Colours in James Joyce’s Novels. Green and black as Conceptual Metaphors

Term Paper, 2021

18 Pages, Grade: 2,0

Black A. Smith (Author)



1. Introduction

2. Conceptual Metaphor Theory

3. Conceptual Metaphors in James Joyce’s Novels
3.1. Symbolism
3.2. Colours as Conceptual Metaphors
3.2.1. Green
3.2.2. Black

4. Conclusion
Works Cited

1. Introduction

There is no piece of fiction which can be complete without metaphors. A metaphor is as well as a stylistic device and the result of artistic thoughts. It is organically connected with the poetic vision of the surrounding world. Poetic creativity of authors is often defined through their characteristic metaphors, and poets understand and accept such definitions.

While philosophers use metaphors to convey their thoughts to the reader, simplifying them with the help of metaphors and connecting them with reality and everyday life familiar to them, poets and writers use metaphors to create subtext. This gives their works a unique status of universality, independence from the period of time it was written in and to some extent the respective era and allows many generations of readers to read and comprehend their texts.

George Lakoff singles out the so-called conceptual metaphors, in other words, figurative models with the help of which we create and perceive the surrounding world. To out it differently, any sphere of our life can be represented as a series of pictures which are firmly established in the minds of everyone.

The same happens within the framework of literature, when an author, while creating his work, simultaneously creates his own world - a definite one, unlike any other. By identifying the figurative models on the basis of which the work is built, it is easier for us to understand or theorise what exactly the author wanted to tell us. It can be confirmed by linguistic data, in particular, by lexis. Thanks to language, we have gained access to metaphors that structure our perception, our thinking and our actions.

In literature, colours and emotions are frequently used to describe protagonist’s character traits, communicate the narrator’s and often the author’s emotional state to the reader and such features are also integrated into the text on order to build up a specific ambience. James Joyce uses colours and emotions as metaphorical concepts and metaphorical expressions in his early novels. (Xie 2015: 61)

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Joyce’s autobiographical protagonist, young Stephen Dedalus claims that ‘[...] often from sound and shape and colour which are the prison gates of our soul, an image of the beauty we have come to understand’ (Joyce 1992: 201). He describes emotions and attitudes with colours and emotions in relation to colours in both works. Therefore, Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are full of colour words and natural imagery.

This paper analyses emotions as well as the positive and negative metaphorical references of the colours green and black in the above works revealing the author’s complicated attitude towards Ireland – his country of origin (Xie 2015: 62,69). The analysis is elaborated with consideration of Lakoff’s and Johnson’s conceptual metaphor. The following chapter will introduce the theory of conceptual metaphor. The main part will provide the analysis. It is intended to answer the question of Stephen’s and Joyce’s complicated relationship and feelings to his mother country and his countrymen and discuss the importance of the metaphorical concepts in literature, in the final part of this paper.

2. Conceptual Metaphor Theory

In the view of modern cognitology, metaphor is one of the main mental operations, a way of structuring, explaining and learning about the world around us. ‘[M]etaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature’ (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 3). Eventually this approach allowed to move out the metaphor outside of the framework of the language system and allowed linguists to consider it as a phenomenon of interaction between language, thinking and culture. J. Lakoff in his work ‘The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor’ strictly distinguished between metaphorical expression and conceptual metaphor, emphasizing that

The generalizations governing poetic metaphorical expressions are not in language, but in thought: They are general map pings across conceptual domains. […] the locus of metaphor is not in language at all, but in the way we conceptualize one mental domain in terms of another’ [, namely in thought.] (Lakoff 1993: 1)

In Lakoff's understanding, metaphor is primarily a phenomenon of conceptual properties

The definition of conceptual metaphor is used for a specific type of figurative use of a word. The first conceptual metaphor was described by the linguist-theorist George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their work Metaphors We Live By. They emphasized that conceptual metaphor is not a ‘shorthand’ comparison, not a way to decorate speech, and not even a property of words and language in general (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 20). They described the conceptual metaphor as the intersection of knowledge about one conceptual area in another conceptual area. A metaphor is an important mechanism by which we understand and reason about ‘abstract concept[s]’ (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 107-113). A metaphor by its nature would be not a linguistic, but a conceptual phenomenon, meaning the understanding of concepts, as principles that organize human perception, which is fundamental for Lakoff and Johnson (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 3-7, 218). A metaphorical concept is based on a ‘non-metaphorical’ concept, i.e., on our sensorimotor experience (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 178). The system of generally accepted conceptual metaphors is mostly unconscious, automatic, and used without notable effort (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 153-154). Which means - when we claim that someone is in a bad mood, we do not consciously think about the person's state as a container. The metaphor is based on congruences in our experience rather than logical similarities. The source domain and the target domain are essentially not related. The system of metaphors plays an important role, both in the vocabulary and in the ‘grammar’ of the language (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 133-134).

In accordance with the theory of conceptual metaphor, metaphorization is based on the process of interaction between the knowledge structures - frames and scenarios of the source domain and the target domain. As a result of the unidirectional metaphorical mapping from the source domain to the target domain, the elements of the source domain, which were formed as a result of the experience of interaction between a person and the surrounding world, structure a less understandable conceptual target domain, which eventually constitutes the essence of the cognitive potential of metaphor.

The basic source of knowledge constituting conceptual domains is the experience of direct human interaction with the surrounding world, while physical experience is diachronically primary, which organizes the categorization of reality in the form of simple cognitive structures – ‘image schemes’ (Johnson 1987: xiv-xvi). Metaphorical projection is carried out not only between individual elements of two knowledge structures, but also between entire structures of conceptual domains. The assumption that during metaphorical projection in the target domain the structure of the source domain is partially preserved, was called ‘The Invariance Principle’ (Lakoff 1993: 13).

Thanks to this property, metaphorical entailments become possible, which are not explicitly expressed in metaphorical expression, but are derived on the basis of frame knowledge. Thus, the cognitive topology of the source domain to some extent determines the way of understanding the target domain and can serve as a basis for decision-making and action. In other words, a metaphor provides a conceptualization of an unstudied object by analogy with an already established system of concepts (Gust et al.2008: 8-9).

A conceptual metaphor not only reflects fragments of the social experience of a particular cultural community, but also largely shapes it. New metaphors allow people to see the world in a new light. If a new metaphor becomes part of a conceptual system that serves as the basis of our reality, then it will change this system, as well as the ideas and actions generated by it. For example, Western influence on world cultures can be partially explained by the introduction of the metaphor ‘time is money’.

Conceptual metaphors can be divided into three main groups: structural, ontological, and orientational. In structural metaphors, the cognitive topology of the target domain is a model for understanding the respective domain, for example: ‘argument is war’ (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 219). Ontological metaphors categorize abstract entities by delineating their boundaries in space, for example: mind is machine; or using personification as in ‘Inflation is eating up our profits’ (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 152). Orientation metaphors reflect the oppositions in which our experience of spatial orientation in the world is recorded, as in ‘good is up’ or ‘bad is down’ (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 152).

The power of conceptual metaphors lies in their constant unconscious use: ‘Anything that we rely on which we rely constantly, unconsciously and automatically is so much part of us that it cannot be easily resisted because it is barely even noticed’. A characteristic feature of metaphors is that they do not disappear but remain in human consciousness. The logical consequences of their actions are manifested in the peculiarities of our understanding of the world (Lakoff, Turner 1989: 63-64).


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Colours in James Joyce’s Novels. Green and black as Conceptual Metaphors
University of Osnabrück  (Sprachwissenschaft)
Communication and cognition
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Colours, green, colors, color, colour, and, black, as, Conceptual, Metaphors, in, James, Joyce, Early, Novels, novel, metaphor, Metapher, Farbe, Farben, grün, und, schwarz, Ireland, Irland, als, Roman, Romane, früh, frühe, frühen, Farbmetaphorik, Metaphorik
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Black A. Smith (Author), 2021, Colours in James Joyce’s Novels. Green and black as Conceptual Metaphors, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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