engl 200C | literary analysis

English 200 - Literary Analysis

Metaphors and How Writers Use Them
  • A metaphor is a comparison between two things that have some deep similarity to one another but which are superficially unrelated or dissimilar.
    • Metaphor is a family of comparisons - "metaphor" is the general term for these comparisons. Types of metaphors include simile (a comparison using "like" or "as"), synecdoche (where part of an object is used to describe its entirety), and metonymy (where something associated with an object is used to describe it).
    • Metaphor is associative - when we associate certain ideas with things, the things become more than superficially significant; they begin to act as symbols, standing in for ideas larger than the thing itself..
    • Example: the apple. In class, we made a cluster (a wheel of associations) around this object, showing that it has many kinds of significance in western culture.
      • Objects can have many associations or meanings; a symbol's meaning in a given literary work is always dependent on its context in that work.
      • Most objects that function metaphorically are concrete (as opposed to abstract) and the more ancient and universal they are, the greater the number of associative significances they are likely to have. Examples: bread, blood, fire, earth, water.

  • Metaphor establishes right-brained, associative connections between unlike things.
    • The brain is divided into two halves: each half controls one kind of thought.
      • The right brain (connected to the left hand) controls associative logic (the logic of dreams), unconscious thought, physical movement and sense perception, and metaphor as used in language. It is primarily visual and sensuous; metaphors are its natural language, and it tends to draw on sense-comparisons. The unconscious right brain is where metaphors are generated as writers create their works.
      • The left brain (connected to the right hand) controls linear logic, conscious thought, timekeeping, abstract thought, and the grammatical construction of language. This is the mathematical side of the brain we use in our everyday thinking.
    • Metaphoric comparisons do not conform to linear logic; they conform to associative logic, where two things are linked because of our associations, not because they are intrinsically similar.
      • Associative logic is the logic of conversations - which shift on the basis of contingencies, not cause-and-effect.
    • Our dreams are couched in a naturally metaphoric language - we dream in visual symbols, and these symbols are often not bound by the limitations of physical reality.
      • However, we have trouble "translating" dream metaphors into ordinary language, because our dreams don't "make sense" out of their associative context. In our culture, we make little conscious "use" of our dreams. Our culture similarly does not prize metaphor, but tends to write it off as illogical or merely fanciful.
  • The world is full of suprising naturally occurring similarities. We must become attuned to them so that we can see relationships between unlike things (so that we can learn to think metaphorically).
    • Biologists note and name the similarities between naturally occurring objects or beings that exhibit "radial symmetry" - that is, they are star- or wheel-shaped. We made a list of such objects, beginning with a starfish and ending with the human construction of the wheel.
    • Writers tend to think metaphorically and experience everything that they do metaphorically. That is, they see deep significance in each experience they have, and they draw on the metaphoric significance of their experiences to create literature.
      • Example: Maxine Kumin's poem "The Woodchuck." Plot: the gardeners try to kill the woodchuck in a variety of ways. Metaphorical significance: manifold. Could the woodchuck be unkillable? Should the gardeners learn from this experience that woodchucks are inevitable? Is it possible that the really "owns" the garden? Does trying to kill the woodchuck turn the humans into monsters - "animals" in the worst sense?

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2008.