The Woman in White

The Woman in White Metaphors and Similes

Our words are giants when they do us injury and dwarfs when they do us a service (p. 101) (Metaphor)

Walter uses this metaphor to describe the impact that language can have. He compares words to something large and powerful (giants) and to something small and usually considered weak (a dwarf), introducing an element of paradox into the metaphor as well. Walter is frustrated by the fact that he cannot use language to do what he wants, such as accurately describe Laura's beauty, but he also knows how powerful and harmful language could be if he were to use it to make an inappropriate declaration. Throughout the novel, language will be shown to be incredibly powerful in some ways (Percival's whole life, for example, rests on the words documenting the marriage of his parents) but also ineffectual in others (no one believes Laura saying who she is until she can support it with evidence). The gist of the metaphor is that words often matter most when they lie or "do injury," and matter least when they are truthful and well-intentioned.

"The last word went like a bullet to my heart" (p. 110) (Simile)

This simile is used to describe how Walter feels when he first learns that Laura is engaged. The simile comparing this news to a bullet piercing his heart describes the intense pain this information caused him. The simile also suggests death, which is what would happen if a bullet struck someone's heart. This is appropriate because the news marks the death of Walter's hopes and also of his interactions with Laura, and his time at Limmeridge House. Finally the simile is appropriate because it alludes to the threat of violence that will come to be associated with Laura's marriage.

Her eyes dilated in the dim evening like the eyes of a wild animal (p. 138) (Simile)

Walter uses this simile to describe Anne's reaction when he first questions her about the person responsible for having her committed to the asylum. The simile simultaneously conveys both her aggression and vulnerability. At this point in the novel, Anne's history is very hazy, and it is unknown to what degree the claims of her being mentally unstable are accurate. When she reacts with extreme, animalistic violence at the allusion to the man who tormented her, it seems possible that she could be insane, dangerous, or both. However, the comparison to an animal also implies that because she is less rational and logical, she is also potentially vulnerable and subject to being hunted and trapped.

Drop by drop, I poured the profaning bitterness of this world's wisdom into that pure heart (p. 212) (Metaphor)

Marian uses this metaphor to describe the effect of explaining to Laura that it would be inappropriate and unacceptable for Marian to join Laura and Percival on their honeymoon. This information, which is new and surprising to Laura, is compared to a kind of bitter and possibly poisonous fluid being gradually poured into a receptacle. The metaphor reinforces the way Laura is a passive vessel with little agency of her own, and also the way in which Marian is often put in difficult positions of breaking difficult news to Laura. The fact that this information and expectations about married life have to be conveyed slowly suggests how torturous the process is for Marian. The metaphor, by comparing the knowledge of what married life will be like to a liquid that slowly penetrates Laura's innocent body also contains a subtle sexual allusion. Part of what Marian might explain to Laura in this scene may include reference to what sexual activities she will be expected to engage in after her marriage.

She is always[...]as cold as a statue and as impenetrable as the stone out of which it is cut (p. 239) (Simile)

Marian uses this simile to describe Eleanor, Count Fosco's wife. Comparing Eleanor to a non-living object highlights how passive she is, and how much she seems to be controlled and manipulated by her husband. The idea of a statue that has been formed into a particular shape also references the way the countess has been moulded by her husband's desires and wishes.