Analogy

Definition of Analogy

Analogy is a comparison between two things. Analogies function to describe or explain one thing by examining its similarities with another thing. The two things may be very dissimilar and the analogy forces the reader or listener to understand the connection between them. On the other hand, the analogy could provide a comparison between two very similar things, one of which might be more obscure; the analogy provides a way for a reader or listener to understand the more obscure thing by picturing the more common thing.

Many common literary devices are examples of analogy, such as metaphor, simile, allegory, parable, and exemplification. We examine the differences between these devices below.

Analogy comes from the Greek word analogia, which is a combination of the prefix ana- (upon, again, or back) and the suffix –logos (ratio, word, or speech). Together, the word means something akin to “proportion.”

Types of Analogy

As the definition of analogy includes all types of comparisons, the following list of literary devices all qualify as analogies:

  • Metaphor: A metaphor compares two subjects without any connecting words such as “like” or “as.” Metaphors are considered a strong form of analogy as they assert that one thing is another.
  • Simile: A simile is a comparison between two things using the connecting words “like” or “as.” Not quite as strong of a comparison as metaphor, simile still requires the reader to understand the similarities between the two things and make new cognitive links.
  • Allegory: An allegory is a story in which the characters, images, and/or events function as symbols. These symbols can be interpreted to have deeper significance and may illustrate moral truths or a political or historical situation.
  • Parable: Similar to allegory, though more condensed, a parable is a simple story used to illustrate an instructive lesson or principal.
  • Exemplification: Exemplification is the relation between a sample and what it refers to. For example, if a sign at an arboretum said “oak” in front of an oak tree, that tree would be an exemplification of the label.

Common Examples of Analogy

Analogy is not only a literary term. Indeed, the concept of analogy is used in many different fields, from math to biology to philosophy. Analogy is an important part of high-level perception in humans; the ability to form and understand analogies requires high cognitive functioning.

Analogies have been used as a part of the American SAT exam to test cognitive functioning. Here are some simple examples of analogy that one might have found on the SAT test:

  • GREEN : COLOR :: ORCHID : FLOWER
  • SCIENTIST : EINSTEIN :: MUSICIAN : MOZART
  • HUMAN : FINGERNAIL :: TIGER : CLAW

There are many other analogies that we can find in common speech. Here are some examples of simile, one of the main types of analogy:

  • Mary had a little lamb / Her fleece was white as snow.
  • As light as a feather
  • As dead as a doornail
  • As busy as a bee
  • As quiet as a mouse
  • As happy as a clam
  • Sly like a fox
  • You’re as sweet as sugar
  • That would be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack.
  • “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” –Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a dream” speech

Significance of Analogy in Literature

Analogy is very important in literature, and it can be found in its many forms in literature from every culture and era. Analogy helps readers and listeners explore relationships between like and unlike things, thereby expanding connective tissue between concepts. Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle theorized about analogy, calling it a shared abstraction. The objects being compared shared a pattern, idea, philosophy, or effect, and the analogy helped clarify this mutual attribute. Authors use analogies in all types of literature for many reasons, such as to provide comparisons between like and unlike things, to create deeper significance in their works, and to help readers visualize characters and places.

Examples of Analogy in Literature

Example #1

So.  The Spear-Danes in days gone by
And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
A wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
As his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
Beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
And begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.

(Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney)

The anonymous author of the Old English epic Beowulf used a particular type of analogy called a “kenning.” A kenning is a compound word that is a metaphorical recreation of a common concept. In the above excerpt, which is the opening paragraph of Beowulf, there are several kennings. “Spear-Danes,” “mead-benches,” “hall-troops,” and “whale-road” are all kennings. “Whale-road,” for example, is a kenning for the sea. The metaphorical meaning is that the sea is the road that whales use. Kennings were a very popular type of analogy in Old English, but have fallen almost completely out of favor in modern English.

Example #2

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night,
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear.

(Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare used analogy examples in all of his works. In these three lines there are a few analogies. The “cheek of night” is an analogy, as the comparison between “her beauty” and “a rich jewel.” Even the idea that Juliet could “teach the torches to burn bright” is an analogy example in its comparison of her ability to brighten what is already characteristically bright.

Example #3

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas)

There are a couple examples of analogy in just this short excerpt from Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” The concept of “blinding sight” is a juxtaposition of seemingly opposite terms, but hints at the metaphorical understanding of how the end of life is both blinding and gives much clarity. The second line of this excerpt contains a simile comparing “blind eyes” and “meteors” and how they similarly “blaze.” The entire poem functions as an analogy, as “the dying of the light” is actually a metaphor for death.

Example #4

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

(Animal Farm by George Orwell)

George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is an allegory about the Russian Revolution; the pigs that take over control of the farm are a symbol of the men who took control of the Russian government after the Revolution. At the end of the novel men come to the farm to talk with the pigs, and the other farm animals outside cannot tell which creature is which. This is an example of analogy because the reader is forced to think about the ways that the pigs have taken on the very characteristics they meant to work against.

Test Your Knowledge of Analogy

1. Which of the following statements is the correct analogy definition? 
A. A short story with no hidden meanings or deeper significance.
B. A juxtaposition of two things that have nothing in common.
C. A comparison of two things.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. What type of analogy is found in the following excerpt from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet?

Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder East:
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

A. Metaphor
B. Simile
C. Exemplification

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. Which of the following three lines from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” contains an analogy?
A. Where the she-whale swims with her calf and never forsakes it,
B. Where the fin of the shark cuts like a black chip out of the water,
C. Where the half-burn’d brig is riding on unknown currents

Answer to Question #3 Show

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