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Metaphorical Criticism of American Beauty

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In applying metaphor criticism, Foss(1996) identifies two major aspects (a) tenor and (b) vehicle (p. 360). The tenor of the metaphor is the actual subject or the principal focus of the metaphor, while the vehicle is the means that is employed in order to convey the tenor and is therefore the secondary frame or the visual representation of the metaphor in the film. Therefore in analyzing the artifact that is at issue, one must first identify the metaphors that are being used in the presentation of this artifact. Each metaphor is associated with the tenor and its vehicle that help to transmit the metaphorical allusion to the viewer, in order that the underlying message that is associated with the artifact is transmitted through the metaphors.

Applying this in the case of the film “American beauty” it may therefore be seen that the metaphorical artifact that is being presented is a satirical look at suburban life in the desire of Lester’s household for happiness and new life. This has been achieved through the use of two major metaphors (a) the color red and (b) the garbage bag.

In the various representations of these two metaphors throughout the film, there is a complex interaction which aids and enhances the conduit of the viewer into absorbing the artifact that is being presented in the film. Another important part of metaphorical criticism is also to analyze the impact of these metaphors on the viewer – does it portray the message that is intended to be conveyed and how effectively is this message conveyed? The rhetorical critic must therefore endeavor to “produce criticism concerned with intricacies of rhetorical strategies and the effects they are thought to have produced. ” (Foss, 1989, p.

25). The artifact in the film “American beauty” is presented through several metaphors, however, the primary focus of this paper will be two aspects (a) the color red and (b) the garbage bag. The tenor of the color red is used liberally in the film to reflect deeper emotions such as love and life. Perhaps the strongest and most effective vehicle through which this tenor is conveyed is the red rose. It appears in various forms – the red rose that Lester holds between his teeth symbolizing his love/lust for Angela, the young friend of his daughter.

Lester sees her dancing and visualizes red petals falling out of her jacket, in another scene he sees her lying on a bed of rose petals. Yet again, she appears in a bath surrounded by red petals, inviting him to give her a bath.

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