Figurative Language in The House on Mango Street

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  • 0:03 Figurative Language
  • 0:49 The Simile
  • 1:38 Metaphors
  • 2:43 The Great Hyperbole
  • 3:33 Personification
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, you'll learn about various types of figurative language in Sandra Cisneros' novella, ''The House on Mango Street.'' Additionally, you'll discover how these examples of figurative language add depth to the text.

Figurative Language

When you're describing something, do you ever find yourself drawing comparisons or trying to describe it in a less-than-literal way? For example, if you saw a dog running and said,'That dog runs like a little horse!' This helps the audience know exactly what you mean very quickly. It's also an example of figurative language.

Figurative language is when the meaning of the words you're using to describe and idea or term are different than what you are literally describing. It is a common literary device, and there are many types, including simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and personification, among others. Sandra Cisneros uses several different types of figurative language in the novella, The House on Mango Street.

The Simile

One type of figurative language Cisneros uses is simile. A simile is a comparison statement that uses 'like' or 'as' as part of the description. For example, in an early chapter, the narrator, Esperanza, describes her mother's hair: ' mother's hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty...' Of course her mother's hair is not literally made of rosettes or candy, so you know right away that this is figurative language. The use of the word like as part of the comparison is what tells us that it is a simile.

The main purpose of similes in this text is to aid the imagery. It helps give the reader a picture of what is being described by using a comparison. This can give a clearer and more poetic or interesting picture than using a literal description.


Another type of figurative language in the novella is metaphor. Metaphors, like similes, are comparison statements. But instead of using 'like' or 'as,' it's a direct comparison, usually saying that one thing is another thing. We see one example of metaphor when Esperanza is talking about her sister and the fact that they are not really friends, partly because of their age difference. She says, 'Someday I will have a best friend all my own...until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor.'

Because Esperanza says ' I am a red balloon,' rather than 'I am like a red balloon,' we know this is a metaphor and not a simile. The purpose of metaphors is basically the same as that of similes - to aid description. It serves to give the reader a clear picture, in this case, a picture of how the narrator feels. By using the metaphor, we can see how she feels weighed down, when she should be light and free like a balloon. Metaphors and similes serve to enhance description and draw the reader into the story.

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