Hyperbole is simply the use of over-exaggeration for the purpose of creating emphasis or being humorous, but it is not intended to be taken literally. Hyperbole often appears in literature.
Hyperbole Abounds in Literature
Here are some examples of hyperbole in literature.
- Flannery O’Connor was an essayist and author whose works often featured hyperbole. One of the most famous instances comes from Parker’s Back and reads, “And the skin on her face was thin and drawn tight like the skin on an onion and her eyes were gray and sharp like the points of two ice picks.”
- In the very popular book To Kill a Mockingbird the author Harper Lee wrote, “People moved slowly then. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.”
- Paul Bunyan is one of America’s great folk heroes. His stories of legend are full of hyperbole – in fact he and his great Blue Ox Babe were examples of hyperbole themselves. One story read, “Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before.”
- “The People, Yes” is a poem by author and poet Carl Sandburg, whose funny quips are often called Sandburgers. The poem contains the hyperbole line, “It’s a slow burg—I spent a couple of weeks there one day.”
- Gabriel García Márquez, one of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century, once wrote in Living to Tell the Tale, “At that time Bogota was a remote, lugubrious city where an insomniac rain had been falling since the beginning of the 16th century.” (An obvious exaggeration.)
- Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman contains the hyperbole, “It was not a mere man he was holding, but a giant; or a block of granite. The pull was unendurable. The pain unendurable.”
- W.H. Auden was an American poet who often used hyperbole. As an example, he once wrote in his poem “As I Walked Out One Evening,” “I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you / Till China and Africa meet, / And the river jumps over the mountain / And the salmon sing in the street.”
- Popular humorist and columnist Dave Barry wrote, in his “Revenge of the Pork Person,” a silly hyperbole that explained, “A man can have a belly you could house commercial aircraft in and a grand total of eight greasy strands of hair, which he grows real long and combs across the top of his head so that he looks, when viewed from above, like an egg in the grasp of a giant spider, plus this man can have B.O. to the point where he interferes with radio transmissions, and he will still be convinced that, in terms of attractiveness, he is borderline Don Johnson.”
- “Old Times on the Mississippi,” yet another piece by Mark Twain, contains a hyperbole example: “I was helpless. I did not know what in the world to do. I was quaking from head to foot, and could have hung my hat on my eyes, they stuck out so far.”
- John Ciardi, in his “Speed Adjustments,” quipped, “Why does a boy who’s fast as a jet take all day and sometimes two to get to school?”
So, now you have seen many different examples of hyperbole in literature. Hyperbole is a commonly used literary tool.