What Is an Extended Metaphor? | Definition & Examples

Rhetoric updated on  December 6, 2023 4 min read
An extended metaphor is a literary device in which a metaphor continues for several lines or paragraphs. Just like a simple metaphor, it makes a comparison between two things or ideas. However, it is not limited to one sentence.

Extended metaphor example
“No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

In these lines from Meditation XVII, John Donne uses an extended metaphor: he compares individual people to islands and society or humanity to a continent. By doing so, he conveys the idea that no one exists in isolation and that we are all interconnected because we are part of mankind.

Extended metaphors are common in poetry, but they are also used in prose.

What is an extended metaphor?

An extended metaphor is a type of metaphor sustained throughout multiple sentences or even an entire literary work. While simple metaphors involve a short comparison between two unrelated things, extended metaphors allow writers to draw a comparison in greater detail.

Examples: Extended metaphor vs simple metaphor
Simple metaphor: She’s a night owl.
Extended metaphor: She’s a night owl. She finds energy and purpose when the rest of the world is at rest. While others slumber, she finds inspiration.

By taking an idea and expanding on it, writers can weave together various subjects or images. This allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of the subject and explore various aspects and implications of the comparison.

How to write an extended metaphor

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to write an extended metaphor.

  • Identify a theme or concept. Start by identifying a theme or concept that you want to explore in your writing. This can be anything, including a character’s personality or an abstract concept, like justice.
  • Choose a clear comparison. The next step is to choose a clear reference point that will help you explain the theme or concept you selected. Think of specific images, physical objects, or well-known references that are readily comprehensible to your audience. For example, a river is often used as a metaphor for time.
  • Select key characteristics. Think of the ways in which the two things are similar. In the example above, time can be compared to a river because they both flow in one direction and are unstoppable and always changing.
  • Expand on the initial metaphor. In the following lines or paragraphs, take your initial metaphor (e.g., “time is a river that sweeps everything along”) and develop it further. Add more details by elaborating on the similarities between the two things. In the time example, you could talk about how time, just like a river, shapes the landscape of our lives.

Extended metaphor examples

Extended metaphors are often used in poetry to create vivid imagery and to offer the reader a deeper understanding of the subject.

Extended metaphor in poetry

In his poem “Sympathy,” Paul Laurence Dunbar uses a caged bird as an extended metaphor for the entire Black community during the era of slavery. The writer compares the bird’s struggle to be free and the wounds it sustains to the suffering of the slaves.

Extended metaphor example in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy”
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

Extended metaphor in fiction

Fiction writers often use extended metaphors as a tool for adding layers of meaning to the narrative.

Extended metaphor example in literature
In Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, one of the extended metaphors that runs through the story is the road itself. On the one hand, it represents the physical road the novel’s protagonists, a father and a son, must travel in a post-apocalyptic landscape. On the other hand, the road also represents their lives: it is a dangerous and uncertain route that mirrors the unpredictability of their world. However, they must follow the road in search of a better future.

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Commas

Parts of speech

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Comma before because

Nouns

Flier vs flyer

Comma before such as

Collective nouns

Its vs it’s

Comma splice

Verbs

Use to or used to

Comma before or after but

Noun clauses

Alright vs all right

Comma before too

Predicate nominative

Affective vs effective


Frequently asked questions about extended metaphor

What is the difference between allegory and extended metaphor?

Allegory and extended metaphor are similar concepts, but they are not exactly the same.

An allegory is a literary device in which characters or events in a story represent abstract qualities or ideas and carry a symbolic meaning. In allegory, the author does not tell us that one thing is another but invites the readers to interpret the symbolic layers in the story.

With extended metaphor, the author makes a detailed comparison between two unrelated things, typically by stating that one thing is another. In other words, there is no hidden meaning behind the characters or events.

What is the difference between an extended metaphor and a regular metaphor?

The main difference between an extended metaphor and a regular metaphor is their length and level of complexity.

  • A regular metaphor is a simple and concise comparison between two unlike things, typically spanning a phrase or sentence.
  • An extended metaphor is a more elaborate comparison sustained over several sentences or the entire text. It allows for a deeper exploration of the comparison.

What is conceit in literature?

Conceit in a type of extended metaphor in which the writer makes a lengthy and often far-fetched or unexpected comparison. Conceits were common in the work of the 17th-century English Metaphysical poets.

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Kassiani

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex information into easily accessible articles to help others.

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