What is Exaggeration? Definition, Examples of Literary Exaggeration

Exaggeration definition: Exaggeration is a literary device that refers to a method authors use to describe something as being better or worse than it actually is.

What is Exaggeration?

When authors are describing a situation they may employ exaggeration. When they use exaggeration they are describing in a way that makes it seem worse or better than the reality of the situation.

Example of Exaggeration

  • You never let me do anything that I want to do.

In this above statement that children often say to parents, the child is exaggerating the situation by using the exaggerating word “never” in order to show his extreme unhappiness.

Different Types of Exaggeration

There are a few different types of exaggeration that is used in literature.

Overstatement: This type of exaggeration refers to a slight exaggeration.

  • In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says that Juliet’s beauty “teaches the torches to burn bright”. This is an overstatement that slightly exaggerates Juliet’s beauty’s ability to teach torches to burn brightly.

Hyperbole: This type of exaggeration refers to an extreme exaggeration.

  • In the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers, the singer exclaims that he “would walk five hundred miles / and [he] would walk five hundred more / Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles / To fall down at your door” to emphasis the love he has for a woman. The hyperbole in this example would be the extreme amount of miles he would walk to be with his love.

Farce: A farce is a type of comedy that uses highly exaggerated situations in order to entertain the audience.

  • In the movie Home Alone, the main character, Kevin, has a farcical confrontation with the robbers at the end of the movie. He plays several pranks on the characters such as lighting their heads on fire and burning them with hot irons that evoke great laughter from the audience. These pranks are exaggerated in nature and that makes them farcical.

Caricature: A caricature refers to an author exaggerating the physical features of a character in an extreme manner.

  • John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces includes examples of caricature when he is describing the protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, “A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once”. This exaggerated description of Ignatius has a comedic effect on the reader.

The Function of Exaggeration

Authors use exaggeration in their writing in order to achieve a desired effect. The effect desired can vary from emphasizing an important point to creating humor. By using exaggeration, the author can draw the readers’ attention to what is being exaggerated in order to achieve this effect.

Examples of Exaggeration in Literature

In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” the narrator begins the story with exaggerating the wrongdoings of his enemy Fortunato. He tells the reader, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.”

In this line, Montresor claims that Fortunato has injured him a thousand times in order to exaggerate the ill doings of his enemy. He does this in order to justify his desire for revenge and to attempt to gain the reader’s sympathy.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout is describing her hometown and says that there was “nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.”

Her use of the word “nothing” is an example of exaggeration because there were obviously places to see outside of her hometown, but as a child, she felt like nothing existed beyond her home.

Summary: What is the Meaning of Exaggeration?

Define exaggeration: Exaggeration refers to a technique used by writers in order to create descriptions that present things as being better or worse than what they are in reality.

Final Example:

In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, he writes “guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.”

Here, Steinbeck exaggerates the loneliness of the men by describing them as being the loneliest people in the entire world. This is to emphasize the extreme isolation and lack of belonging these men feel.