Metaphors: Salvaging Our Relationships

Graphic by Jordan Wong

I’m sitting at a mahogany table; it’s big and round and shrinks the classroom to half its real size. My classmates fill the spaces at the table’s circumference, listening, talking, pondering, ruminating. I have ideas brewing in my mind. But when I come to verbalize them, I fall short of communicating exactly what I intend to say.

Inside my head is the entire alphabet. But what I communicate is A through J.

You have feelings swelling in your heart. The other person also indubitably has their own. Each of you turns the words that would otherwise describe your inner thoughts into phrases that only scratch the surface.

The alternative words skirt around honesty and tell a shadow story. You have misled your listener through the poor disguise of your intentions — a dress that hides the body instead of accentuating it.

We often communicate with others in the same way that we have gotten used to tossing in bad and ineffective metaphors into our writing.

For such a simple device, one that we learn to use in elementary school, metaphors can paint striking impressions of an experience, translating simple stories into a grandiose fantasy that led its viewers to the most honest comprehension of a reality. Good metaphors convey an experience with utmost precision.

The right metaphor is one that overlays the right film over your idea to most accurately depict that experience: feelings that the idea would not be able to communicate itself. A good metaphor coats the mundane with insightful novelty; if plainly explained, the ordinary words might barely strike our interest. This layer of metaphor now effectively captures the affective and emotive experience.

However, deceived by its simplicity, we have become careless with the device. Sometimes, metaphors bring to my mind amateurism. We often use them as a means of brief, blatant comparison, which conjures only that image, and not the experience trying to be relayed.

Take this for example: She clawed at the door, hissing at him to release her from the prison of a room he’d confined her in. Rather than truly feeling the turmoil in this fictional relationship, I mostly just see the performed action overwhelmed with irreconcilable images: a beast, snake, and prisoner.

Metaphors are used too often and too closely. Need to communicate a story? People often introduce it with a metaphor, then wait a line or two, and insert two more in the same sentence, confounding their intended meaning.

Rather than communicating with others like bad metaphors do with their readers, we need to choose the right words and the right metaphors to express our true intentions. Failing to achieve this intentionality results in a half-hearted expression of the self, a masked version of what we mean to say.

We tend to beat around the bush, hide our feelings, and play a game of “let’s guess what that person really means or feels.” We settle for weak communication and forced expressions. Hiding the truth of our emotions, we are choosing not to convey our internal experiences. And so we mislead one another, cause confusion in the information we impart and consequently the standing of that relationship.

But there is a reason that our English teachers taught us about metaphors in elementary school and that authors utilize them so frequently in their works. Metaphors bring our stories to life. The way we choose to communicate can influence the level of vibrancy we give our lives.

So let’s salvage our means of communication. Let’s truly dig within ourselves to understand how to express our experiences more precisely: communicating exactly what we mean and feel. We need to express with intentionality and take the risk of divulging our true internal experiences, rather than masking them from the world. Metaphors, a tool that effectively relays this honest information, can help us achieve that clarity, if we do it the right way.

Tarini Sipahimalani is an English major at Pomona College. She enjoys drawing, singing a cappella, and tennis, but mostly for social purposes.

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