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[Detail] The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865

Diary writing | Descriptive Writing: Choosing Adjectives | Descriptive Writing: Similes and Analogies | Art and Architecture

Descriptive Writing: Similes and Analogies

A simile is a literary device in which a person, place, or thing being described is compared to something else, using the word like or as in introducing the comparison. The comparison is intended to convey a deeper understanding of the subject being discussed. For example, in the entry for January 3, 1863, this simile describes the devastation of war: "War, like a destroying angel, that has passed over the fair fields, and the hills and valleys of the 'old dominion' [Virginia]."

  • What do you think Taft hoped to convey by comparing war to a destroying angel?
  • What other simile in the same entry describes war? What do you think he hoped to convey with the second simile?
  • In your view, which simile is more powerful? Why?

An analogy is another type of comparison between two dissimilar objects. However, an analogy is more than a descriptive comparison; it is used for logical argument. If two things compared in an analogy are similar in some ways, the writer suggests, then they may be similar in others—or we should think of them in a similar fashion. The February 5, 1863, entry mentions writing an analogy "between a Nation and an individual." Read his description of the analogy.

  • What comparisons does Taft make between a nation and an individual?
  • What conclusion do you think Taft wanted the reader to draw about the similarity between a nation and an individual? In what way might he have been suggesting that we should think similarly about nations and individual people?
  • Do you think this analogy is effective? Why or why not?
  • Develop another analogy for a nation. Try to draw out the comparisons between the two things. How does considering the similarities cause you to think in a new way about what a nation is?