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Common Sense : Metaphor

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Metaphors of the Nation

One of Paine's most effective metaphors is that of the body politic, a familiar metaphor in political writing. Metaphors comparing the state to a living body or a person make it into a living being with needs. It can be well or sick, young or old, and therefore, the state or nation must be taken care of, can grow or decline, and human intervention is needed. Paine compares politicians to physicians who advise different medicines for the sick body politic.

The frequently used metaphor by English politicians of a colony as a child and England as the parent country that needs to protect it is attacked by Paine and turned around. If England is the parent country then why does it act like a brute and war on its child? Even animals do not devour their young, he says. He denies England as the parent of America, for many colonists come from other European countries. It would make more sense to say Europe is the parent. Paine also uses this metaphor to advantage when he asserts that if America is a child, it is now coming of age when it needs to be independent from the parent and take care of its own children, as a young man who is mature and supports his own. He spends some time proving that America is maturing in terms of its economic and military situations. It is a proud young man who does not need help or to be kept in a state of infancy. It is inevitable that children grow up and leave the parent. He repeats that the separation is going to happen sooner or later. The best Americans can hope for is English “government by guardianship, which can last no longer than till the colonies come of age” (p. 31).

Paine urges Americans to act now in a manly fashion, to support the growing family of Americans,and to secure their inheritance as a head of a household would. War is thus their manly duty, for the family members have been attacked in their own homes and gardens.


Metaphors of Kingship

Much of Paine's argument depends on proving monarchy is not only out of date, it is also actually sinful and brutish. He compares kingship to original sin and paints the portraits of kings from Biblical times to the present as rapacious, selfish, and immoral. “In England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away places” (p. 20). Kings try to prove that they have a divine right to rule from God, but even the early Israelites, as in the example he gives of Samuel, knew that having a king led to slavery, favoritism, and confiscation of wives and property. Samuel told the Jews that having kings was a heathen custom and that God was supposed to be the king. Paine calls kings “crowned ruffians” (p. 20). Paine also says that a king is worse than brutes or savages in their cruelty. He accuses George III of England of animal behavior and of being a worm crawling through the world.


Metaphors of the British Constitution

Besides attacking the king, Paine also attacks the English form of government in terms of its constitution. Among the metaphors he uses to make his argument clear are the idea of the British constitution as a house divided and complicated machinery. The English are proud of their constitution that promises certain protections to its citizens from the absolute power of the king. They have a House of Lords (hereditary positions) and a House of Commons (elected positions) to check his power. Paine points out that if citizens need all this protection from the king, he cannot be ruling from divine right. The government is simply a house divided against itself, with the various social classes in their places fighting each other. He compares the constitution to a machinery that is so complicated and unknown in its parts that when the English constitution breaks down, it is very hard to fix. He claims that the king is still the wheel in the machine that has the most weight. His is the first moving power, and the other houses of government may clog the movement but cannot stop it. This is like shutting and locking a door to absolute monarchy, he says, but at the same time to have been “foolish enough to put the crown in possession of the key” (p. 11). These mistakes and confusions can be remedied when the colonists will join hands in unity to draw a line against all English party politics and be rather good citizens protecting themselves. The metaphor of the cord or tie is used to indicate connection. “The last cord now is broken” (p. 35) with England, Paine claims in this pamphlet. Now, “Independence is the only BOND that can tye and keep us together” (p. 53). Reason presents the arguments to wake the people from their dream of reconciliation with Britain.


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