They can be used to make a simple point -- "My father was boiling mad,"-- or drawn out into an extended form, also known as allegory.

Transfer of Knowledge

In creating a metaphor, the writer or speaker is drawing on a source of information that the reader or listener is already familiar with in order to enhance his understanding of a target idea. For example, in stating, "My aunt is a bit of a porcupine," a speaker would not expect someone to infer that her aunt is actually part rodent. Instead, she would be drawing on the writer's understanding of porcupines as prickly, lonesome creatures to inform his understanding of her aunt's character.

Common Features

Metaphors are generally compact, vivid statements with an ability to make a clear connection between otherwise inexplicable or abstract qualities. These characteristics make it possible for writers and speakers to convey a large amount of information to their audiences in a creative, yet concise, way.

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