Is all simile figurative language? Are all like/as comparisons simile? Color-specific

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I’m under the impression that if you compare a color to something else of that same color it’s literal language. So, the dress was sky blue would be literal language. But does “the dress was as blue as the sky” suddenly become figurative language? If so, why? If not, why not?

Is it only figurative if it also cannot literally be true, or is it enough to be figurative if the sentence is richly evocative/descriptive?

Here’s the passage I’m working with a student on, and it’s the last sentence that’s giving me pause:

“They stopped running and stood in the great jungle that covered Venus, that grew and never stopped growing, even as you watched it. It was a nest of octopi, clustering up great arms of flesh-like weed, wavering, flowering this brief spring. It was the color of rubber and ash, this jungle, from the many years without sun. It was the color of stones and white cheeses and ink, and it was the color of the moon.”

He identified this last sentence as an instance of figurative language, my gut says this is literal language but I’m trying to explain the general principles that would allow him to make this conclusion on his own in other instances. This is maybe also complicated by the fact that it’s a science fiction story so the imaginative is bleeding into realistic.

Any help, particularly from English professors, creative writing instructors, and literary experts would be much appreciated!

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3 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

To me that example is more figurative than literal, because most of the things listed can have multiple colours. What colour are [stones](https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1494861895304-fb272971c078?ixlib=rb-1.2.1&ixid=MnwxMjA3fDB8MHxleHBsb3JlLWZlZWR8M3x8fGVufDB8fHx8&w=1000&q=80)? Is the moon [grey](https://moon.nasa.gov/system/news_items/main_images/155_WaterOnTheMoonFull.jpg) or is it [white](https://images.immediate.co.uk/production/volatile/sites/23/2019/06/GettyImages-135462687-48af3d8.jpg)? Is rubber [black](https://www.thermofisher.com/blog/polymers2plastics/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2016/02/istock_000081454873_medium12.jpg) or [white](https://cdn.britannica.com/21/75921-050-A34DC6E2/Latex-rubber-tree.jpg)?

To me the language is not meant to be precise, it’s meant to be evocative, and also to conjure up a feeling, which pushes it into being figurative. Also note that the text always describes the jungle as one “colour” but compares it to things of various different colours.

When it comes down to it, though, language is fundamentally based on metaphor; there are no hard and fast lines between figurative and literal language.

>So, the dress was sky blue would be literal language. But does “the dress was as blue as the sky” suddenly become figurative language?

That’s a really interesting example. If you say “the dress was as blue as the sky” you could be comparing the dress to a specific sky. And you’re comparing the same quality, colour. It is possible for a dress to be literally the same colour as the sky in a particular place and time. But you could also be using the comparison for its evocative quality – metaphorically giving the dress some of the same qualities as the sky.

“Sky blue” surely can’t be literal, since the sky can be many shades and hues of blue. However you could also argue it’s become such a standard term it breaks free of the thing it’s comparing to (hence we don’t have to specify what kind of sky) – english speakers understand “sky blue” to be a light blue. This could depend on context and who you’re talking to – for example, talk to a graphic designer at work and they might think straight away of 87CEEB, the bottom right colour [here](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sky_blue#/media/File:Shades_of_light_blue.png).

Anonymous 0 Comments

I don’t know that Id call myself an expert, but I taught high school English for years and taught this this way:

Simile (and metaphor) are figurative because they compare things that are essentially unlike each other. “A hawk is like an eagle” is a comparison. “Love is like a rose” is a simile. If you made a Venn diagram with hawks and eagles; the circles would almost entirely overlap (I don’t even know how they’re different!) But with love and a rose, the overlap would be small, and you’d need to give some thought to what they have in common.

So the simile acts as a sort of lens focusing on something about love (it’s beautiful but delicate, perhaps fleeting, has thorns. . .). Alternatively you can see it as a filter that removes our attention from certain aspects of love. I used the Venn diagram image to show this.

The image “the dress was a blue as the sky” could have other non-literal values, like a symbolic association or connection to other parts of the text as so have a “ literary feeling” without being metaphorical in any way.

I hope there’s something useful here for you.

Anonymous 0 Comments

You were pretty close when asking if figurative language is simply evocative, etc…

Figurative language is using words in ways outside of their literal meanings or normal usage. You’re expressing yourself and the subject by using language that evokes ideas instead of just factual statements.

“The dress is sky-blue.” and “The dress was as blue as the sky” basically mean the same thing to a read, but one is much more interesting and really gets the idea across. Also, someone might not be able to land on sky blue as a color, but saying blue as the sky would make them picture a blue sky, and that’s pretty easy to translate.

What you might say to make it easier to visualize is:

“The dress was blue like the sky on a Texas summer day”

and

“The dress was the sky on her skin”

The first one is comparing, the second is equating. (Simile / metaphor)

So in your student’s passage, “it was a nest of octopi…” is not literal, it’s saying the roots and branches of the jungle are like the arms of an octopus.