Quick metaphor question

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2008
I've used this sentence:

The big man took up the whole passage, like a portrait too large for its frame.

I know what this means - its as is if he's from a picture that's been cut down to fit into too small a frame, so that he takes up a disproportionate amount of space. However, in its current form, I don't think it makes literal sense, as a picture can't be too large for its frame, if it's actually in it.

Does the phrase work, or is it jarring (in which case I'll just cut it)?

It makes sense to me. After all, it's symbolic language and doesn't have to be objectively logical. I get the idea of someone singlehandedly crowding the space he is in. (Although I'd call it a simile, not a metaphor.)
I see your point, though I instinctively took your meaning.

An alternative, which might be less illogical upon examination, could be "a portrait too large for its canvas".
I like it too. The passageway's very possibly rectangular, as are most picture frames; and the man is three dimensional, as would be the surface of a portrait warping (convex here, concave there) from being forced into the too-small frame. I think just about anything can be forced into a space too small for it. :)
Actually... Being a none too bright 'Meircan, it's fine if you have mentioned that he is on a 'ship' (sea or space of no matter-- or a small workspace like wire/pipe tunnel) before hand. If you did not, than 'passageway' would be helpful... and after a quick poll of roughly 20-other 'Meircans, most very well educated, the general response was that for an 'American' audience, if not a ship of some sort (or a cramped workspace), 'hall/hallway,' would work better than passage.

So, over on this side of the pond 'passage' was the confusing point... Not the picture frame aspect, that everyone instantly understood and thought worked well.

Sounds fine to me, but if you don't like it, maybe something like "like a portrait crammed into a too-small frame."
If it is a castle or something along those lines, "hall" would have a completely different meaning. Seems to me that passageway sounds older and less ... finished ... than a hallway, like something in a castle, fortress, cave, etc. A palace or villa might have corridors. Hallway sounds modern and like something in a tract house to me.

Is this something from Blood Under Water, Toby?
Most similes like this work, but oddly enough the writer is probably one of the first to question it.
The metaphor might be more like.
The large man crowded the corridor, a picture to big for it's frame.
A picture to large for its frame, the man squeezed down the corridor.
In the corridor he was a picture to large for it's frame.
Your simile works for me.
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I think it's fine and expressive. We use expressions which don't really make sense all the time, like "He's as thick as a plank." without ever worrying about it.
So I think you're overthinking it.

I'm sorry guys, but some of your alternatives may be more logical but are also more clumsy to read.

I further think that some of you're readers will overthink it in the same way, and that if they do, then it's their own fault? I'm a great overthinker myself, so I recognise the signs, and I'm trying very hard to relax.

(A question. How many times do you think I rewrote this entry before posting it? And how many more ways will I think I should have changed it after I've posted?
2 questions! (See?))
Is this something from Blood Under Water, Toby?

Yes, it is. Two villains (one big, one small) are standing in a cellar corridor, so the circumstances feel right to mention size and lack of room.

The "thick as a plank" one that farntfar mentions is interesting, because how is a plank thick, as opposed to a rock or a brick? I had to read A Christmas Carol at school, and there's a bit in that where Dickens wonders why we say "as dead as a door-nail" instead of a coffin-nail. I might be over-thinking this, of course...

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