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Humanities Libertexts

4.9: Analogy

  • Page ID
    7330
  • An analogy is a simile that is extended as far as you can extend it. A simile is when you say that one thing “is like” something else. In other words, it compares an idea or situation, which is new or unfamiliar to the reader, to something concrete or familiar to that reader.

    It helps the reader see the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. Using analogy in the middle of an essay is like holding up the Mona Lisa in the middle of a lecture on painting portraits; it illustrates the way you see your subject or idea in an efficient and graphic way, it simplifies complex ideas by showing us something familiar, and it helps us remember an image by associating it with something else that we can remember. (The previous sentence is a short, simple example of an analogy).

    Constructing a simile

    The candle is like a church pew.

    A simile emphasizes how your idea and a concrete object familiar to the reader are alike or similar:

    [your idea or subject] is like [object familiar to the reader].

    Note

    Even though I write “The candle,” I am thinking of the characteristics I associate with the candle and with a pew that are similar.

    Construct a Simile

    Create a simile comparing your object/place to something similar and familiar to the reader. Remember that the way you see your object/place is probably conceptual in nature, so make the comparison to something concrete. Use this formula to get started:

    [my subject (the way I see it)] is like [something concrete and familiar to many readers, and is similar in some way to the way I see my subject].

    In other words,

    ___________ is like _____________.

    Most Common Question: “What is the difference between a comparison and a simile?”

    In a comparison, the reader generally understands how the two objects are connected without any additional explanation from the writer:

    A typewriter is like a computer.

    This is a comparison for two reasons: the two objects and the characteristics they share are familiar to most readers, and the objects are not different enough to need explaining (they are both tangible and have some similar characteristics). In a simile, the two sides of the simile/analogy are as different as possible but still connected:

    A typewriter is like a rookie first-baseman’s glove.

    A “typewriter” and a “rookie first-baseman’s glove” should be different enough that you are asking yourself, “What? How in the world is a typewriter like a rookie first-baseman’s glove?” However, if you can answer that question (How are these two things alike?) with at least 3 characteristics that the compared objects share, then you are on your way to an analogy:

    A typewriter is like a rookie first-baseman’s glove; it causes my hands to hurt, it makes many mistakes, and no one wants to use it.

    Obviously, this is not a literary gem. However, it does make connections to characteristics shared by these two objects that are not immediately apparent, and so qualifies as a simile.

    Grammar is important

    When filling in these blanks, try to fill each with similar grammatical constructions. For example, in the simile “life is like a highway,” the first part (life) is a noun and the thing compared (a highway) is also a noun. Notice too that “life” is conceptual in nature, as well as the thing we are trying to describe. It is also the unfamiliar side of the equation. On the other side of the equation, “a highway” is both concrete (no pun intended) and familiar. So we are trying to understand “life” (unfamiliar concept) in terms of “a highway” (familiar and tangible), and both are nouns.

    However, if we begin the left side of the equation with something like a gerund phrase (an “- ing” construction) we should also use a gerund phrase in the right side of the equation. For example, if I take the above simile “life is like a highway” and begin it “living life,” followed by “is like,” then I should finish it with a similar construction, like “driving down a highway.” Instead of comparing two things (“life” and “highway”), we are now comparing two processes (“living” and “driving”). Whichever the case, keep both sides of the equation the same construction.

    Here are these two ways illustrated:

    Noun to noun comparison: This candle is like a crucifix.

    Gerund to gerund comparison: Lighting my candle is like going to church on Easter.

    Notice that I am trying to make my reader understand my object in the same way I understand it by analogy. He or she does not think of a decorative candle in my living room as a ritual object like a crucifix, or lighting it as performing some kind of ritual; I have to compare it to one to make him or her understand this. If I were writing this analogy for an essay, I would probably try to think of a specific ritual and use the second sentence:

    Lighting my candle is like going to church on Easter.

    Again, note that the process is compared to a process in this example.

    Find more specific similarities between the characteristics of your object (or the way you THINK of your object) and the object you are comparing. You do this by asking “How?” after your simile, and then answering that question as thoroughly as possible. For the simile “life is like a highway,” I simply ask “How [is life like a highway]?” I find similarities by answering that question, using a formula like this:

    [How is life like a highway]?

    They both ____________________.

    They both ____________________.

    They both ____________________.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\):

    [How is life like a highway]?

    They both have detours, obstacles, turns, and accidents.

    They both take me to places I did not expect.

    They both leave me feeling run over at times.

    Please note that I answer the question “How?” at least three times.

    [How is lighting my candle like going to church on Easter?]

    It is something I do once a year to remember a death. It commemorates the death of an important person in my life. It gives me a chance to reflect on my life.

    Note that the word “it” refers to “lighting my candle” and “going to church” at the same time. In other words, “it” is ambiguous.

    Now put all these elements together and you have the skeleton of an analogy:

    Lighting my candle is like going to church on Easter; it is something I do once a year to remember a death, it commemorates the death of an important person in my life, and it gives me a chance to reflect on my life.

    Notice that I put them into one sentence with a semicolon before the list of answers to the question “How?”

    Elaborate

    I can now elaborate on each one of these (see full example below). Put into a prose paragraph or paragraphs, elaborating on each one with at least one sentence per answer to the “How?” question.

    Note

    Each elaboration sentence is also ambiguous, which means each has at least two meanings at the same time. Each elaboration, in other words, can be applied to the ritual of lighting the candle and going to church at the same time. If possible, make your elaboration sentences ambiguous, too.

    Refer to original simile

    Conclude with a statement that refers to or reflects the simile. I end my analogy below, for example, with a sentence that connects to the original simile at the beginning of the analogy.

    Example \(\PageIndex{2}\): draft

    Analogy

    Lighting my candle is like going to church on Easter; it is something I do once a year to remember a death, it commemorates the death of an important person in my life, and it gives me a chance to reflect on my life. Performing such a ritual at least once a year insures that I do not ever forget my connections with a person who in turn connects me to a personal, spiritual world. Each year, it lets me remember in my own way how short life can be for those who are important to us, especially in our own short lives. I look forward to the yearly ritual because, although it is terribly sad, it is at the same time renewing and strengthening, and it gives me a chance to reflect on all the important things in life that living day to day sometimes lets us forget.

    Lighting the candle once a year for my friend is a ritual that fulfills and satisfies me in the same way that the spiritual ritual of Easter fulfills and satisfies me.

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