A story named The Centipede, written by Rony V. Diaz is used as the basis for some English lessons. You can read and analyze the story here at this link. There is also a summary and review here. For the purposes of this question, a contextual summary is as follows:

Delia and Eddie are siblings. Delia is the elder sister, and Eddie is the younger brother. Their mother died on the same day that Eddie was born, (possibly from childbirth complications). It appears that Delia resents her brother and sees him with contempt due to the loss of their mother. Delia mistreats her brother badly due to her resentment toward him. (She possibly attributes her brother as the cause of her death.) The story is written from Eddie's point of view, where he recounts how his sister mistreats him, and how he attempts to get revenge but regrets it afterward.

An excerpt from the story that is relevant here:

MY sister was the meanest creature I knew. She was eight when I was born, the day my mother died. Although we continued to live in the same house, she had gone, it seemed, to another country from where she looked at me with increasing annoyance and contempt.

One of the questions asked is as follows:

Determine whether the statement below is literal or figurative.

Delia's resentment toward Eddie could be traced back to their mother's death.

I tried looking for a definite answer, but couldn't find any. I could only find this explanation:

Could be both. Literal since their mother could've really died and Eddie could've been a part of it. Figurative since their mother could've died, but Eddie wasn't a part of it and Delia could've resented him due to the fact Eddie wasn't there or he didn't do anything.

It doesn't answer the question because Eddie was part of his mother death by being born of her at the same moment. But he couldn't also be held responsible for his mother's death since he was only a newborn baby.

What would be the correct answer, and why?

  • 1
    It's a bad question. Is the question about the verb "traced back"?
    – TimR
    Sep 4, 2017 at 15:11

1 Answer 1


Literal language implies a text, in which the words mean exactly what they are supposed to, whilst figurative language contains figures of speech, such as similes, metaphors, hyperbole, personification, alliteration, etc.

Here, in your case, there's no figure. You see, like you've already mentioned yourself, the sentence means that the girl believes that the mother could have died while giving a birth to her son clearly. Therefore, this sentence "Delia's resentment toward Eddie could be traced back to their mother's death." is literal.

Moreover, whether the boy had been the reason to his mother's death, it doesn't matter, but the way the writer describes the story, and their word choice determines if the sentence is literal or figurative.

For example, if the author had written:

Delia resented toward Eddie, since she believes that the death's snake has crawled in Eddie's spirit while coming to the world.


Delia's resentment toward Eddie could be traced back to Eddie's birthday when her mother left the life as Eddie grasped it too firmly.

(First of all, both of my examples are mumbo jumbo, just for instance) Well, the death of the mother would be related to the brother's birth:

1- metaphorically (in the first example)

2- using personification (in the second example)

In this case, the text would be figurative.

As per the excerpt, the text is indeed figurative, since there's at least one simile within the text:

"..it seemed, to another country from where she looked at me with increasing annoyance and contempt."

  • "What is the source of Delia's resentment?" Is source literal or figurative?
    – TimR
    Sep 4, 2017 at 15:56
  • Well, if I've understood your question correctly, as far as I know, causality is not a case in figurative literature. It might only when it's combined with a figure.
    – Sina
    Sep 4, 2017 at 16:04
  • @Sina sorry I'm confused about your answer. You started with "in your case, there's no figure" (I assume you imply it's literal) but in the end, you said, "the text would be figurative". May I ask for clarity?
    – ADTC
    Sep 4, 2017 at 16:05
  • @Sina btw I have added an excerpt from the story into the question. It's pretty much the only part of the story where the subject matter is talked about.
    – ADTC
    Sep 4, 2017 at 16:12
  • @ADTC sure mate. Your assumption is true my friend. However, at the end, I've come up with two examples, which would describe the reason of Delia's resentment figuratively. That is, my examples are figurative, but your text was indeed literal.
    – Sina
    Sep 4, 2017 at 16:12

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