Figurative Language in The Giver

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  • 0:02 What Is Figurative Language?
  • 0:48 Personification
  • 1:55 Symbolism
  • 3:20 Simile & Metaphor
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrea Hale
Figurative language is used by authors everywhere to enhance your experience of reading their work, and Lois Lowry's 'The Giver' is no exception. In this lesson, you'll learn about some different types of figurative language used in this young adult book.

What Is Figurative Language?

Do you remember the type of writing you'd find in most textbooks in school? Now imagine if everything you read happened to be that dry and dull. To avoid this, authors - especially those who write creatively - often use a literary technique called figurative language.

Figurative language refers to language used to convey a meaning that is different from the interpretation of the literal words on the page. It can be used by an author for many different reasons, like wanting to make a particular point or to simply make the language more beautiful. It can also say something about a setting or even a character. In this lesson, you'll examine four types of figurative language that can be found throughout Lois Lowry's book The Giver: personification, symbolism, simile, and metaphor.


Personification is giving human traits to an inhuman object. This conveys a description easily on the page and offers the reader a more relatable image of something. Here is an example from The Giver:

''Then the men were gone, speeding toward the horizon in a vehicle that spit pebbles from its whirling tires.''

What's being personified here? Lowry assigns a vehicle the action of spitting pebbles. But cars don't have mouths, and they certainly can't spit the way we think of spitting out watermelon seeds. So why describe this moment this way?

In this particular moment, Jonas, the book's protagonist, is having his first experience with violence. The Giver has transmitted the memory of an elephant being murdered and its tusks hacked off by poachers. So if you'd never known any type of violence in your life, how would you feel in this moment? You'd probably feel a lot like Jonas: afraid and upset. So even the car seems violent as it speeds away. Spitting is not generally something you do when you like something, either. It insinuates disgust, and Jonas feels that the poachers have done something disgusting.


Symbolism is using a particular person, place, or thing to represent something else, like an abstract idea. It's like how an olive branch is used to represent the huge, abstract concept of peace. Symbols take something hard to illustrate and change it into something more manageable.

Take the color red, for example. It comes to symbolize many things in The Giver, such as passion, excitement, and discovery. Red is the first color that Jonas sees in his world of sameness; in his community, there are no colors; people only see shades of gray. In addition to seeing only in grayscale, they don't even know that color exists.

So, imagine what it would be like to suddenly see a red apple. It's red. Bright, vibrant red. This is what happens to Jonas when he begins to see color. He sees a red apple and he sees the girl he likes, Fiona, has red hair, too. He also sees the red of blood, which is shocking in a bad way.

It's pretty appropriate that the first color Jonas ever sees is red, because what do you think of when you see red? Anger, love, passion, intensity - you might think all of these things. Jonas's world is moving from dullness into a bright, vibrant, lively sight. He's learning about what it really means to be a person. And people, as you may know, are creatures of intensity. Truly being a human means having ranges of emotion, something Jonas has never experienced.

Simile and Metaphor

A simile is a comparison of two unlike things using the words ''like'' or ''as.'' A simile can offer a new take on a old description. Take a look at this example from the book:

''He could see a bright, whirling torrent of crystals in the air around him, and he could see them gather on the backs of his hands like cold fur.''

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