When Metaphors Are Used to Persuade: Characters, Worldview, and Rationales (Panel)


Creative Writing, Editing and Publishing / Rhetoric & Composition

Kathleen Ahrens (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University )

The idea that language determines a speaker’s worldview is no longer considered tenable by most scholars. However, the hypothesis that language may influence thought and actions is still being assessed. One area of interest in recent years is the degree to which a particular metaphor may influence our opinion about a complex issue. This topic has now permeated mass culture to such an extent that when David Cameron said that a ‘swarm’ of migrants were trying to enter Britain covertly through the French port of Calais, political rivals who are themselves opposed to immigration admonished him for dehumanizing migrants by comparing them to insects.

In fact, ten to twenty percent of spoken and written language contains metaphors (Steen et al., 2010). Recent work has focused on examining how these metaphors potentially influence our reasoning, as when George W. Bush used the metaphor ‘axis of evil’ to frame his geopolitical goals. Whether in politics, business, medicine, or counseling, researchers have concluded that metaphors do matter, in that they may discriminate against a class of people or in that they may potentially limit the way a problem or issue is viewed in public and/or private discourse.

However, the extent to which metaphors are used by characters in literature to persuade other characters of their point of view on a particular issue or situation is not well examined. This panel seeks papers that demonstrate how authors represent the worldview of a character via metaphor, whether via their dialogue or their perception of setting or situations. It is hoped that interrogating metaphor use with relation to the point of view and stance of characters will provide an additional perspective on how metaphors are used to influence opinions of other actors on given issues in that created world.

Recent work has focused on examining how metaphors potentially influence our reasoning in politics, business, and education. However, the extent to which metaphors are used by characters in literature to persuade other characters of their point of view on a particular issue or situation is not well examined. This panel seeks papers that demonstrate how authors represent the worldview of a character via metaphor, whether via their dialogue or their perception of setting or situations. It is hoped that interrogating metaphor use with relation to the point of view and stance of characters will provide an additional perspective on how metaphors are used to influence opinions of other actors on given issues in that created world.