Tuesday, July 17, 2012

College Essay AIMS: The M stands for...

The M stands for Mastering the Metaphor.

Aristotle once wrote, "The greatest thing of all is to be a master of metaphor."

 By definition a metaphor is a verbal transfer.  It involves a figure of speech whereby we speak about one thing in terms which are seen to be suggestive of another.

Metaphors, like all figurative language (similes, allegories, allusions, images, symbols), help turn the readers "ears into eyes."

It's important then that when you craft your essay, you aim to paint or draw a picture in your readers' mind.

Metaphor is the means to this end.

Metaphor is the vehicle that carries the idea within it, helping it travel from the readers' mind to their imagination.

And metaphor helps us understand the difference between short term language and long term language.
We forget points, in other words (like the point I am trying to make now).  

We  remember pictures.

Dr. King put it this way:  “The human mind is not a debating hall, but a picture gallery.  The link between the mind and the will is the imagination.  You must appeal to it.” 

At some point we have all read or heard Dr. King's famous "I have a Dream Speech".

One exercise I have my students do is go through the speech and circle all the images and word pictures, as well as the all the concrete words (vs abstract words).

 Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.  It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.  Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”  But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.  We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.  So we have come back to cash this check…

In the end, effective communicators use metaphor (word picture) as both a Framework and a Flashlight.

The former helps provide context;  the latter insight.

With this student's permission, I would invite you to drink deep of an essay written by a Casady senior last year.

It's metaphor in action.

It was a dark green 2001 PT Cruiser.  The car’s style wasn’t sexy.  But at $800 bucks it could get me from Point A (home) to Point B (school) to Point C (work) and occasionally to Point D (a date with a fine girl).

The first day I remember driving the car to school.  When I parked the Cruiser, many of my letter jacket-wearing friends huddled around to check out my ride.  I wanted to howl with joy.  I felt like one of the wolf pack.

And then just a few short hours later it happened. 

The phone rang and all I could do was bust down the apartment stairs and sprint as fast I could to the scene of the crash.  My frantic eyes found him slumped over on the sidewalk curb.  There was no blood.  No carnage.  No ambulance sirens.  Sitting down next to him, he turned and just plunged his face into my shoulder and sobbed.  Normally in this scenario it would be the other way around.  But this time it was my father showing remorse for crashing his son’s car.

Days later I remember hearing the tap tap tap of Dr. Powell’s ball point pen on my desk. The tapping pulled me out of my dark daydreaming.  Dr. Powell stared at me behind his Amish-like beard and steel-rimmed glasses.  I’d bombed four quizzes in a row over A Tale of Two Cities.  He wanted to talk in his office.

Later I shuffled into his office and he invited me to pull up a chair.  He smiled assuredly, and so I just kind of vomited up all that was going on in my life.  Dr. Powell listened and then made me a deal.  Later that night, I gulped down a Red Bull and stayed up until 2 am to finish the novel.  When I arrived the next day in Dr. Powell’s office for the quiz, he didn’t hand me a piece of paper.  Instead he invited me in for a chat.  For the next thirty minutes we talked about the deep symbolism in Dickens’s novel, particularly the broken wine casks and how they represented the desperate quality of the people’s hunger.  Dr. Powell gave me a B+.  My gut told me he went easy on me.

Today that dark green mangled Cruiser is a distant memory, but it serves now as a kind of symbol of something lost and found.  I lost the car but I didn’t lose my father.  And I guess I found a friend in Dr. Powell, arguably the most intimidating intellectual-looking person on our campus.