I. What is an Extended Metaphor?
An extended metaphor is a metaphor that is developed in great detail. The amount of detail can vary from that of a sentence or a paragraph, to encompassing an entire work. In an extended metaphor, the author takes a single metaphor and employs it at length, using various subjects, images, ideas and situations. They are commonly used in poetry, as well as prose.
You have probably come across many examples of extended metaphor and have most likely understood them. You may have even used them yourself, without realizing what they were.
II. Examples of Extended Metaphor
An author wanting to tell a story about a criminal, might employ extended metaphor and instead, tell a story about a fox who attacks a farmer’s flock of chickens. The fox would represent the criminal and the chickens would represent the victims.
A poet wanting to express his love might write a poem about planets and suns. The sun would represent the object of that love and the revolving planet would represent the one who is in love, encircling that sun, drawing warmth and nourishing life from it.
Someone wanting to write a commentary on society might set her story amongst a pack of wolves or a flock of birds. That author would use the animals as characters, rather than humans, and in that way, depict the animalistic qualities that humans can display.
III. Types of Extended Metaphor
A conceit is an intricate, intellectual or far-fetched metaphor. In a conceit, the author makes a comparison between two objects which, at first glance, appear to be absolutely unlike one another. By using this highly imaginative comparison, the author challenges the reader to see their relationship in a totally new way.
For example, a poet might claim “my love is a Harley Davidson motorcycle”. The poem would then continue to describe why this seemingly unlikely statement is indeed relevant or true. The desired result is that the reader would have an imaginative adventure and ultimately see things with a surprising new perspective.
An allegory is the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form. An allegory uses extended metaphor, but an extended metaphor is not necessarily an allegory. Animal Farm by George Orwell and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis are both allegories.
IV. The Importance of Using Extended Metaphor
Extended Metaphors are useful in helping your audience make complex connections. Sometimes it is difficult to understand a concept, particularly when it is large, encompassing, and complex. An extended metaphor, however, can be large enough to contain an entire philosophy or experience. By using this device, an author can spark the imagination of his readers and help them to make new and unexpected connections. Alternative descriptive images and layered comparisons help readers to break down complex subjects and view things in new ways. Thus, the larger concept becomes easier to grasp.
V. Examples of Extended Metaphor in Literature
William Shakespeare used Extended Metaphor extensively in both his poems and his plays. The balcony scene in his play Romeo and Juliet is one of the most classically touching and romantic examples. This is Romeo’s monologue, in which he compares Juliet to the sun.
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off…
The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost, is one of the most famous examples of extended metaphor in poetry. In it he compares life’s journey to a forest path:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
In this classic story, a young girl named Dorothy is carried away by a tornado to a fantastical land where she finds companions representing courage (the lion), intellect (the scarecrow) and love (the tin man). The companions travel this land pursued by and ultimately defeating a wicked witch.
This is a story that employs extended metaphors within other extended metaphors. While the greater story can be seen as a commentary on social and political situations during the time it was written, the characters themselves are extended metaphors exploring human characteristics. The Lion seeks courage, the scarecrow seeks a brain, and the tin man seeks a heart.
VI. Examples of Extended Metaphor in Pop Culture
The Wall, by Pink Floyd
One of the easiest places to find extended metaphor in popular culture is in music. Song lyrics are a form poetry and song-writers often use this device.
The Wall is an entire musical album devoted to the extended metaphor of building a “wall” around the main character. The wall is a metaphor for the defenses a person builds around himself in the face of the abuses that life can bring.
We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
In this book, a shipwrecked boy (Pi) finds himself on a lifeboat in the company of a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and, most notably a tiger. The bulk of the novel is told in an extended metaphor, describing the voyage of these unlikely boat-mates. Near the end, however, the boy retells the story of the crossing with human characters instead of animals. The hyena is the ship’s cook, the zebra is one of the sailors, and the orangutan is Pi’s mother. The tiger is a man named Richard Parker. The reader is left to decide which story is actually true.
Martin Luther King. “I Have a Dream”, 1963.
Fiction is not the only place that we find extended metaphor in popular culture. Public speeches often include extended metaphor. This excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” employs extended metaphor using the idea of money.
In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.
VII. Related Terms
A figure of speech in which traits normally associated with one thing are applied to another. A simple metaphor is the basis for an extended metaphor.
Ex: His temper is a volcano. Her eyes were ice. The silence was a soft blanket.
Two or more metaphors used in conjunction, leaving the reader with confusing and competing images. While an extended metaphor may include multiple simple metaphors, it is different from a mixed metaphor.
Ex: A rolling stone finds no pot of gold at the end of life’s rollercoaster.