Definition of Analogy

An analogy is a figure of speech that creates a comparison by showing how two seemingly different entities are alike, along with illustrating a larger point due to their commonalities. As a literary device, the purpose of analogy is not just to make a comparison, but to provide an explanation as well with additional information or context. This makes analogy a bit more complex than similar literary devices such as metaphor and simile. Analogy is an effective device in terms of providing a new or deeper meaning about concepts through artistic use of language.

In her novelThe House in Paris, Elizabeth Bowen presents this analogy: Memory is to love what the saucer is to the cup. Bowen’s analogy makes a comparison between the relationship of love and memory to that of a cup and saucer. Though these entities are different in terms of abstract concepts and tangible items, they are alike in the sense that a saucer holds and supports a cup as memory holds and supports love. This analogy provides an interesting image of the relationship between memory and love through the artistic comparison to the saucer and cup. In addition, the comparison emphasizes the importance of memory as it relates to love by including the context of the cup and saucer.

Common Examples of Analogy

Many people are introduced to analogy as a form of word relationships that demonstrate the associations between two object or concept pairs on the basis of logic or reasoning. The phrasing for these analogies is generally “(first word) is to (second word) as (third word) is to (fourth word)” or “baby is to adult as kitten is to cat.” Here are some common examples of verbal analogies:

  • blue is to color as circle is to shape
  • eyes are to sight as fingers are to touch
  • cub is to bear and calf is to cow
  • sand is to beach as water is to ocean
  • glove is to hand as sock is to foot
  • ripple is to pond as wave is to ocean
  • words are to writing as notes are to music
  • fish are to aquariums as animals are to zoos
  • fingers are to snapping as hands are to clapping
  • petal is to flower as leaf is to tree

Famous Examples of Analogy

Think you haven’t heard of any famous analogies? Here are some recognizable examples of this figure of speech by well-known writers and speakers:

  • That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet (William Shakespeare)
  • And I began to let him go. Hour by hour. Days into months. It was a physical sensation, like letting out the string of a kite. Except that the string was coming from my center. (Augusten Burroughs)
  • It has been well said that an author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo. (P.G. Wodehouse)
  • Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. (Mary Schmich)
  • Confession is good for the soul only in the sense that a tweed coat is good for dandruff – it is a palliative rather than a remedy. (Peter De Vries)
  • Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded. (Henry Kissinger)
  • People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)
  • A nation wearing atomic armor is like a knight whose armor has grown so heavy he is immobilized; he can hardly walk, hardly sit his horse, hardly think, hardly breathe. The H-bomb is an extremely effective deterrent to war, but it has little virtue as a weapon of war, because it would leave the world uninhabitable. (E.B. White)

Examples of Analogy by Thomas Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle was a British writer, historian, philosopher, and mathematician of the 19th Century. His writings often featured analogies which have since appeared in standardized tests of advanced placement English, among others. Carlyle’s analogies are thought-provoking as comparisons and valuable for analysis. Here are some examples:

  • Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; Speech is shallow as Time.
  • No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.
  • It has been well said that the highest aim in education is analogous to the highest aim in mathematics, namely, to obtain not results but powers, not particular solutions, but the means by which endless solutions may be wrought.
  • What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books.
  • Music is well said to be the speech of angels; in fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine. It brings us near to the infinite.
  • The block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak becomes a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong.
  • Wondrous is the strength of cheerfulness, and its power of endurance – the cheerful man will do more in the same time, will do it better, will preserve it longer, than the sad or sullen.
  • Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of man you are.

Difference Between Analogy, Metaphor, and Simile

Analogies, similes, and metaphors are all figures of speech used to create comparisons between different entities. These literary devices are often confused for each other, though they can be distinguished. A simile utilizes the words “like” or “as” to make a comparison. A metaphor uses figurative language to compare two things by stating that one is the other. An analogy creates a comparison with the intent of explanation or indicating a larger point.

Here are some examples to help differentiate between these three literary devices:

  • Memory is to love what the saucer is to the cup.–As indicated in the first section, this is an analogy. It explains the abstract relationship between memory and love by making a comparison between the tangible and familiar relationship between a cup and saucer.
  • Memory and love are like a saucer and cup.–This figure of speech is a Simile. The presence of the word “like” is the basis of the comparison.
  • Memory and love are a saucer and cup.–This is an example of a Metaphor. The language used in this metaphor is figurative in the sense that the reader knows that memory and love are not literally a saucer and cup. Instead, the example is making a comparison by linking them directly–that one is the other.

Analogy, simile, and metaphor are all useful and related literary devices for writers to make comparisons. The intention of these devices and their wording is what differentiates them from each other.

Writing Analogy

Overall, as a literary device, analogy functions as a means of comparing entities and enhancing the clarity of one entity through connection with the other. This is effective for readers in that analogies create imagery and deeper understanding of concepts. Therefore, this can enhance the meaning and understanding of a literary work or theme by using artistic language to present ideas in a new way.

There are two primary types of analogy:

  • Identification of identical relationships: Like the word relationships featured above, Greek scholars utilized analogies as direct illustrations of similar relationships between word pairings. These analogies identify identical word relationships based in logic and for the purpose of reasoned argument. They also enhance connections for readers between the meanings of words and concepts.
  • Identification of shared abstraction: This type of analogy creates comparisons between two things that appear unrelated but share an attribute or pattern. The purpose of these analogies are to utilize a reader’s current knowledge of something familiar and connect it to an abstract idea so that it is more concrete in comparison.

Writers benefit from incorporating analogies into their work for the purpose of explaining and connecting ideas for their readers. It’s important for writers to understand that an effective analogy is one in which the comparison is logical and easily understood. An analogy that made an unreasonable or illogical comparison would be an improper use of the literary device.

Examples of Analogy in Literature

Analogy is an effective literary device as a method of creating comparisons and developing meaning. Here are some examples of analogy and the way it enhances the significance of well-known literary works:

Example 1: There is no Frigate like a Book (Emily Dickinson)

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
In this poem, Dickinson creates an analogy comparing a book to a frigate and how the connection between these two entities transports “the Human Soul-“. The imagery suggested by this analogy is that words are all manner of transportation carrying the soul away without any cost. The figurative language of Dickinson’s analogy enhances the meaning and significance of books in terms of their value to the essence of humanity.

Example 2: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (Dylan Thomas)

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In this stanza, Thomas utilizes several literary devices, including metaphor and simile. As a whole, these lines create an analogy for death. “The dying of the light” signifies death, and that moment is compared to both blindness and sight. This creates a deeper meaning as the poet calls for “rage” against this moment to fight against blindness towards the unknown and the clarity of vision that comes with death.

Example 3: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (Henry David Thoreau)

This world is but a canvas to our imaginations.

In this analogy, Thoreau compares the world to a canvas in terms of human imagination. To a degree, Thoreau could have created a more abstract comparison by stating that the world is but a canvas, which would have implied creativity, art, beauty in nature, and so on. Instead, he provides the added context of imagination. This allows for clarity as to what Thoreau is trying to convey to his readers, yet the analogy is still comprised of artistic and figurative language.