Comparison is a rhetorical or literary device in which a writer compares or contrasts two people, places, things, or ideas. In our everyday life, we compare people and things to express ourselves vividly. So when we say, “as lazy as a snail,” you compare two different entities to show similarity i.e. someone’s laziness to the slow pace of a snail.
Comparisons occur in literary works frequently. Writers and poets use comparison in order to link their feelings about a thing to something they compare it with. There are numerous devices in literature that compare two different things to show the similarity between them e.g. simile, metaphor, analogy etc.
Comparison Examples in Literature
In the following comparison examples, we will try to analyze literary devices used to show comparisons:
A metaphor makes a hidden comparison between two things or objects that are dissimilar to each other but have some characteristics common between them. Unlike simile, we do not use “like” or “as” to develop a comparison in a metaphor. Consider the following examples:
These lines are from “When I Have Fears” by John Keats.
“Before high-pil’d books, in charact’ry
Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain,”
John Keats compares writing poetry with reaping and sowing, and both these acts stand for the insignificance of a life and dissatisfied creativity.
“All the world’s a stage and men and women merely players,”
Shakespeare uses a metaphor of a stage to describe the world and compares men and women living in the world with players.
A simile is an open comparison between two things or objects to show similarities between them. Unlike a metaphor, a simile draws resemblance with the help of words “like” or “as”. Read the following example:
This line is from short story Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
“Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa.”
In this line, Vladimir Nabokov compares old women leaning on their sticks to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Here the comparison made between two contrasting things creates a hilarious effect.
An analogy aims at explaining an unfamiliar idea or a thing by comparing it to something that is familiar. Analyze the following examples:
These lines are from Walt Whitman’s poem, “The Noiseless Patient Spider”.
“And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul”
Walt Whitman uses an analogy to show similarity between a spider spinning a web and his soul.
These lines are from “Night Clouds” written by Amy Lowell.
“The white mares of the moon rush along the sky
Beating their golden hoofs upon the glass Heavens.”
Amy constructs an analogy between clouds and mares. She compares the movement of the white clouds in the sky at night with the movement of white mares on the ground.
An allegory uses symbols to compare persons or things to represent abstract ideas or events. The comparison in allegory is implicit. Examples are:
“Animal Farm”, written by George Orwell, is an allegory that compares animals on a farm to the Communist Revolution in Russia before WW II. The actions of the animals on the farm can be compared with the greed and corruption after the revolution. The animals on the farm represent different sections of Russian society after the revolution. For instance, “Pigs” can be compared to those who became the authority after the revolution, “Mr. Jones” the owner of the farm is likened to the overthrown Tsar Nicholas II, while “Boxer” the horse, stands for the laborer class.
“Faerie Queen”, is an allegory by Edmund Spenser in which the good characters of book can be compared to the various virtues, while the bad characters can be compared to vices. For example, “The Red-Cross Knight” represents Holiness and “Lady Una” Truth, Wisdom and Goodness. Her parents symbolize the Human Race, and the “Dragon”, which has imprisoned them, stands for Evil.
Function of Comparison
The above examples of comparison help us realize that in general, writers utilize different kinds of comparisons to link an unfamiliar or a new idea to common and familiar objects. It facilitates readers to comprehend a new idea, which may have been difficult for them to understand otherwise. The understanding of a new idea turns out to be simpler when viewed with a comparison to something that is familiar to them. In addition, by making use of various literary tools for comparison, writers increase their chance of catching the attention and interest of their readers, as comparisons help them identify what they are reading to their lives.