Evaluating the Importance of Figurative
Language to the Meaning of the Text

Authors include figurative language to enhance the meaning of their works. It is important to think about the claim or assertion the author is making through a simile or a metaphor. In other words, what point does the text make, and how does the simile or metaphor help to explore that idea? How does the author expect you to react to the figurative language? Should you be shocked? Surprised? Amused? Sympathetic? How do similes and metaphors contribute to the creation of tone?

The first step in evaluating the importance of figurative language in a text is to think about whether a literal term is a good fit for a figurative term. A template like this one can help you decide.

(A) ______________________________________________________________________ and

(B) ___________________________________________________________________.

For example, in his speech “I Have A Dream,” Martin Luther King Jr. compares the condition of poverty to a “lonely island.” This is a fitting comparison because poverty and a lonely island share these characteristics: (A) isolation and alienation from the “vast ocean of material prosperity” that surrounds them and (B) vulnerability from being surrounded.

An island

Source: Island, Wikimedia Commons

Using the template will get you to think about the author’s intent and tone. For example, based on the template above, you might begin an analysis of King’s intent and tone like this:

Martin Luther King Jr. sadly describes the “lonely island” of poverty to make those who enjoy a “vast ocean of material prosperity” aware of the isolation and suffering of the poor. The author’s tone may be identified as sad or regretful. He intended to alert readers to the seriousness and magnitude of poverty in America.

Now try to complete the first part of the template for this simile and metaphor. When you are finished, check your understanding.

“The cold had settled in like a bad holiday guest.” (NBC Evening News, Dec. 15, 2010)

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

You might have said that the subject of the settling cold is compared to a bad holiday guest.


Next try to fill in the blank labeled “A” from the second part of the template. Hint: Think about how a bad holiday guest behaves.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

You might have said that just as bad holiday guests overstay their welcome, the cold that has settled in has lasted too long.


Now try an extended metaphor from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Fill in all parts of the template. Check your understanding after completing each portion.

The Mock Marriage of Orlando and Rosalind, 1853, in Shakespeare’s play ‘As You Like It.’

Source: “The Mock Marriage of Orlando and Rosalind,” Walter Howell Deverell, Wikimedia Commons

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.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

The subject of the world is compared to a stage on which men and women act out parts. This is a fitting comparison because human beings play many different roles during their lives, and others observe them doing so, just as an audience watches actors perform onstage.


Before you move on to the final activity, remember that there are several steps to follow when working with figurative language:

  1. Identify the figurative language frequently present in the text and distinguish between simile and metaphor.
  2. Look for ways in which the author might have extended the comparison between the literal and the figurative.
  3. Evaluate the importance of the figurative language to the meaning of the text. In other words, ask yourself how the figurative language contributes to the author’s intent and tone.