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English 11-12

Literary Techniques: Hyperbole

Not sure how to critically analyse hyperbole? Dont worry! In this post, we will guide you step-by-step on how to identify and analyse hyperbole.

Welcome to our glossary of Literary Techniques HYPERBOLE post. This article is part of the English Literary Techniques Toolkit series for the HSC. In this article, we will explain what hyperbole is and show you how to discuss it effectively in your responses.

Some common questions that students ask are:

  • What is hyperbole?
  • How do I identify hyperbole?
  • How do I discuss hyperbole in an essay?

Okay, let’s answer these!

 

Literary techniques: hyperbole

People use hyperbole regularly in everyday life, it is a central part of how we communicate. Hyperbole is the act of exaggerating something for effect. We often exaggerate things to make our stories sound more interesting or humorous.

Hyperbole has a different effect in texts depending on how it is used:

  • To gain sympathy: “Nothing in my life ever goes right!”
  • To self-aggrandise: “I caught the biggest fish ever!”
  • To make others laugh: “When I was your age, I needed to walk 30 kilometres – over mountains, nonetheless – to school in the morning all while fending off packs of wild, hungry wolves. You kids have it easy.”

Because the effect of hyperbole will change depending on the context of the statement and the tone being used, you must be specific when discussing it.

Simply saying that hyperbole emphasises an object is not a strong enough analysis!

Instead, you have to think critically and further analyse it. You need to ask yourself what the hyperbole represents and search for its deeper meaning.

 

blog-english-literary-techniques-hyperbole-speech-bubble

 

What is hyperbole?

Hyperbole is an exaggeration of something, including events, characters, or situations.

It is commonly used to emphasise something, dramatise, or create humour.

 

It is also important that you do not confuse hyperbole with similes or METAPHORS.

Similes and metaphors compare one thing to another (which can result in an exaggeration).

Whereas, hyperboles don’t make comparisons!! They only exaggerate and overstate.

These techniques are not the same!

 

How does hyperbole work?

Hyperboles emphasise things by creating a more vivid image of the subject, which in turn, draws our attention to it.

Let’s compare these two statements.

I feel sad.

vs

Nothing will ever cure me of my sadness. 

Which one is more effective at portraying meaning?

 

blog-english-literary-techniques-hyperbole-crying-lady

 

Sometimes, hyperbole can be used ironically.

Simon is the best player in the world.

This can often come across as sarcastic.

 

As you see, hyperbole can be used in many ways to create meaning. Sometimes, hyperbole can even have a symbolic value. It is up to you to take another step and critically analyse it.

 


How to analyse hyperbole – A step-by-step process

Unsure of how to analyse hyperbole? Don’t worry! There is a systematic way to approach this.

Let’s go through the process together:

  1. Read the text and identify any statements that seem exaggerated or overstated.
  2. Figure out the effect the hyperbole
    1. What is the subject of exaggeration?
    2. What is the atmosphere or vibe created?
  3. Figure out the significance of hyperbole
    1. Why do you think hyperbole was used?
    2. Does it represent a deeper meaning?
    3. Has it changed your perspective or thoughts about a particular subject?
  4. Discuss your findings in a T.E.E.L paragraph

 

Now that we’ve got an overview about how to analyse hyperbole, let’s do it together, using an example. We will be looking at a Module A poem by Sylvia Plath, Daddy.

 

You do not do, you do not do   
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot   
For thirty years, poor and white,   
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
 
Daddy, I have had to kill you.   
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,   
Ghastly statue with one gray toe   
Big as a Frisco seal
 
And a head in the freakish Atlantic   
Where it pours bean green over blue   
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.   
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.
 
In the German tongue, in the Polish town   
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.   
My Polack friend
 
Says there are a dozen or two.   
So I never could tell where you   
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
 
It stuck in a barb wire snare.   
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.   
And the language obscene
 
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.   
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
 
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna   
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck   
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.
 
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.   
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You——
 
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.   
Every woman adores a Fascist,   
The boot in the face, the brute   
Brute heart of a brute like you.
 
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,   
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot   
But no less a devil for that, no not   
Any less the black man who
 
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.   
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
 
But they pulled me out of the sack,   
And they stuck me together with glue.   
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
 
And a love of the rack and the screw.   
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,   
The voices just can’t worm through.
 
If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you   
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
 
There’s a stake in your fat black heart   
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.   
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

 

blog-english-literary-techniques-hyperbole-splath-gargoyle

 

 

Step 1: Identify any exaggerations or overstatements

The lines…

“Marble heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic

… is a great example of hyperbole

 

We know that the persona is describing her father, but she exaggerates his qualities to make him seem more powerful.

Here, she describes him as ‘marble heavy’ and a ‘ghastly statue‘, which doesn’t just make him seem like a cold statue, but an ugly, ghastly gargoyle.

 

She then exaggerates how big he is.

The persona describes his toe as being as ‘big as a Frisco seal‘ (Frisco is short for San Franciso, California). And we know that seals are very fat and big, especially for the size of a toe. 

We can also assume that his toe is also in located San Franciso, which is on the east coast of America. 

So, when she describes his head as being “in the freakish Atlantic”, we know that his body basically stretches over the whole country of American to the Atlantic ocean. (The Atlantic Ocean is on the west coast of America)

 

blog-english-literary-techniques-hyperbole-map-of-USA

 

Step 2: Figure the effect of hyperbole

To figure out the effect of hyperbole, you need to ask yourself these questions.

  • What is the subject of exaggeration?
  • What is the atmosphere or vibe created?

 

Let’s answer them:

The subject of exaggeration is the persona’s character. She describes him as being a ghastly gargoyle who is so big that he stretches across the country of America.

 

We feel a sense of unease because it is impossible that someone can be that big. And we also being to feel confused because of the persona’s mixed feelings about her father. Gargoyle’s are meant to be protectors, but we also know that the persona “ha[s] had to kill” her father.

 

Step 3: Figure out the significance of hyperbole

When you analyse hyperbole, you always need to critically analyse it because it is not a high order technique.

Answer these questions to extend your analysis.

 

  1. Why do you think hyperbole was used?
    It was used to make the persona’s father seem more powerful than he is. It also emphasises his great effect on the persona’s life.
  2. Does it represent a deeper meaning?
    Yes. Her description of her father represents her mixed feelings about him; the love and hatred for him.
  3. Has it changed your perspective or thoughts about a particular subject?
    It has made the audience aware of the complexities of personal relationships and how it can affect a person’s life.

 

Step 4: Discuss your findings in a T.E.E.L paragraph

Now that we know how to identify and analyse hyperbole, let’s put it in a paragraph. The best way to do this is to use a T.E.E.L structure.

T.E.E.L stands for:

  • Technique: The technique used in the example
  • Example: The example
  • Effect: Your explanation of the effect of this technique and how it develops meaning
  • Link: An explanation of how this example supports your argument.

You can find a more detailed explanation of using T.E.E.L in our post on paragraph structure (this post is part of our series on Essay Writing and shows you the methods Matrix English students learn to write Band 6 essays in the Matrix Holiday and Term courses). Let’s use this structure to discuss this example of juxtaposition.

  • The technique being used is hyperbole.
  • The example of this is “Marble heavy, a bag full of God, / Ghastly statue with one gray toe / Big as a Frisco seal / And a head in the freakish Atlantic“.
  • The effect of this is that is makes the father seem more powerful and intimidating because of his large size. It also represents the persona’s mixed feelings about her broken relationship with her father.
  • The link to our argument is that personal relationships can have a great impact on a person’s life.

 

Let’s write this in a paragraph.

Sylvia Plath explores the complexity of human relationships, and how some relationships can leave an longlasting effect on an individual’s life in her poem, “Daddy”. She uses hyperbole to make her dad seem more powerful and intimidating describing him as “Marble heavy, a bag full of God, / Ghastly statue with one gray toe / Big as a Frisco seal / And a head in the freakish Atlantic.” Plath makes her father sound like a giant. The size of his toe is exaggerated to be the size of a “[San Franciso] seal”, developing highly unnatural visual imagery. Plath then further illustrates his great size by saying that his toe is in San Francisco, and his head is in the Atlantic ocean, meaning that his body stretches across the whole of America, making him seem more powerful. This makes the audience feel unease at her father’s unnatural appearance, especially with the metaphor “marble heavy… ghastly statue.” This represents him as a gargoyle. This vivid, exaggerated visual imagery is symbolic of her mixed feelings towards her relationship with her father. She is intimidated by his power, which is emphasised through his great size, but she also desires protection from him, as seen in her reference to the gargoyles. Through this, Plath illustrates how certain relationships have the power to impact an individual’s life, especially those that are very complex.

 

 

What next?

 

Learn how to effectively use hyperbole in your Module A response! Get ready to ace English with our 5 Day HSC Bootcamp! Learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy is an aspiring filmmaker and movie buff.

 

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