Figurative Language In A Christmas Carol

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Keep in mind that figurative language, or figures of speech, include all similes and metaphors within the text.  Dickens is known (along with Shakespeare of course) as one of the great masters of figurative language in English literature.  Though A Christmas Carol is a shorter story than his others, figurative language abounds in every chapter.

In the very opening paragraph, for example, there is the simile:

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Ironically, the very next paragraph goes into the literal explanation of this figurative phrase, which emphasizes its humor and allows Dickens to get away with using a cliche, even with a modern audience.

The 6th paragraph of the first chapter is full of similes and metaphors used to describe Scrooge.  Notice the ice and cold imagery.  Though the sayings tend to sound old-fashioned now, all of them paint a picture of a cold-hearted and cold-natured man, whose coldness is only made chillier because the weather is physically cold during Christmas time.  Here are a few examples:

he was a tight-fisted hand

Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire;

solitary as an oyster.

The cold within him froze his old features...made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.

A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin.

he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

I see that you are a teacher.  If you are studying this novel with a class, a fun activity might be to have students keep a list of similes and metaphors as they read.  You could then use the list for future classes and create other activities out of it.  Just an idea from one teacher to another.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Figurative language is defined as language based on some sort of comparison that is not literally true. Such figures of speech allows one thing to be compared with another thing that is entirely different and forcing us to see how the two unlike states or objects are actually similar. The most common figures of speech are similes and metaphors.

In this great Dickensian seasonal classic, therefore, much figurative language is used by the author to help describe the setting and the action. One of the first examples in the novel is a simile, because it compares two objects to each other using the word "like" or "as":

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

This figure of speech compares Old Marley to a door-nail, choosing the "deadness" of both of these objects as the point of comparison. Interestingly, Dickens himself goes on to mock this somewhat clichéd simile, asking what is dead about a doornail, but leaves us with it to describe Marley.

There are a series of similes that are used to describe Scrooge very shortly after this first simile:

Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

Note how these similes establish his secretive, hard and unyielding character through the comparison to flint and an oyster.

Hopefully this will help you to identify some more examples of figurative language in this great novel. Good luck!

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