On Beauty

On Beauty Metaphors and Similes

Simile: “She’s amazing, gorgeous, brilliant. I’m asking her ‘officially’ this evening, but I wanted to tell you first. It’s come over us like the Song of Solomon, and there’s no way to explain it apart from as a kind of mutual revelation” (7)

When Jerome first falls in love with Vee (a one-sided love, which at this point he has not yet realized), he immediately thinks about marrying her. In accordance with his own Christianity and that of the Kippses (although Vee is not religious in reality), Jerome compares what he believes to be his “great love” to the great love written about in the Bible.

Simile: “[Kiki] tipped her head forward and released her hair from its flame-colored headwrap. She wore it in two thick ropes of plait that reached to her backside, like a ram’s unwound horns. Without looking up, she evened out each side of the material, threw her head back once more, spun the material twice round and retied it in exactly the same manner but tighter. Everything lifted an inch, and, with this new authoritative face, she leaned on the table and turned to her children” (14)

Although in many ways still deferent to Howard, the image of Kiki is one that is headstrong, noble, and magnificent. The narrator compares her appearance to a “ram” with horns. This is very specific, since a ram is the male version of a wild goat, and this image implies a certain masculine physical power in Kiki. This physicality is not to be disregarded, since Kiki’s largeness (and changed appearance), is central to the book’s plot and aesthetic discussions.

Simile: “These past few days, coming to meet the guys after school, hanging with them, had been an eye-opener for Levi. Try walking down the street with fifteen Haitians if you want to see people get uncomfortable. He felt a little like Jesus taking a stroll with the lepers” (243)

Levi thinks of himself as Jesus strolling with lepers, the most despised and avoided people of Biblical times, just as the Haitians are scorned socioeconomically and racially in modern-day Boston. Levi, the least academic and intellectual of his family, finds meaning and profundity in what he views as the “social work” that he is doing with the Haitians. The Biblical imagery is almost ironic because of the Belseys’ lack of faith, except on Jerome’s part. In equating Levi to Jesus, a little bit of condescension is lost, since Jesus had a nurturing and sympathetic relationship with the lepers. Yet, in another way, this comparison is even more condescending because Levi can never understand Haitian-American culture, or identify with them.

Simile: “Howard, who intended to head back out in the suit he had on, sat on the kitchen stool like a dying sun his family were orbiting” (338)

Howard returns home before the formal students/professors dinner to watch the bustle of his family around him. In the same way the sun is the center of the solar system, but not a technical part of it, Howard is (or was) the de facto leader of his family, but finds himself isolated in the center of it. The significance of “dying” also reminds readers of Howard’s family's waning respect for him, even as he sits on a kitchen stool, the kitchen being the territory of his wife Kiki.

Metaphor: “You peer over the precipice: a burst of ethereal noise crashes over you. In the pit is a great choir, like the one you joined for two months in Wellington in which you were the only black woman. This choir is the heavenly host and simultaneously the devil’s army. It is also every person who has changed you during your time on this earth: your many lovers, your family, your enemies, the nameless, faceless woman who slept with your husband; the man you thought you were going to marry, the man you did” (69)

The Mozart Requiem is a profound experience for Kiki and Jerome, and even for Carl, sitting near the family who overhears part of Kiki’s attempted conversation about it afterwards. Every part of the requiem brings up some thought or memory for Kiki, and she uses metaphors to explain these in the second person. The second person narration and the use of metaphors (direct telling rather than the suggested comparisons of similes) causes readers to empathize or attempt to empathize with Kiki’s experiences. For example, in this passage, Kiki is reminded about the choir she joined for a few months, something particular to her experience, but also suggestive of what the Requiem can conjure up in each individual listener’s mind and memory.

Metaphor: “Even now, even now, this oldest argument of their union was rousing its furious armies in his mind, preparing for one more appearance in the field. It took an enormous act of will on his part to divert his forces” (205)

Howard hates when Kiki points out the difference between his academic language and his home or family language. As a matter of fact, this is the “oldest argument” between Kiki and Howard. He compares (but directly so, using a metaphor) his arguments to “armies” or “forces,” reinforcing the idea that he and Kiki are in a battle, and that their marriage can be like a war.