“A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two different ideas.”
Way back in college, I had to take a speech class. Never figuring I’d need it since I was pursuing a degree in architecture, I staggered in and out of each class without much caring what my grade would be. In fact, I took a D and was glad to get it, but one interesting assignment was to write and present a persuasive speech.
As I recall, the idea caused much consternation among some of the other students, but I didn’t care, because all I wanted to do was complete the assignment and get out of there.
One of my fellow students wrote a gut-wrenching plea to end war, because he’d just lost his brother in Viet Nam. But he didn’t write about war, he wrote a metaphor about something entirely different that we absorbed in wonder. We knew what he was talking about, but the idea hit us from a different angle.
My professor ended the day by saying, “When writing, there are times we need to make people think, instead of slamming them with the facts as we, the author, see them. A writer or speaker is charged with making people think, and to elicit an emotional response.”
Way back when I was first published, I’d use what my old man called “three-dollar-words,” designed to force readers to a thesaurus. What a stupid idea. It wasn’t my job to expand my reader’s vocabulary. It was to inform, but mostly to entertain.
However, there were times I couldn’t write what I wanted, so I found an alternate way to make a point through the use of a metaphor…
There’s a wonderful children’s book titled, A Fly Went By, by Michael McClintock and edited by the one and only Dr. Seuss. I read the story to both of my girls when they were very young. Now my grandchildren love the rhyming story that focuses on misplaced perception and unknown fears that continues to build throughout the story until the source of all that fear is rooted out.
In a nutshell, a small boy is relaxing in a rowboat one find day, loving the outdoors and watching clouds pass overhead when a fearful fly buzzes past. It’s being chased by a frog, who is in turn being chased by a cat, who is chased by a dog, who is followed by a pig. By the end of the little book, an entire frightened menagerie passes, all trailed by a man who is frightened by a sheep who starts the whole thing by getting its hoof tangled in a bucket.
This cumulative tale is great for a variety of reasons, one of which is that we too often get caught up in whatever the Fear of the Day might be. In this book, the kids learn that instead of taking other people’s word for how bad something is, they should investigate and make informed decisions before the Boogy Man turns out to be their own fears.
It’s odd that I like the story, because it starts with a fly and I hate flies with an absurd passion. I have flyswatters in every room of the house, just in case one sneaks in and threatens my peaceful world. In the pantry, three more swatters wait for a killing.
A Bug-A-Salt gun on a shelf in the pantry. It’s a bright yellow plastic pump-action shotgun that blasts flies with table salt. We’ve salted a number of them, and plan to buy even more to eliminate the pests.
We do our best to keep the filthy insects out, with closed doors and screens, but as in many things in life, it isn’t if one gets in, but when.
For some reason they’re attracted to a great glass brick wall in our shower, and to keep from being defenseless there, I have a slightly rusted swatter within reach.
Sometimes you can’t enjoy the outdoors because of invasive flies. The first time we had a cookout here at the new house was on a late spring day, one perfect for eating out. We cooked burgers on the grill, and I noticed more than a few flies around the patties protected by plastic wrap.
There are always flies around, and we should be attentive at all times lest they contaminate our food with their filthy feet and repulsive mouthparts called the labellum and pseudotrachea.
As our delicious burgers patties sizzled, those nasty insects brought their kinfolk, until by the time we gathered the family and settled around the patio table to enjoy lunch, we were engulfed in a swam. Hundreds landed on everything so fast the kids couldn’t eat.
Waving them off was impossible, and with shrieks, gesticulations, and lots of adult curses (properly curbed for little ears), we gathered everything and retreated to the kitchen, only to be followed by bombing patrols that continued inside until we armed ourselves and launched a counter attack.
One flew into the Redhead’s mouth, (my oldest daughter) and a string of words that would have impressed a merchant seaman emerged. She spat it out and stomped the soft, tiny corpse until it was nothing but a stain.
As we all know, flies are sourced from some of the most revolting environments we can imagine. They come from the filth that attracts and breeds them, and bring their contamination to the rest of us who do everything we can to protect ourselves, and enjoy a maintained, well-ordered existance.
I’m convinced our neighbors who have seven big dogs were a significant source of the infestation, and I wondered if those good, well-intentioned folks ever cleaned up their own back yard. You shouldn’t foul your own nest, and that goes for letting feces remain in your yard for long periods of time, even though a soaking rain can melt it into the ground where it allegedly becomes beneficial fertilizer.
We keep our yard clean, despite deposits from Willie the Wonder-dog (read Shih Tzu here), and I patrol the yard with whatever utensils are necessary to keep our property clean and safe in all way.
We’re required to protect our houses from pests, and prevention works when done properly, but there are times we have to stop them before they get in. I have a pest control man who comes by a couple of times a year. His theory is, “keep them out of the house, before you have to kill ‘em inside.”
Some sympathetic individuals surely like flies and feel sorry for them in some bizarre way, but that’s not how my mind works.
I despise flies, but love A Fly Went By, and I bet you will, too. Read it to your little ones and enjoy this metaphor.