The author uses figurative language to characterize Doodle.
Figurative language is non-literal description. That means it does not describe something as it is, but in comparison to something else. The most common types of figurative language are similes and metaphors. Writers like to use figurative language to add depth and interest to a story, including characterizing (describing) important characters.
A simile is an indirect comparison, where the author is saying that something is like something else. An example from the story is the description of Doodle’s name.
They named him William Armstrong, which is like tying a big tail on a small kite. Such a name sounds good only on a tombstone.
It means that name is too big for him. The author could have just said the name seemed foolish because Doodle was so tiny and the name seemed serious and grown-up, but the author makes the point, instead, with this wonderful comparison of tying a big tail on a small kite. We imagine it, and it helps us picture Doodle.
A metaphor is another type of figurative language, when you say one thing but mean something else. Here is the narrator’s description of what he hoped for when Doodle was born.
… I wanted more than anything else someone to race to Horsehead Landing, someone to box with, and someone to perch with in the top fork of the great pine behind the barn, where across the fields and swamps you could see the sea. I wanted a brother.
When the narrator says he wanted a brother, he means it metaphorically and not literally. He means that he wants someone to do all of these things with. He wants a friend. Doodle is too weak and small to be able to do these things, so while he is literally the narrator’s brother, he is not metaphorically. He does not live up to the image that the narrator had of what a brother should be able to do.
Figurative language is like helping the reader see what is in the author’s mind. It makes a story richer, and makes details of characterization and setting clearer. In this story, we see how the similes and metaphors describe Doodle in a much more complex way than just saying he was small and could not do much.