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Similes (in which two things are compared through the use of the words “like” or “as”) are one of the most common of all literary devices. Nathaniel Hawthorne uses a number of similes in the second chapter of his novel The Scarlet Letter, including the following:
- At one point the narrator describes how the town beadle (that is, an officer of justice) emerges from the jail
like a black shadow emerging into sunshine . . .
- At another point the narrator comments, concerning Hester, that
there were intervals when the whole scene, in which she was the most conspicuous object, seemed to vanish from her eyes, or, at least, glimmered indistinctly before them, like a mass of imperfectly shaped and spectral images.
- Finally, near the very end of the chapter, Hester recalls the hopes she once had of
a new life, but feeding itself on time-worn materials, like a tuft of green moss on a crumbling wall.
The first and third similes listed here present striking and literally colorful imagery; the second is far more abstract and indistinct, in a way that is perhaps appropriate to a description of “spectral images.”
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