Extended Metaphor: Meaning, Structure, Examples, How To Use

Extended metaphor is a literary device that authors use to convey complex ideas in an interesting way. They help break up tedious prose. An extended metaphor is more likely to stay in a reader’s memory than one simple metaphor/simile or a list of facts.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two unrelated objects (or ideas). It’s worth noting that a simile is a metaphor that uses the word “like” or “as.”

An extended metaphor is when a metaphor goes on for multiple sentences, multiple paragraphs, or even for the duration of the book, poem, or other work.

Examples of differences between metaphors, similes, and extended metaphors:

  • Metaphor example: “That man is a snake.”
  • Simile example: “Your ex is sneaky as a snake.”
  • Extended metaphor example: “You’re a snake! Everything you hiss out of your mouth is a lie. You frighten children, and you have no spine.”

What is the purpose of an extended metaphor? The purpose of an extended metaphor is to break down complex ideas for the audience to comprehend in simpler and more compelling terms.

Any writer needs to master the extended metaphor. Below, we’ll talk about the structure, importance, and examples of metaphors so that you can use original extended metaphors to intrigue and captivate your readers.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What an extended metaphor is
  2. Structure of the extended metaphor
  3. Why you should use extended metaphors
  4. How to write an extended metaphor
  5. Examples of extended metaphors from famous literature

What is an extended metaphor?

Extended metaphor is a literary term referring to when a writer compares unrelated objects or ideas with figurative language for more than a sentence. This literary device may be used throughout a paragraph, chapter, or even a complete work. An author may employ extended metaphors in various imagery, situations, characterizations, or ideas throughout a novel.

An extended metaphor is also known as a sustained metaphor or a conceit.

There are many examples from books, famous poems, song lyrics, short stories, or even real-life speeches. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Will Ferrell’s humorous commencement address to the Harvard class of 2003 come to mind.

An allegory is a form of extended metaphor that extends throughout the entire poem or course of a story. Though all allegories are extended metaphors, not all extended metaphors are allegories.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and Animal Farm by George Orwell are two famous examples of entire work allegories.

Is extended metaphor symbolism? Yes, extended metaphor uses symbolism to make a point. Not all symbolism is metaphor, but all extended metaphors use some sort of symbolism to make a comparison between two seemingly unrelated things.

The structure of a metaphor includes 4 elements:

  1. Vehicle: This is the word(s) through which the meaning of the metaphor is conveyed. If you say, “She’s such an Eeyore!” then Eeyore is the vehicle through which a specific emotion is conveyed.
  2. Tenor: This is what is being conveyed through the metaphor. If you say, “She’s such an Eeyore!” then the tenor is sadness, which is what the vehicle of Eeyore conveys.
  3. Ground: This is the similarity between the 2 compared words. Think: common ground. If you say, “She’s such an Eeyore!” then the ground between “she” and “Eeyore” is that they’re both sad.
  4. Tension: This is what is different between the 2 compared words. If you say, “She’s such an Eeyore!” then the tension between “she” and “Eeyore” is that “she” is a real human and “Eeyore” is a fictional (stuffed) animal.

In the 1930s, IA Richards coined the terms “vehicle” and “tension” to analyze the anatomy of a metaphor, and these terms seamlessly translate to extended metaphors.

Should you use extended metaphors?

Yes, you should use extended metaphors if you want to both convey a complicated idea in understandable terms and further interest readers in your story.

Benefits of using extended metaphors include:

  • Simplifying a complex idea into a relatable concept
  • Intriguing readers with interesting terminology
  • Humor, in some cases
  • Memorability, which opens up the possibility of a rewarding callback later on or simply infects the reader’s mind with an element of your story

Beware: A contrived or cliché extended metaphor will pull readers out of your story. Your metaphors must be original, relevant, and engaging.

Why are extended metaphors important? Extended metaphors are important because they help readers make complex connections within your story. They also give readers a thought-provoking way to think about something instead of just telling them the boring facts.

8 Steps on How to Write an Extended Metaphor (with Examples)

How do you write an extended metaphor? Here is a step-by-step process to help you write an extended metaphor:

  1. Decide what you will write an extended metaphor about. (Example: my main character)
  2. What should the tenor be? In other words, what feeling or image are you trying to conjure with this metaphor? (Example: her propensity to work outside the law while still getting the job done)
  3. Write down a list of words that convey that tenor. Brainstorm a dozen terms that describe this feeling or image you’re going for. (Example: mama bear, Batman, vigilante, crooked cop, dictator, Robin Hood, underdog, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad)
  4. Pick a word (or more) that you feel perfectly conveys the tenor of your metaphor. This word is your vehicle. (Example: Robin Hood and his merry men)
  5. Write a single metaphor to relate the vehicle (word) and tenor (feeling of comparison) before you get into the extended part. (Example: “Robin proved herself to be a modern-day Robin Hood.” OR, “Robin hated when they call her Robin Hood, though the comparison was more apt than she liked to admit.”)
  6. Write another list of terms and ideas that relate to your vehicle. If it’s a fictional character, that’s easy — write down other characters and settings from that story. If it’s not, you can still list out any idea or thing related to the vehicle. (Example: Maid Marian, merry men, Sheriff of Nottingham, Prince John, stealing from the rich, giving to the poor)
  7. Extend your metaphor by taking these related concepts and writing more metaphors about the same subject. (Example: “Robin hated when they call her Robin Hood, though the comparison was more applicable than she liked to admit. Her boyfriend was just as beautiful and loyal as Maid Marian. Her victims possessed great wealth. And that crooked cop Carter bore a striking resemblance to the big lupine Sheriff of Nottingham from Disney’s version of the tale.”)
  8. Of course, you can stop there. You’ve written an extended metaphor. However, you can continue the extended metaphor for any amount of time. You can even call back to the extended metaphor after not bringing it up for a while. (Example: Long after the initial description, “‘You’re a regular Robin Hood, aren’t you, Miss Riger?’ Carter growled. ‘I suppose your merry men aren’t so merry anymore, now that I’ve thrown them all in the deepest dungeons with nary a drop of water for the lot of them!’”)

11 Examples of Extended Metaphor In Literature

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

“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…”

Dean Koontz’s Seize the Night:

“Bobby Holloway says my imagination is a three-hundred-ring circus. Currently I was in ring two hundred and ninety-nine, with elephants dancing and clowns cart wheeling and tigers leaping through rings of fire. The time had come to step back, leave the main tent, go buy some popcorn and a Coke, bliss out, cool down.”

Emily Dickinson’s Hope Is the Thing With Feathers:

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune—without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.”

Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union:

“It never takes longer than a few minutes, when they get together, for everyone to revert to the state of nature, like a party marooned by a shipwreck. That’s what a family is. Also the storm at sea, the ship, and the unknown shore. And the hats and the whiskey stills that you make out of bamboo and coconuts. And the fire that you light to keep away the beasts.”

Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood:

“Whosoever has observed that sedate and clerical bird, the rook, may perhaps have noticed that when he wings his way homeward towards nightfall, in a sedate and clerical company, two rooks will suddenly detach themselves from the rest, will retrace their flight for some distance, and will there poise and linger; conveying to mere men the fancy that it is of some occult importance to the body politic, that this artful couple should pretend to have renounced connection with it. Similarly, service being over in the old Cathedral with the square tower, and the choir scuffling out again, and divers venerable persons of rook-like aspect dispersing, two of these latter retrace their steps, and walk together in the echoing Close.”

Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird:

“But a BIRD that stalks down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through his bars of rage
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.”

Roald Dahl’s Matilda:

“The parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away.”

Langston Hughes’s Mother to Son:

“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

“‘Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page from the second and so on, chainsmoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the second-hand notions and time-worn philosophies.’”

William Shakespeare’s As You Like It:

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”

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