A cartoon of a huge, angry-looking flea

Source: “Nasty flea,” safoocat, Flickr

A common form of imagery is the simile. A simile is a comparison of two unlike things using like or as. For example, in the essay, the teacher tells Sedaris that he is “up and down like a flea.” She compares Sedaris to a flea, and with that comparison, she gives us a picture of Sedaris’s behavior in class. He doesn’t just get up a couple of times during class; he jumps in and out of his chair like a flea trying to jump on a dog.

Let’s look at some other similes from nonfiction texts.

Soon enough, I reeled in a fat sucker; it flopped onto the shore like a sack of mush.

—Bill Barish, “Steelhead on the Russian”

Barish describes fishing for steelhead trout on the Russian River in Northern California. He could have stopped his description after the word “sucker.” However, the detail of the fish flopping on the shore “like a sack of mush” helps us understand how the fish behaved when Barish plopped it onto the shore.

The next simile is from the essay “The Education of Women” written by Daniel Defoe in 1719. Defoe argues that women should be allowed the same educational opportunities as men.

A diamond ring sparkling against a dark background

Source: Diamond ring, Ricky Artigas, Flickr

The soul is placed in the body like a rough diamond; and must be polished, or the luster of it will never appear.

—Daniel Defoe, “The Education of Women”

Defoe includes this simile to explain the importance of education for all people. He could have just written “Education is important.” That wording, though, would not really illustrate how important Defoe considered education to be. By comparing the soul to a diamond and education as the polish for the diamond, he helps the reader understand what he is saying: that our souls will not reach their full luster without education.

Similes and other figurative language aren’t used only in personal essays, narratives, and persuasive essays, but also in informational texts. A simple simile can help make a complex concept easier to understand, as demonstrated by the next quotation.

The interior of the Earth is rather like an onion, made up of a series of concentric shells or layers.

—Martin Redfern, The Earth: A Very Short Introduction

take notes icon Now, it’s your turn to write some similes. Use your notes to complete the similes below. Avoid clichés and be original! When you are finished, check your understanding to see some possible responses.
  1. Life is _________.
  2. Love is _________.
  3. My house is __________.
  4. My hair is ____________.
  5. She is ______________.

Check Your Understanding
Sample Responses:
  1. Life is like a long drive through a mountain range, full of valleys and peaks.
  2. Love is like a campfire; it can comfort you or burn you.
  3. My house is as cozy as a wool sweater.
  4. My hair is as straight as a road through the desert.
  5. She is as gentle as baby shampoo.