What metaphors are used in James Thurber's short story "The Night the Ghost Got In"?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Metaphors are certainly subtly and non-traditionally used in James Thurber's short story "The Night the Ghost Got In," found in chapter 4 of his fictionalized autobiography My Life and Hard Times. There are not very many metaphors, and they are difficult to discern.

A metaphor in general is a figure of speech that makes an "implicit, implied or hidden comparison between two things or objects" that are complete opposites (Literary Devices, "Metaphor"). The purpose of metaphors is to paint more description for the reader because we can more easily visualize an abstract concept when it is related to something more concrete. A metaphor is different from a simile in that similes draw comparisons by saying something is like something else; in contrast, metaphors say that something is something else.

One metaphor can be found in Thurber's description of the police breaking through the front door of the house. The narrator states, "I could hear the rending of wood and a splash of glass on the floor of the hall." While wood certainly does literally rend, or tear apart, glass does not literally make a splashing sound. The sound of falling glass is much more like a crash or a tinkle. Therefore, Thurber is using the phrase "splash of glass" to liken glass to water or, even more specifically, to a wave, in order to make the sound of crashing glass as vivid as the sound of a crashing wave. Hence, we can call the phrase "splash of glass" a metaphor.

A second metaphor can be found in the narrator's description of the policemen's flashlights as they searched through the dark house. The narrator writes, "Their lights played all over the living-room and crisscrossed nervously." Lights do not literally "play" nor act "nervously." Therefore, Thurber is using this description to compare lights to a nervous animal or a nervous person in order to capture the emotions of both the policemen and the observing family members. Since describing lights as "playing" and being nervous is also giving lights human characteristics, we can also call this metaphor an example of personification.