When a writer wants to express a complex idea or image, he may use figurative language, such as metaphors and allegories. Figurative language ornaments an individual’s writing and adds clarity. While metaphors and allegories may seem like similar literary devices that add interest to a narrative, they have distinct differences in regards to their definitions, use and application.
Metaphors Compare Unrelated Things
A metaphor is a type of figurative language that describes something as something that it's not. The University of North Carolina Pemborke states that the use of a metaphor can reveal new and interesting qualities of the subject in question that a reader didn’t previously consider important or even notice. The device can give a sense of style to a literary work, and adds new meanings to otherwise ordinary objects, ideas, people, events and places.
Examples of Metaphors
William Shakespeare says in "As You Like It" that the world is a stage and humans are actors in a show who enter and exit the stage. This is a metaphor because the world isn't a literal stage and humans aren't actors who live in accordance to a script. The words in the play's monologue refer to the stages of life, including infancy and death. Author Virginia Woolf famously said, “Books are the mirrors of the soul,” in "Between the Acts," and metaphor made its way into political and social commentary when Karl Marx called religion "the opiate of the masses."
Expression Using Symbolism
In literature, an allegory is a story that uses symbolic objects, characters, figures or actions to express ideas or truths about human nature, political situations, or historical events, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The difference between an allegory and metaphor is that an allegory uses a narrative in its entirety to express an idea or teach a lesson, while a metaphor uses a word or phrase to represent an idea.
Examples of Allegories
The stories in “Aesop’s Fables” are allegorical, as they are narratives with an underlying message. The story of the “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” for example, is about a boy who claims to see a wolf when he does not. When he actually sees a wolf, no one believes him. The underlying story is that it doesn’t take much for a liar to lose the trust of others, which can hurt him in a time of need. Edmund Spencer's epic poem "The Faerie Queen" is an allegory. The poem's narrative is about knights in Faerieland and their virtues. In the "Letter to the Authors," Spencer states that he used allegory in the epic to teach readers to be act virtuously and practice "gentle discipline."