Figurative Language. Lesson 3. Definition. Figurative language is the inclusive term for words that are used in ways that depart conspicuously from their literal meanings in order to achieve special meanings or effects.
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Figurative language is the inclusive term for words that are used in ways that depart conspicuously from their literal meanings in order to achieve special meanings or effects.
Figurative language is used most often in poetry, but it is essential to all literary genres and discourse.
There are two main classes of figurative language: figures of thought and figures of speech
Figures of thought are also called tropes.
Trope comes from the Greek word meaning “a turn”
They are words or phrases used in ways that effect an obvious change (or “turn) in their standard meaning.
One kind of trope depends on a comparison between two very different objects, or else on a transference of qualities associated with an object, experience, or concept to another not literally connected with it.
These include simile, metaphor, personification, pathetic fallacy, synecdoche, and metonymy.
Another kind of trope depends on a contrast between two levels of meaning, or a shift from one level of meaning to another.
Irony is the most prominent example of this types.
Others include: paradox, oxymoron, understatement, litotes, hyperbole, and periphrasis.
Mixed metaphors are also used to suggest that a speaker is so carried away by powerful feelings as to be heedless of the mixed messages.
In Hamlet, when Ophelia is distraught over what she believes is Hamlet’s sudden plunge into madness, she contrasts her bereft state with the delight of having “sucked the honey of his music vows.”
The reference to tasting that sweet honey clashes with that of delighting in the musicality of Hamlet’s professions of love, but both express eloquently the young woman’s despair over an incalculable loss of something rare and precious.
Polonius is saying that the momentary “blazes”—fervent declarations of aroused suitors hoping to seduce gullible maidens—should not be mistake for “true fire”—trustworthy and lasting vows.
Personification is a figure of thought (or trope) in which an abstract concept, animal, or inanimate object is treated as though it were alive or had human attributes.
“She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;/And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips/Bidding adieu.”
An extended form of personification can occur in allegory, in which an abstract concept is presented as though it were a character who speaks and acts as an independent being.
In the medieval morality play Everyman, the personified characters include not only the hero, Everyman, who represents all human beings as they face death and final judgment, but also such abstract qualities as Beauty, Knowledge, and Good Deeds.
The play depicts the extent to which each of these abstractions is able and willing to accompany Everyman on his terrifying final journey toward the grave and the divine reward or punishment that awaits him beyond it.
Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
Jonathan Swifts Gulliver’s Travels
George Orwell’s Animal Farm
Pathetic fallacy is a special type of personification, in which inanimate aspects of nature, such as the landscape or the weather, are represented as having human qualities or feelings.
The term derives from the logical absurdity (fallacy) of supposing that nature can sympathize with (feel pathos for) human moods and concerns.
Pathetic fallacy once was considered a derogatory term because it showed false or “morbid” feelings.
It no longer has that negative connotation and is now merely descriptive.
Usually the pathetic fallacy reflects or foreshadows some aspect of the poem or narrative at that point, such as the plot, theme, or characterization, and so intensifies the tone.
A change in the mood of the weather or the look of the landscape is a favorite means for authors to signal a shift in the fortunes of characters.
As Henry encounters the devastation of war, the setting accordingly turns dark and threatening.
After the battle is over, Henry is able “to turn with a lover’s thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks—an existence of soft and eternal peace.”
The weather reflects his newly optimistic mood as “a golden ray of sun [comes] through the hosts of leaden rain clouds.”
Synecdoche derived from the Greek word for “to take up together.”
It is a figure of thought in which the term for part of something is used to represent the whole.
Less commonly, the whole can be used to represent a part.
A fleet of ships may be described as “forty sails.”
Athletes have been nicknamed “Muscles.”
Manual laborers called “blue collar” workers.
The food needed for sustenance “dailybread”.
It is closely related to metonymy.
Metonymy is a trope which substitutes the name of an entity with something else that is closely associated with it.
“The throne” is a metonymic synonym for “the king”
“Shakespeare” for the works of the playwright
“the Kremlin” for the ruling body of modern Russia
“England” or “old Norway” as the designation for the king of the country.
The name derives from Greek roots that mean “changing a name.”
The Glass Menagerie
In Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, Huck believes at first that the rascally King and Duke are the brave and noble men that they claim to be, despite signs of their shady past.
Dramatic irony occurs when the audience is privy to knowledge that one or more of the characters lacks.
May be used for comic or tragic effects.
Cosmic irony refers to an implied worldview in which characters are led to embrace false hopes of aid or success, only to be defeated by some larger force, such as God or fate.
In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman kills himself to secure his family the insurance payment that his suicide will, in fact, make invalid.
In Shakespeare’s King Lear, several characters congratulate themselves on a triumph or a narrow escape, only to be destroyed shortly afterward
The establishment of complex, even contradictory, attitudes toward experience, and the interpretation of possible motives or outcomes in more than one way, are major sources of literature’s richness.
Because life itself is full of contradictions and unexpected turns, irony has long had a special appeal to writers and readers.
The ability to respond to irony in its myriad forms is a sure sign of a reader’s astuteness.
Basically, recognizing irony makes you look smart.