Conceit definition: A conceit is defined as a comparison between two dissimilar things.
What is Conceit in Literature?
Meaning of conceit: When identifying a comparison as a conceit, it is important to note that these comparisons tend to be elaborate or surprising. Their elaborateness takes place in the form of an extended metaphor between the two unlike things being compared.
Example of Conceit
In Forrest Gump, Forrest is describing his mother’s philosophy on life. He uses the phrase “life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get”. This comparison between two dissimilar things could be identified as a conceit.
Modern Examples of Conceit
In modern terms, conceits often come in the form of short phrases like the one above from Forrest Gump.
Examples of commonly used conceits:
- Spill the beans
- Life is a bowl of cherries
- Fit as a fiddle
The Function of Conceit in Literature
Because conceits draw comparisons between things in a new, interesting way, they function as a device used by writers to draw attention to what’s being compared. This increases the interest of the readers by allowing them to think of the idea being presented through the comparison in a new way.
Examples of Conceit in Literature
Most conceits will be found in older literature because they are less commonly used today. Here are some examples of conceits in literature:
“The Flea” by John Donne is commonly referred to when discussing the artful use of this comparison technique. In it, the speaker is characterized as a lover who speaks of a sexual desire she has for a man. She reveals to him that she has no reason to postpone his advances because the same flea has bitten the two; therefore, their blood is already combined.
“Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deny’st me is;
Me it sucked first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be;
Confess it, this cannot be said
A sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than we would do.”
The comparison of lovers to fire and ice comes from the conceit found in Edmund Spenser’s “Sonnet 30” in Amoretti:
“My love is like to ice, and I to fire;
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire,
But harder grow the more I her entreat!
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
Is not delayed by her heart-frozen cold;
But that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
And feel my flames augmented manifold!”
Define conceit in literature: A conceit is defined as a shocking comparison between two unlike things. The surprising aspect of the two things being compared is what draws the reader’s interest into the comparison.
In William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 97” he utilizes a conceit to compare his absence from his loved one to winter:
“How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezing’s have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!”