Metaphor - Definition and Examples



A metaphor describes an object or idea by comparing it to something else that has a similar characteristic. Some metaphors are easier to identify than others. For example, these two things may share the same shape, size, colour, value, function, movement, texture or experience.

If life is a rollercoaster, then it must be a thrilling ride full of ups and downs, twists and turns. When someone describes how time flies when you are having fun, they are comparing the moment to the swift and exhilarating movement of flight. Inevitably, a young writer about to sit their English examination will have butterflies in their belly.

Our emotions and feelings are difficult to describe so metaphors are an incredibly useful device used by writers to convey the complexity of our psychology.

Life is a Stage

In “The Merchant of Venice”, a morose Antonio describes his sadness to his friend:

I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one.

This theatre metaphor compares life to a “stage” where we are simply actors who “must play a part” in the story. This comparison works on several levels.

Our world is difficult to comprehend and define. Reducing that concept to the more familiar and fixed stage of a theatre helps the audience understand the scope of Antonio’s overwhelming feelings.

An actor must deliver their lines from a script. This suggests the lack of self-determination the character feels and his awareness that the sadness is inescapable because of his “part” in the story.

Finally, stories are often viewed as simply a form of entertainment. By comparing life to a play, Antonio is also deflating the value he places on his life.


At the start of the famous balcony scene, Romeo sees a “light” coming suddenly through a “window” and he compares that brightness to Juliet who is the dazzling “sun” rising in the “east”:

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

This comparison is very effective because the young lover believes Juliet radiates beautiful light and warmth into his dreary world.

The image also suggests she is essential for life and growth so he cannot exist without her. The reference to sunrise is important because it signifies how he has moved from the darkness of despair to a new dawn of fresh love and hope.

However, an alternative interpretation could focus on the sun’s more dangerous aspects. If Romeo gets too close to Juliet, he might get burnt.

Metaphors are not literally accurate, but the depth and intricacy of this simple comparison between Juliet and the sun demonstrates why writers like to use this technique.

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