The Midnight Library

by Matt Haig

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Student Question

What literary devices are used in The Midnight Library?

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The Midnight Library uses symbolism, metaphor, and allusion as its primary literary devices. The library symbolizes possibilities and choices, with each book representing different life paths. Metaphors include the "root life," which grounds Nora in reality, and "life fright," akin to stage fright but for her own life. Allusions include Nora's cat, Voltaire, and references to philosophers like Plato and Thoreau.

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Matt Haig fills his novel The Midnight Library with many literary devices, especially symbolism, metaphor, and allusion. Let's look at some examples of these.

Symbolism is especially heavy in this story. When Nora tries to kill herself, she ends up in a library with Mrs. Elm, the school librarian she knew in her childhood. The library is a symbol of possibilities and choices. Each book in it represents the way Nora's life might have turned out had she made different decisions. She now has a chance to sample some of those possibilities. Mrs. Elm is her guide, a figure of authority but also of companionship and wisdom. Each life that Nora samples represents potential, yet none of them satisfy Nora. She eventually learns that her “root life” is the best one for her.

That idea of a “root life” is one of the central metaphors of the story. Nora has a life, one that she has nearly turned her back on, and this life roots her, grounds her, in reality. Nora realizes that she has “life fright.” This, too, is a central metaphor. It is like stage fright only worse, for Nora can never really get off the stage of her own life.

Finally, there are plenty of allusions in this novel. Nora's cat's name is Voltaire, and this alludes to both the philosopher himself and his character Dr. Pangloss, who says that he lives in “the best of all possible worlds.” There is also a dog named Plato in the story, and indeed, Nora is searching for the ultimate reality. The novel alludes to Henry David Thoreau, too, whose writings guide Nora to understand the difference between loneliness and solitude.

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