Practice in Identifying Metaphors

A Figurative Language Exercise

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A metaphor is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something in common. This exercise will give you practice in identifying the elements that make up a metaphor. (See What Is a Metaphor?)

Instructions:

Each of the following passages contains at least one metaphor. For each metaphor, identify the subjects or activities that are being compared--that is, both the tenor and the vehicle.

  1. Laughter is the mind sneezing.
    (Wyndham Lewis)
  2. Suddenly the black night showed its teeth in a flash of lightning.

    The storm growled from the corner of the sky, and the women trembled in fear.
    (Rabindranath Tagore, "Fruit-Gathering." English Writings Of Rabindranath Tagore: Poems, 1994)
  3. They say that life is a highway and its milestones are the years,
    And now and then there’s a toll-gate, where you buy your way with tears.
    It's a rough road and a steep road, and it stretches broad and far,
    But at last it leads to a golden town, where the golden houses are.
    (Joyce Kilmer, "Roofs")
  4. Why you miserable, cowardly, wretched little caterpillar! Don't you ever want to become a butterfly? Don't you want to spread your wings, and flap your way to glory?
    (Max Bialystock to Leo Bloom in The Producers, by Mel Brooks, 1968)
  5. I made Bubba up in the spring of 1963 in order to increase my popularity with my girlfriends at a small women's college in Virginia. I was a little bit in love with them, too. But at first I was ill at ease among them: a thistle in the rose garden, a mule at the racetrack, Cinderella at the fancy dress ball. Take your pick.
    (Lee Smith, "The Bubba Stories." News of the Spirit. Penguin, 1997)
  1. Even the way he looked was contrived, and if, on bad days, he resembled nothing so much as a failed actor afflicted with dreams, he accepted this resemblance, putting it down to artistic fatigue. He did not consider himself a failed anything. Success can only be measured in terms of distance traveled, and in Wishart's case it had been a long flight.
    (Mavis Gallant, "Travelers Must Be Content." The Cost of Living: Early and Uncollected Stories. New York Review of Books, 2011)
  1. If on leaving town you take the church road you soon will pass a glaring hill of bone white slabs and brown burnt flowers: this is the Baptist cemetery. . . . Below the hill grows a field of high Indian grass that changes color with the seasons: go to see it in the fall, late September, when it has gone red as sunset, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices.
    (Truman Capote, The Grass Harp. Random House, 1951)
  2. For Dr. Felix Bauer, staring out the window of his ground-floor office on Lexington Avenue, the afternoon was a sluggish stream that had lost its current, or which might have been flowing either backward or forwards. Traffic had thickened, but in the molten sunlight cars only inched behind red lights, their chromium twinkling as if with white heat.
    (Patricia Highsmith, "Mrs. Afton, Among Thy Green Braes." Eleven. Grove Press, 1970)
  3. "One afternoon while we were there at that lake a thunderstorm came up. It was like the revival of an old melodrama that I had seen long ago with childish awe. The second-act climax of the drama of the electrical disturbance over a lake in America had not changed in any important respect. This was the big scene, still the big scene. The whole thing was so familiar, the first feeling of oppression and heat and a general air around camp of not wanting to go very far away. In mid-afternoon (it was all the same) a curious darkening of the sky, and a lull in everything that had made life tick; and then the way the boats suddenly swung the other way at their moorings with the coming of a breeze out of the new quarter, and the premonitory rumble. Then the kettle drum, then the snare, then the bass drum and cymbals, then crackling light against the dark, and the gods grinning and licking their chops in the hills."
    (E.B. White, "Once More to the Lake." One Man's Meat, 1941)
  1. One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house, the difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest when we began to utter the big thoughts in big words. You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port. The bullet of your thought must have overcome its lateral and ricochet motion and fallen into its last and steady course before it reaches the ear of the hearer, else it may plough out again through the side of his head. Also, our sentences wanted room to unfold and form their columns in the interval. Individuals, like nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries, even a considerable neutral ground, between them.
    (Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Practice in Identifying Metaphors." ThoughtCo, Apr. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/practice-in-identifying-metaphors-1691828. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 13). Practice in Identifying Metaphors. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/practice-in-identifying-metaphors-1691828 Nordquist, Richard. "Practice in Identifying Metaphors." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/practice-in-identifying-metaphors-1691828 (accessed November 23, 2017).