How to ...  identify a Metaphor 

when you come across one in Literature

Hey there, book lovers! Are you ready to take your literary understanding of literary devices to the next level? Well, you've come to the right place. In our new series, we're starting off by delving into the world of metaphors. We know that recognizing metaphors can be tricky, but don't worry, we've got you covered. We've put together a simple guide that will help you spot metaphors in literature like a pro. It's laid out in an easy-to-follow step-by-step format, so you'll be a simile expert in no time.

For more information and to stay updated on future articles in the series, head on over to the section How to... on Happy reading!

Have you ever considered how metaphors can facilitate our understanding of things? I remember back in high school, I had trouble understanding poems and stories. But then I learned the metaphors and it was as if a light bulb went out. All of a sudden, everything meant something. Metaphors are like a magic wand in literature that lets us see things through a different lens. They take complicated ideas, making them simple and straightforward.

Do you know where the word "metaphor" comes from? It's a Greek word, "metaphora," which means "to carry over" or "to transmit." And this is precisely what a metaphor does - it takes the qualities of one thing and applies them to another. It helps us understand new concepts by linking them to things we already know.

We've seen that metaphors add great depth to stories and poems. Did you know they may also provide an overview of the author's point of view? When a writer uses a metaphor it's like having a map of his thoughts. For example, have you ever read Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken"? It contains the metaphor of "two roads diverging in a wood". What do you think it means? Let's divide it: the "two roads" represent the different choices that one can make in life; the phrase "diverging in a wood" adds to the symbolism of the metaphor and can be seen as a place of uncertainty or a crossroads. This creates a sense of a fork in the road, where the speaker must decide which path to take.It's such a simple picture, but it's striking.

Let's now take another example: "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, a narrative poem where the raven serves as an extended metaphor. An extended metaphor is a comparison that continues throughout a work of literature, connecting different elements of the work together. In Poe's poem the raven represents not only the death of the narrator, but also his descent into insanity. The bird is described as a persistent and haunting presence that the narrator can't seem to able to shake off, like a dark cloud hanging over him. This metaphor effectively conveys the themes of death, loss, and the macabre that are central to the poem. The simplicity of the metaphor adds to the power of the poem, bringing it to life and making the author's message clear and vivid.

By using an extended metaphor, Poe is able to communicate his message in a clear and vivid way. The simplicity of the metaphor makes the poem powerful and brings it to life, making it a great example of how a metaphor can be used to enhance a piece of literature.

How not to quote another extended metaphor: "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?" In the opening line of the poem: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" the speaker makes a comparison between the addressee (thee) and a summer's day. The comparison concerns two elements that are unrelated: the person being addressed and a summer's day. The two elements are not usually compared. Moreover the comparison continues throughout the poem.

Vocabulary List:

  1. Metaphors: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable
  2. Literature: written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit
  3. Author's point of view: a writer's perspective or stance regarding a particular topic or issue
  4. Map of thoughts: a representation or diagram of a writer's thoughts or ideas
  5. Symbolism: the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities
  6. Crossroads: a situation where a decision must be made and multiple options are available
  7. Narrative: a spoken or written account of connected events
  8. Extended metaphor: a comparison that continues throughout a work of literature, connecting different elements of the work together
  9. Themes: the central ideas or messages of a literary work
  10. Macabre: having a sense of death, tragedy or the supernatural.
  11. Compare: to examine the characteristics or qualities of (two or more things) in order to discover similarities or differences.

Now you' re provided with all the necessary tools to understand a metaphor. 

Here is a guide to assist you in recognizing metaphors in literature.

Follow these steps, and you'll be a pro in identifying a metaphor!

You'll need:

  • A piece of literature (e.g. a novel, poem, or play)
  • A keen eye for detail
  • A willingness to think critically


  1. Read the piece of literature carefully and pay attention to any comparisons or imagery that the author uses.
  2. Look for phrases or sentences that compare two apparently unrelated things.
  3. Ask yourself if the comparison is being used to explain a concept or to create a deeper understanding of a subject.
  4. If the answer to step 3 is yes, then you have found a metaphor.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 as you continue to read the literature.


  • Metaphors can be subtle, so be sure to read carefully and pay attention to detail.
  • If you come across an extended metaphor, try to identify the main components of the metaphor and how they relate to the overall message or theme of the literature.
  • Practice makes perfect, so the more you read and analyze literature, the better you will become at recognizing metaphors.

Metaphors are a powerful tool in literature, they're used to add depth, complexity, and imagery to a story or poem. They can also be used to create vivid imagery that helps the reader to better understand the author's message. By following the steps in this guide, you can become an expert in recognizing metaphors and understanding their significance in literature. Happy reading!

LnT suggests

LnT a wonderful mind map to review the main figures of speech, containing definitions and examples.