Figurative language is used often by authors to help bring scenes, events and characters (their reactions and emotions) to life for the reader. Below I focus on two popular used devices, metaphor and metonymy. I will use the novella, Heart of Darkness, as an example. First let me define a few words.
Metaphor- a figure of speech used to describe an object, or person by using a comparison. For instance, the lanky guard walks toward me—a sinister clown without his face paint. Another one, and old one, would be, sea of grief.
Metonymy- a word or phrase used to fill in for another word. Sometimes it is used to give the word more significance. For instance, “The White House” is used to stand for the President and employees who work there.
Anthropomorphic-“attribution of human motivation, characterization, behavior to inanimate objects, animals or natural phenomena”
Dendromorphic- “tree like; applied to the branching of rhizines.”
The novella, Heart of Darkness is an example of a story, metonymically and metaphorically saturated as the narrator figuratively expresses the narrator’s psychological reaction to the foreign environment. Conrad estimated the strange nature of the Congo and its tribe. He used anthropomorphic and dendromorphic tropes to create the metonymy between the European colonist and the Congo. People argue the author’s description of the natives was racist, while some say it was realistic. The Europeans then, acted as imperialist, entering Africa at their own will to change as they saw fit. For any culture think any nation or culture should be changed to their ways, they must first have the assumption that the other culture’s ways are wrong. But that is a topic for another post.
The vague image of thick jungle and branches in the Heart of Darkness creates an affect of negation, where the people of the Congo are indistinguishable from the trees, creeping limbs, and shifting shadows. This is a dramatic backdrop to the story that creates tension.
Marlow said, “bush began to howl.” (132) and “as mist itself had screamed.” (123). These are examples of anthropomorphism sharing the common purpose of assigning a human mouth to the natural world: nature may howl or scream. Nature’s preference for human communication seemed to be prominent in this world. Consider the example below with Marlow’s narration:
“I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek, the mud, the river—seemed to beckon with a dishonoring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart. It was so startling that I leaped from my feet and looked back at the edge of the forest, as though I had expected an answer of some sort to that black display of confidence.” (112).
The piece above claims that the jungle is in control of a face and a heart, which entails animal life; maybe even according to the author, native life, that death prowls in the forest as a hidden malevolence. And this entails that the jungle is anticipated to counter human heckling.
Dialogue is also associated with Kurtz. Take for instance, the piece below.
“But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about him which he did not know…” (152).
Conrad understands the African nature as a conscious and provoking danger to the colonist.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 2006. E-book.