What literary device is evident in the line, "...,then I was answered by a voice from within the tomb"?

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MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an example of synecdoche, in which a part of something is used to represent the entire thing, or vice versa. The first usage is most common, but there are several different forms of this device, including when:

  • a term denoting a part of something is used to refer to the whole thing
  • a term denoting a thing (a "whole") is used to refer to part of it
  • a term denoting a specific class of thing is used to refer to a larger, more general class
  • a term denoting a general class of thing is used to refer to a smaller, more specific class
  • a term denoting a material is used to refer to an object composed of that material

Synecdoche is a complex literary device that is often confused with metonymy, in which a term denoting one thing is used to refer to a related thing. Synecdoche is often considered a subclass of metonymy.

In this particular quote, "answered by a voice" is the example of synecdoche. Rather than saying, "I was answered by someone", the speaker is using "voice" to represent an entire person. Other examples include:

  • "A pair of hands" referring to a worker
  • "The city" passing a law, meaning that the local government has passed a law
  • A "country being at war", when only its representative army is fighting, and the landmass itself is obviously not at war