What are some examples of figurative language in The Road by Cormac McCarthy?

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Figurative language is anything that extends beyond strictly literal uses of words. This encompasses literary devices such as simile, metaphor, personification , and idioms, but is not limited to these examples. Language like this appears in many of the descriptions of places and characters, the memories that are...

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Figurative language is anything that extends beyond strictly literal uses of words. This encompasses literary devices such as simile, metaphor, personification, and idioms, but is not limited to these examples. Language like this appears in many of the descriptions of places and characters, the memories that are explored, and in dialogue.

For instance, The Man is exploring a new place, and he lights a piece of paper to see how far the darkness below him extends.

The small wad of burning paper drew down to a wisp of flame and then died out leaving a faint pattern for just a moment in the incandescence like the shape of a flower, a molten rose.

This is an example of simile: the paper is not a molten rose, so the language isn't literal, but to the Man, it is like a rose. A reader can find examples of similes throughout the book:

After a while they heard the truck begin to roll. Lumbering and creaking like a ship.

Again, this comparison between the truck and a ship is not meant to be literal.

This figurative language is meant to make the description more rich and dynamic when the reader cannot see the burning paper or hear the dilapidated truck for themselves.

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McCarthy uses simile, a comparison using like or as, to help convey the bleakness of this new, post-apocalyptic world. For example, he writes that the darkness and grayness of this new world are "like the onset of some cold glaucoma." Glaucoma is a cold, clinical term. It means that pressure on the eyeball is causing the gradual loss of sight. In this case, it implies that the world (eyeball is an implied metaphor for the world) is gradually going "blind"—the lights of humanity are going out. The use of a cold word like "glaucoma" underscores that harsh, unpoetic nature of this brutal new environment.

McCarthy also uses imagery and simile to describe a dream in the opening paragraph. Imagery is what we can see, hear, feel, taste, or smell using the five senses. He writes:

They stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see.

We can visualize a room in a cave with a dark old lake and the monstrous creature on the other side. Likening its eyes to spider eggs is another simile. These images are grim and horrible, the dream seemingly a scene from a horror movie. This, at the very start of the novel, establishes the relentlessly dark tone of this work.

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You might want to analyse some of the description of the surrounding landscape that the novel contains. For example, figurative language is used in the following piece of description:

Slow water in the fat country. The slough by the roadside motionless and grey. The coastal plain rivers in leaden serpentine across the wasted farmland.

Note the way that figurative language is used to compare the coastal plain rivers to leaden snakes which is used to help us visualise the way the rivers meander across the landscape. The way that they are compared to snakes also of course brings in an element of sinister threat or of danger to the setting.

For one more example, consider the description given when they enter an abandoned house and start a fire in its fireplace.

The flames lit the darkening glass of the window where the boy stood in hooded silhouette like a troll come in from the night.

The boy is compared through use of a simile to a troll, which is in keeping with the mood of suspense and terror of the novel, but also helps us understand that such a sight and such a feeling of warmth are so alien to the boy, having walked around for so long with his father, that he does not seem to fit in to such a "normal" domestic setting. Before lighting the fire, the boy and the father brought in many "dead limbs" to light the fire, reinforcing the novel's focus on death.

There are two examples for you. Hopefully you will be able to go and find some others now. Good luck!

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