illustration of Ebenezer Scrooge in silhouette walking toward a Christmas tree and followed by the three ghosts

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens
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Figurative Language In A Christmas Carol

What are some examples of figurative language in A Christmas Carol?

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In Stave 1, the narrator employs a simile when he says that "Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail." This is a common expression that the narrator sort of plays with on the first page, suggesting that perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that someone is as...

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In Stave 1, the narrator employs a simile when he says that "Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail." This is a common expression that the narrator sort of plays with on the first page, suggesting that perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that someone is as dead as a "coffin-nail," but of course that's not how the saying goes. He uses another simile when he says that Scrooge is "Hard and sharp as a flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire [...]." He means to suggest, of course, that Scrooge is, figuratively, cold and hardened. Another simile suggests that Scrooge is "solitary as an oyster." The narrator employs a metaphor when he says that Scrooge had a "frosty rime [...] on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin." He implies that Scrooge is so cold that even his white hair makes him seem covered in a frost. The narrator uses personification when he says,

The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.

He gives the bell human awareness and expressions as well as the attributes of teeth and a head. Later, when Scrooge's door knocker turns into his old partner, Marley's, face, the narrator describes it has having a "dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar"—another simile. Another simile describes the loud sound of the door banging shut as "resound[ing] through the house like thunder."

There are so very many examples of figurative language in this text! These are all only in the first chapter.

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Keep in mind that figurative language, or figures of speech, include all similes and metaphors within the text.  Dickens is known (along with Shakespeare of course) as one of the great masters of figurative language in English literature.  Though A Christmas Carol is a shorter story than his others, figurative language abounds in every chapter.

In the very opening paragraph, for example, there is the simile:

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Ironically, the very next paragraph goes into the literal explanation of this figurative phrase, which emphasizes its humor and allows Dickens to get away with using a cliche, even with a modern audience.

The 6th paragraph of the first chapter is full of similes and metaphors used to describe Scrooge.  Notice the ice and cold imagery.  Though the sayings tend to sound old-fashioned now, all of them paint a picture of a cold-hearted and cold-natured man, whose coldness is only made chillier because the weather is physically cold during Christmas time.  Here are a few examples:

he was a tight-fisted hand

Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire;

solitary as an oyster.

The cold within him froze his old features...made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.

A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin.

he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

I see that you are a teacher.  If you are studying this novel with a class, a fun activity might be to have students keep a list of similes and metaphors as they read.  You could then use the list for future classes and create other activities out of it.  Just an idea from one teacher to another.

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Figurative language is defined as language based on some sort of comparison that is not literally true. Such figures of speech allows one thing to be compared with another thing that is entirely different and forcing us to see how the two unlike states or objects are actually similar. The most common figures of speech are similes and metaphors.

In this great Dickensian seasonal classic, therefore, much figurative language is used by the author to help describe the setting and the action. One of the first examples in the novel is a simile, because it compares two objects to each other using the word "like" or "as":

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

This figure of speech compares Old Marley to a door-nail, choosing the "deadness" of both of these objects as the point of comparison. Interestingly, Dickens himself goes on to mock this somewhat clichéd simile, asking what is dead about a doornail, but leaves us with it to describe Marley.

There are a series of similes that are used to describe Scrooge very shortly after this first simile:

Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

Note how these similes establish his secretive, hard and unyielding character through the comparison to flint and an oyster.

Hopefully this will help you to identify some more examples of figurative language in this great novel. Good luck!

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