What is it about?

A central theme in Ian McEwan's novella The Comfort of Strangers is one of the protagonist's childishness. This insight can be captured in the conceptual metaphor COLIN IS A CHILD. The metaphor pervades the novella, but is seldom explicitly presented by the omniscient narrator. The paper begins by showing how it surfaces in the story. Harold Pinter, accepting the challenge of writing a screenplay on the basis of this narratively complex novella, deemed unfilmable, was aware of the metaphor, and found ways to retain it, without making it more explicit -- partly by adding some scenes. Paul Schrader, the director of the film, in turn made use of film's stylistic repertoire (mise-en-scene, camera angles, camera movements, montage, sound) to reinforce the metaphor.

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Why is it important?

On one level, the paper sheds light on the intriguing, and initially baffling story of The Comfort of Strangers. But more importantly, it feeds into the project of testing conceptual metaphor theory/CMT's claim that human beings can only conceive of abstract and complex phenomena by metaphorically coupling them with more concrete, better-understood phenomena. Here, the same metaphor, COLIN IS A CHILD, is traced in three different media -- written fiction, screenplay, film. In this way, medium-specific possibilities (affordances) and limitations (constraints) to convey metaphorical meaning (and by extension: meaning in general) are highlighted.


In retrospect, it looks as if this paper (which was reprinted in Hanks and Giora, eds, Metaphor [Routledge 2012, 6 volumes], is one of the first attempts within CMT to chart the manifestations of a structural visual/multimodal metaphor in an artistic text.

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

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This page is a summary of: The Metaphor "COLIN IS A CHILD" in Ian McEwan's, Harold Pinter's, and Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers, Metaphor and Symbol, July 1999, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1207/s15327868ms140302.
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