Metaphors Thick as a Swarm of Bees

Metaphors are the curtains and paintings decorating an otherwise-bland room. Bad metaphors are the hole in the ozone layer of a good scene, burning all underneath it from the heat of a exploding furnace.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there. I’ve been thinking about metaphors a lot lately, though. I’m reading Fahrenheit 451, and, well, let’s just say that Mr. Bradbury, the author, likes his metaphors. His primary method of description is not straight-up description but metaphor and simile. Everything is like something else, or is something else, and frankly it gets a bit hard to follow. I’m reminded of a good point Noah Lukeman makes in his book The First Five Pages.

I reviewed that book a little bit ago, and wasn’t a massive fan of it. Nevertheless, I do think Lukeman made a good point when he talked about tempering our metaphors. Going overboard and speaking of everything metaphorically isn’t helpful. Lukeman goes a little further in diagnosing why people do that (he claims it’s an attempt to be artsy). I’m not comfortable going that far, but there is certainly truth in his assertion that overdoing metaphors doesn’t work.

That’s definitely the case in Fahrenheit 451. It seems like every page contains two or three metaphors, and many of them aren’t even clear. See, metaphors, as Lukeman says, are meant to clarify, not confuse or blow-away. They aren’t tools to be used to show off our artistic minds, but tools to be used to describe an otherwise-difficult-to-understand concept. But when you run into something that goes like this, it’s hard to figure out what anyone’s talking about:

Her eyes were like the sun at night, shooting down invisible rays onto hills and enveloping them in empty darkness, until the charging morning arrived like a worker bee at its hive.

Ok, I made that up, but it is representative to an extent of some of the things I’ve read in 451. Didn’t make much sense, did it?

All in all, as I read this book I’m reminded that the way we communicate our ideas is crucial. Are we communicating them in a way that lets us show off our brilliant, original minds? Or are we communicating in such a way that people forget they’re being told a story, and are swept up in every twist and turn of it?

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