artichoke plants

As promised, I will share with you an example of Henry Green’s power.

A character in his novel Party Going is trying to make his way through a great crowd in a train station. How thick is this crowd? What does it feel like to make one’s way through it? Green demonstrates the answers by employing not one but three similes:

“To push through this crowd was like trying to get through bamboo or artichokes grown thick together or thousands of tailors’ dummies stored warm on a warehouse floor.”
—Henry Green, Party Going

Let’s go through each of the similes one by one:

Bamboo—Bamboo grows in tall stalks situated very close together. The reader, in comparing bamboo to a crowd of people, thinks about a crowd so think it is almost impenetrable, and only gotten through by literally pushing stalks (people) aside.

Artichokes grown thick together—I did not know what an artichoke plant looked like, so I Googled it. Above, you will see a photo of artichoke plants. The artichoke simile has an advantage over the bamboo simile: artichoke plants have stalks that end in a bulbous fruit that can be compared to people’s heads. Now, artichoke plants are bushier than bamboo, so in that regard, the bamboo simile has the advantage. But taken together, the reader envisions people packed together like bamboo with heads like artichokes.

Thousands of tailors’ dummies stored warm on a warehouse floor—Finally, we come to an entirely different simile, one that brings human shape and warmth to bear on the image already obtained from the bamboo and artichokes. Green also brings in the idea that these warm human beings are actually still and lifeless, as indeed they seem to the character trying to push through them, having somewhere to go, unless the rest of them.

All told, the three similes make the reader envision an enormous pressing together of stationary human bodies.

Can you see it in your mind’s eye?