Metaphors and allegories are a great way to spice up your writing whether you’re working on creative projects or trying to wow the office at the next meeting.
However, you don’t want to start getting your metaphors in your analogies confused.
It’s common for people to get these two concepts mixed up which can lead to unclear writing.
Let’s take a look at metaphors and allegories and see how they can work for you or writing.
What is a Metaphor?
A metaphor is a short statement that compares two objects without using the words “like” or “as.”
A metaphor is also self-contained meaning that it doesn’t become a larger theme for an entire written work.
Let’s take a close look at a few classic metaphors in order to get a handle on this literary concept.
Examples of Famous Metaphors
Sometimes it’s best to learn by doing. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common metaphors out there and see how they work.
The universe started with a big bang.
The concept of the big bang was popularized as a great shorthand for understanding the start of the universe.
This phrase was first coined by astronomer Fred Hoyle.
It was also made popular by a long-running comedy television show.
The big bang is also a great metaphor.
In this metaphor, the origin of the universe is being compared to a large explosion.
This is not literally incorrect, but it does get across a general point.
This is why the big bang is a great example of what a metaphor can do.
“All the world’s a stage.” – William Shakespeare
This is one of Shakespeare’s most classic metaphors.
We still use it today and it’s influenced the course of writing for the entire world.
You can see really clearly what this metaphor is trying to do.
Shakespeare is comparing the world, and everything in it, to a theater stage.
Like any great metaphor, this is short and gets to the point.
This metaphor also leaves us with a great image in our minds of what Shakespeare is trying to communicate.
“Conscience is a man’s compass.” – Vincent Van Gogh
This metaphor is getting a little bit more complicated.
Here, we are comparing our conscience with a compass.
This metaphor helps get across the idea of our conscience being our guide in daily life.
However, this metaphor also goes much deeper when given time to contemplate it.
These three examples show just what you can do with a good metaphor, but the key to using these phrases is using them correctly.
How to Use a Metaphor Correctly
Now that we know what a metaphor is and we’ve seen some of the classic examples of this turn of phrase, how do you use one correctly?
In order to understand how to use the metaphor correctly, we’re going to look at the number one way people use metaphors incorrectly.
This is what’s known as mixed metaphors.
This is when a single metaphor contains too many unrelated objects and loses its focus.
Here is a great example of a mixed metaphor from former English soccer manager, Stuart Pearce: “I can see the carrot at the end of the tunnel.”
We can see here that this metaphor mixes two different metaphors together.
It’s mixing “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel” and “carrot on a stick.”
While this particular mixed metaphor is a little clever, it does give us an example of what not to do.
Mixing your metaphors can get too muddled and harder to understand.
Keep your metaphors simple and only containing one comparison and you’ll finally catch the proverbial carrot at the end of the tunnel.
What is an Allegory?
One way to think about the nature of the allegory is to see these as a metaphor that is conducted over the length of an entire story.
Where metaphors are short and sweet, allegories take their time.
An allegory is a story or tale that uses symbolism to help guide a reader to a conclusion.
This is typically a longer work and the symbolism evolves and changes throughout the entire story.
The easiest way to separate allegories and metaphors is to realize that metaphors are typically no longer than a single sentence while allegories can span multiple books or movies.
Just like with metaphor, it is sometimes best to take a look at a few examples to get your head around a new concept.
Here are a few famous allegories from across fiction and movies that can help you understand how this literary convention works.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
This is C.S. Lewis’s most famous book.
In this story, four children are whisked away into a magical land that is ruled over by a mysterious and all-powerful lion.
The story isn’t just a fun fantasy adventure for kids, but it’s also a serious allegorical tale about religion.
C. S. Lewis used The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to write an allegorical tale for Christianity.
Many of the central themes of Lewis’s interpretation of Christianity can be found in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
This makes this story an allegory.
The Mask of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is one of these most successful authors in the American literary tradition.
Many of his most startling horror stories were also intended as allegory is set for events in his personal life or events in contemporary history.
One of the most common readings of The Masque of the Red Death is as an allegory for humanity’s inability to escape death.
In the story, wealthy nobility throw a luxurious party while a plague ravages the world outside.
During the course of events in the story, the plague eventually breaches the party and its guests to succumb to the illness.
The short story is an allegorical tale for the fleeting nature of existence.
Avatar by James Cameron
Avatar was one of the most successful movies to ever be released.
This is a story of humanity venturing into alien worlds and having to work with alien races in order to save the environment.
This is a tale that hits close to home.
Avatar is a very direct allegory for how our society treats our own planet here at home.
The movie is the story about defending an ancestral forest from industrial expansion.
It applies just as well to the Amazon rainforest, and even forests and North America, as well as it applies to the alien landscape.
You can find allegories in books, movies, and all other types of art.
Wrapping Up Metaphor Vs Allegory
Let’s wrap up metaphors vs allegories.
Metaphors are short and typically no longer than one sentence.
They directly compared two unrelated objects without using the words “like” or “as.”
It’s important not to mix your metaphors in order to keep your writing clear and concise.
Allegories are much longer and can span multiple novels or entire movies.
They use symbolism to help guide a reader towards an interpretation of the text.
Now that you’ve mastered metaphors in allegories, you’re ready to take the written word by storm.