A&P: Metaphor and Simile

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One of the engaging elements in the story is the liveliness of Sammy’s colloquial, young person’s language. He employs figurative language as well as slang to convey his casualand often witty observations about othersand his own feelings about life. He uses a number of similes, which are comparisons between dissimilar objects made in such a way as to bring out an unexpected similarity between them. A simile can often be recognized by the presence of the words “as” or “like.” Observing Queenie, for example, with the shoulder straps of her bathing suit down, he remarks on “this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light.” The simile works because of the particular way the sheet of metal is envisioned so that it is seen to resemble the girl’s exposed flesh.

A harsher simile is employed in Sammy’s characterization of the older customers in the store. When they see that Sammy and Lengel are involved in some kind of dispute, “A couple customers that had been heading for my slot begin to knock against each other, like scared pigs in a chute.” The simile fits nicely with Sammy’s contemptuous attitude to the other customers. He does not see them as individuals or even as human. Earlier in the story he uses an unflattering metaphor to describe them, which also involves an animal. (A metaphor is like a simile but instead of comparing one thing with another it identifies the two things  as being the same, even though they are the same only figuratively, not literally.) Sammy refers to“The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle,” meaning that the customers just passively push their carts in the same direction as everyone else—they are (like) sheep, who instinctively follow one another.

Other similes include Sammy’s observation, as he tracks the girls’ progress around the store and they temporarily go out of his sight that “The whole store was like a pinball machine and I didn't know which tunnel they'd come out of.” Next, as the scene between the girls and Lengel unfolds, Stokesie“shakes open a paper bag as gently as peeling a peach.” The simile works because one does not normally open a paper bag in this manner; Stokesie does it because he does not want to miss a word of what is being said.

A noticeably effective metaphor immediately follows Queenie’s paying for her jar of herring snacks, which she does by taking a dollar bill from inside the top of her bathing suit. Sammy reports, “I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known were there.” In this metaphor, Queenie’s breasts are identified with two scoops of vanilla (i.e., white) ice cream. The metaphor conveys the desirability and attractiveness of those breasts (or at least what he can see of them) to Sammy—sweet and well rounded.

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