Figures of Speech From “A Sunrise on the Veld” by Doris Lessing

Personification means “the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.” Doris Lessing uses countless comparisons between humans and other non-humans. Lessing at one point describes the house as “crouching there under a tall and brilliant sky.” She uses this to show just how amazing the sky, or creation as a whole, is compared to a small house. The boy in this story doesn’t crouch against the sky, though, but he feels as though he is greater than it. He even said “I contain the world,” when, quite literally, the sky contains the world, and it doesn’t even realize it’s own beauty. The boy doesn’t realize he is simply as the house is: only a small shape against the vast beauty of creation.

A metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable,” or it can be defined as “a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.” Doris Lessing uses a metaphor when she writes, for example: “He was a small boy again, kicking sulkily at the skeleton, hanging his head, refusing to accept the responsibility.” This is a metaphor used to describe the fact that when we are young, we don’t like being blamed for something, even if we did it, and don’t want the guilt. When we become older, we still don’t like the guilt, but can become courageous enough to accept when we’ve done wrong. There was a more significant metaphor, though, and it was in the buck that the boy saw dying. The buck was once much like him: free, happy, and healthy, but when it was shot, it found out what agony was. The boy didn’t end up being eaten alive by ants, but something similar could have happened to him. If he got injured out in the woods, there was nothing stopping the ants from eating him, like they ate the buck. The metaphor of the buck and the boy taught him a lesson that he, too, was mortal.

Simile means “a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid.” Lessing uses simile countless times in this story, but one of them is very relevant to a main theme in this story. When describing the buck before it got shot, Lessing describes it as “Walking like kings and conquerors.” This simile is actually more relevant to the boy, and is more proof that the buck is a representation of the boy. The boy walked and ran “like kings and conquerors” because he thought he had power and control over the world, like he was a king or conqueror, which he wasn’t at all.

Synecdoche means “a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa.” Lessing uses this when the story says: “As soon as he stepped over the lintel, the flesh of his soles contracted on the chilled earth.” This is synecdoche because the boy’s feet contracting represent all of humankind contracting to the will of nature. The boy walked from man-made to earth; from what he could control to what he couldn’t control. His body contracts with cold, physically, but it is a sign that man is not in control of what happens in nature, and when one steps onto the earth, away from the man-made, it’s a different place entirely, where unexpected consequences happen to those who believe they are in control.

Irony means “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.” The story discusses how the boy feels in control, as evidenced by when he says “I contain the world” and other lines, but the irony is that he leaves his man-made house every morning so he can go and feel free and powerful in the woods, where he has no power at all. Nature wouldn’t bow to him, ever. He would have better fortune trying to rule all of humankind than trying to rule nature, but nevertheless, he is convinced of his control.

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