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Extended Metaphor

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Extended Metaphor

Extended metaphors are flowers: bright and interesting. They can draw someone in with their evocative fragrances or push someone away when that fragrance is too much.

This is a short example of an extended metaphor. It isn't wrong about extended metaphors, either. While exciting literary devices and beautiful language fill extended metaphors, such things can overwhelm a reader. Here is how to tackle the extended metaphor and understand its effects.

Extended Metaphor Definition

The extended metaphor is a rhetorical device and a figure of speech. It is an elaborate form of metaphor.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that says one thing is another thing to make the reader see the similarities between them.

An extended metaphor is when a metaphor extends beyond a few lines or sentences.

There is no exact length for an extended metaphor, the way there is none for a poem or story. To identify an extended metaphor, look for many metaphors put together. Say a writer uses an extended metaphor to compare a tree to a person. They might compare the trunk to the torso, the leaves to the hair, branches to the arms, and roots to the legs.

In timed tests or class, look for extended metaphors where there are many metaphorical descriptions. The writer might be using them in an extended sequence!

Extended Metaphor Example

Here is how an extended metaphor might appear in a poem. This is “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This famous sonnet compares a summer’s day to a young man throughout fourteen lines (three quatrains of four lines each and one couplet of two lines). This is plenty long to be considered an extended metaphor.

In poetry, an extended metaphor might be called a "conceit."

You can also identify this sonnet as an extended metaphor because of the number of metaphors Shakespeare uses. Shakespeare breaks down the “young man is a summer’s day” metaphor into many smaller metaphors.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

Here, Shakespeare compares the young man's life to a wind shaking May buds. This metaphor frames the young man’s life as under assault from changing times.

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Shakespeare describes the young man’s longevity (his youthfulness or lifespan in general) in terms of summer’s lease on a year. The man is like the summer season, which will fade.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

This line in the sonnet compares the young man’s legacy to eternal summer.

These three smaller metaphors, along with the others, link together to paint a portrait of the young man. This young man will outshine the summer because this sonnet enshrines him.

So why would an author or writer use an extended metaphor instead of something simpler?

Extended metaphor. Beautiful summer trees rise on a sunny hill. StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - Extended metaphors say a lot about the subject.

Purpose of Extended Metaphor

An author might use an extended metaphor for a few reasons that are not mutually exclusive.

Extended Metaphors are Artful

Because extended metaphors contain so much imagery and description, they are ideal vessels for writers and poets to demonstrate their prowess with the pen. This is the case with many forms of advanced rhetorical devices such as anthropomorphism and anecdotes.

Extended Metaphors can Help the Reader Understand a Work’s Themes Without Those Themes Appearing Obvious to the Reader

Literary authors can seem elusive and complex, hence why it is possible to spend whole classes and tests interpreting their stories and poems. For instance, referring again to “Sonnet 18,” Shakespeare explores the momentary nature of youth by creating an elaborate extended metaphor about a young man and summertime.

Extended Metaphors can Help a Reader Understand Something Foreign or Complex

For example, a science fiction writer might use an extended metaphor to compare an alien civilization to an ant colony. Because the reader is likely familiar with ants, such an extended metaphor would help a reader interpret the alien civilization.

In an essay, a writer might use an extended metaphor to compare the geologic record to a history book. Because the reader is familiar with periods in history, such an extended metaphor would help a reader understand the geologic record as a history book of the Earth itself.

Extended metaphors can be practical and used in essays and factual descriptions.

Effect of Extended Metaphor

Extended metaphors are long, which can make them appear winding and multi-layered. The effect on you might be confusion or annoyance, but if you work at it, you can find the intended effects, the impact that the author wanted, of the metaphor. Generally speaking, a writer wants the reader to engage with the metaphor at a high level. They want the reader to consider the many rich aspects of the topic. For instance, in “Sonnet 18," Shakespeare has a lot to say about the young man and his relationship with time and seasons.

So how do you do that?

Although it takes close reading over a period to piece together an extended metaphor, here are some ways to tackle that process.

  1. Identify the individual metaphors. Make a short list of the metaphors in the passage, either mental or actual.

  2. Analyze those metaphors to see how they relate. Do they tell a story or define a process, or do the metaphors simply describe something at length?

  3. Examine the extended metaphor at the thematic level. Consider the themes of the metaphor and then how those themes relate to the larger work (if you have a larger work to examine).

In essays and on timed tests, you want to explain the extended metaphor in all its parts. Describe an extended metaphor the way you might describe a car. Describe its features and how it works, and then describe what those pieces do altogether. A car has an engine, brakes, and so on, and in sum, a car moves you from place to place. Likewise, an extended metaphor has individual metaphors, and in sum, the extended metaphor explores some kind of theme or describes something in detail.

Extended metaphor. A green car. StudySmarter.Fig. 2 - Think of the extended metaphor like a car.

Importance of Extended Metaphor

When writing an essay or taking a timed test, identifying and analyzing an extended metaphor is an important skill. Due to the complexity of the extended metaphor, which contains many other rhetorical devices from illustration to figurative language, you can demonstrate your close reading abilities at a high level.

If you can identify an extended metaphor, you can quickly turn its analysis into a thesis by arguing something about that extended metaphor. Here’s an example.

In “Sonnet 18,” Shakespeare uses an extended metaphor to describe the complex reality surrounding beauty and life. Someone can only embody a beautiful summer’s day forever if they are, ironically, entombed in the words of a poem or story.

Because extended metaphors contain so much information, they are ideal candidates for interpretive analysis.

Extended Metaphor - Key Takeaways

  • An extended metaphor is when a metaphor extends beyond a few lines or sentences.
  • In timed tests or class, look for extended metaphors where there are many metaphors.
  • Extended metaphors are artful and complex, although they sometimes serve a practical function.
  • In essays and on timed tests, you want to explain the extended metaphor in terms of its individual metaphors, how those metaphors relate, and if the extended metaphor has thematic importance.
  • If you can identify an extended metaphor, you can quickly turn its analysis into a thesis.

Frequently Asked Questions about Extended Metaphor

An extended metaphor is when a metaphor extends beyond a few lines or sentences.

"Sonnet 18" by William Shakespeare is an example of an extended metaphor. This famous sonnet compares a summer’s day to a young man throughout fourteen lines.

The effect on you might be confusion or annoyance, but if you work at it, you can find the intended effects, the impact that the author wanted, of the metaphor. Generally speaking, a writer wants the reader to engage with the metaphor at a high level. They want the reader to consider the many rich aspects of the topic. 

When writing an essay or taking a timed test, identifying and analyzing an extended metaphor is an important skill. Due to the complexity of the extended metaphor, which contains many other rhetorical devices from illustration to figurative language, you can demonstrate your close reading abilities at a high level.

In poetry, an extended metaphor might be called a "conceit."

Final Extended Metaphor Quiz

Question

What is an extended metaphor?

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Answer

An extended metaphor is when a metaphor extends beyond a few lines or sentences.

Show question

Question

What is the exact length of an extended metaphor?

Show answer

Answer

There is no exact length for an extended metaphor, the way there is none for a poem or story.

Show question

Question

To identify an extended metaphor, look for many _____ put together. 


Show answer

Answer

Metaphors

Show question

Question

What might you call an extended metaphor in poetry?

Show answer

Answer

A conceit

Show question

Question

Extended metaphors contain a lot of _____.

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Answer

Imagery and description

Show question

Question

Extended metaphors can help the reader understand a work’s themes without those themes appearing ____ to the reader.

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Answer

Obvious

Show question

Question

"Extended metaphors cannot be practical and used in essays and factual descriptions."

True or false?

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Answer

False.

Show question

Question

How can a metaphor help a reader understand something foreign or complex?

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Answer

A science fiction writer might use an extended metaphor to compare an alien civilization to an ant colony.  In an essay, a writer might use an extended metaphor to compare the geologic record to a history book.

Show question

Question

It takes what over a period of time to piece together an extended metaphor?

Show answer

Answer

Close reading.

Show question

Question

What is the first step in analyzing an extended metaphor?

Show answer

Answer

Identify the individual metaphors. Make a short list of the metaphors in the passage, either mental or actual.

Show question

Question

What is the second step in analyzing an extended metaphor?

Show answer

Answer

Analyze those metaphors to see how they relate. Do they tell a story or define a process, or do the metaphors simply describe something at length?

Show question

Question

What is the third step in analyzing an extended metaphor?

Show answer

Answer

Examine the extended metaphor at the thematic level. Consider the themes of the metaphor and then how those themes relate to the larger work (if you have a larger work to examine).

Show question

Question

In essays and on timed tests, you want to _____ the extended metaphor in all its parts. 

Show answer

Answer

Explain

Show question

Question

Due to the _____ of the extended metaphor, you can demonstrate your close reading abilities at a high level.

Show answer

Answer

Complexity

Show question

Question

If you can identify an extended metaphor, you can quickly turn its analysis into a _____ by arguing something about that extended metaphor.


Show answer

Answer

Thesis

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Question

"The human body is a tree."


Is this an extended metaphor?

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Answer

No

Show question

Question

"The human body is a tree: it is supported by the trunk, it reaches out with its branches, and stands firmly on its roots."


Is this an extended metaphor?

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Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

True or false: 

Writers use extended metaphors because they are artful.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or false: 

Analyzing extended metaphors is only useful in essays about poetry and fiction.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or false: 

Extended metaphors can be useful for explaining scientific concepts.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

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