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  • Writer's pictureBridget Walsh


Updated: Feb 17, 2022

"In which a word or a phrase is applied to an object or action that it does not literally apply to in order to imply a resemblance." Collins English Dictionary.

I'm reading Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, by Peter Hoeg. A brilliant story and I like how the author uses metaphor to help describe the characters.

An example of this is when the main character, first person narrator, Miss Smilla, describes a greenhouse where she meets with a forensic expert she hopes will help her solve the mysterious death of her young friend, Isaiah.

The expert leads Miss Smilla into his greenhouse where they can talk and she notices cacti "in all stages of prickliness". This is the start of the metaphor that demonstrates both of their characters.

The first person narrator works the metaphor over three pages. "There's something obstinate about cacti. The sun tries to hold them down, the desert wind wants to hold them down and the drought and the night frost. Yet they thrive. They bristle and they retreat behind a thick shell. And they don't budge a millimetre. I feel sympathy towards them."

At the end of the scene she discovers that she has "blown him a kiss. From one desert plant to another." (Hoeg, p56.) By now the reader has recognised Miss Smilla as a prickly character, too.

In my novel of the Irish Famine, set in 1845, potatoes were the main food for around half of the population of Ireland (total population of around eight million people). Once the potato became diseased and failed, everything failed. The way of life, and culture fell apart. Families and communities were split by death, disease and emigration.

So, in a way, the potato blight is a metaphor for the destruction of an great number of an ancient people, two million Irish (mainly) Catholics. Perhaps I need to think a bit more about this. But I like the idea of metaphor, where readers can pick up the resemblance/relationship between the two ideas.

I'm also working on a metaphor for the British Government of the time who allowed this Famine to play out over four to five years, in the name of 'laissez faire' or as a Divine punishment on an ungrateful, rebellious people.

And the island of Ireland? It had become an open prison with many of the upper and middle classes and the government as jailers.

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