What are some of the figures of speech used in Stephen Vincent Benet's story, "The Devil and Daniel Webster?"

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Stephen Vincent Benet's short story, "The Devil and Daniel Webster," there is a wealth of figures of speech or literary devices used by the author.

There is wonderful imagery. Imagery is writing that generates "mental" images in the mind of the reader. One example in the story is:

They said, when he stood up to speak,

stars and stripes came right out of the sky...

Benet also liked to use hyperbole. Hyperbole can be defined as extreme exaggeration, used for emphasis, as can be seen in the following examples:

They said, when he walked the woods with

his fishing rod, Killall, the trout would

jump out of the streams right into his



The chickens he raised were all white

meat down through the drumsticks...

The story also contains similes. A simile is the comparison of two dissimilar things that share similar characteristics, using "like" or "as." Here is a simile that describes Webster's appearance:

A man with a mouth like a mastiff,

a brow like a mountain and eyes like

burning anthracite--that was Dan'l

Webster in his prime.

And another describes Jabez Stone's family...

...you might say the Stone family was as

happy and contented as cats in a dairy...


Dan'l Webster's brow looked dark as a thundercloud

The author also uses the metaphor. A metaphor is similar to a simile. It also compares two dissimilar things that share similar characteristics, but one thing is compared as being the other thing, not being like it—"like" or "as" are not used (such as the song lyric "you are the sunshine of my life"). This is an example from Benet's story:

...there's talk of running him for

governor--and it's dust and ashes

in his mouth...

Onomatopoeia is a device that appeals to one's sense of sound. Onomatopoeia describes the sound that the word stands for, like the buzz of a bee. Two examples are provided. One is used to describe the sound Scrath's teeth make when Webster shakes him:

...teeth rattled...

...and referring to Webster's laugh...

...roar of laughter...

Stephen Vincent Benet uses a great number of literary devices to make his characters come to life in this short story. All are examples of figurative language which help the reader see in the mind's eye (as imagery also does), the scenes and speeches described so well in this story.

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