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In the final analysis, a figurative device is a form of language that helps to illuminate meaning. The author or writer has a task to convey to the reader what they are experiencing internally. This is challenging because it is very difficult to convey what is one's mind externally. How does one replicate experience? How does one articulate emotions felt by one but subjective enough so that another can never fully experience the same? The use of figurative language helps to answer these questions to a great extent. It allows language to be used away from its constraints of literal meaning and helps it to be more fluid. For example, in describing how someone looks, "She looks like a rose with petals blooming." This helps to create an image of beauty which might allow the reader to move closer to the understanding of the writer because of the shared experience. If the reader has seen a rose, then they are able to understand the writer through language that has been driven by experience. Another example is "Does it crust over like a syrupy sweet?" This figurative language is from Langston Hughes, and it helps to convey what happens when something is left unattended, his purpose in the poem, "Dream Deferred." The previous posts did a nice job in giving examples of figurative devices.
Figurative language is language that is not literal in the most basic sense. There are many types of examples. Let me give a few. First, you can have a literary devices such as personification. You can say something like, "the sun smiled on us." Of course, the sun does not smile! The language is figurative. Another example, can be a simile. For example, you can say, "he was angry as a bull." You can also use hyperbole to make, as another example such as when a person may say, "I was so angry that I wanted to die." Usually the person is just saying that he or she was very angry.
A figurative device is a way of explaining something in terms of something else, in a way that is not real or true. If I want to suggest that I have a friend whom I can count on, someone really solid, I might say, "He is a rock." Now, if I were to tell you that, you would know that this friend was not really a rock, at least I hope so! If he were really a rock, we would say he was "literally" a rock, meaning that was what he really was, perhaps a lump of iron ore sitting on the ground. But because my friend is not really a rock, we say he is "figuratively" a rock.
Our everyday language is filled with figurative language, as is literature. When we say, "It is raining cats and dogs," no one looks out the window to see if tabbies and poodles are falling from the sky. That is because that statement is not to be taken literally, as meaning exactly what it says. We understand that this is figurative language. When a writer says, "Her smile was like sunshine," we understand that the woman's smile does not generate thousands of degrees of heat, which it would if it were really like sunshine. That is figurative language, too. The reader understands that the writer means that the woman's smile makes him feel warm and loved.
One way for you to get an understanding of how much figurative speech we use in speech and writing would be for you to try to jot down all of the figurative language you hear or see in a day. You will be amazed when you do this at how dependent we are on figurative speech. It is also amazing how seldom we misunderstand figurative speech and take it literally!
I have provided a link that explains the different kinds of figurative language and that provides examples of each kind.
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