Saving Private Ryan

Brief Intro

Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg, is a 1998 war film that has left an indelible mark on cinema history. The story follows Captain John H. Miller and his squad on a mission during World War II to find and bring home Private James Francis Ryan, whose brothers have been killed in action. Known for its harrowing depiction of war, particularly the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the film is celebrated for its realistic portrayal of combat, powerful performances, and emotional depth.

Literary Devices Used in Saving Private Ryan


Movie SceneDevice Example
Omaha Beach LandingThe beach littered with bodies as a “hellscape”
Capt. Miller’s hand shakingShaking hand as a metaphor for the psychological toll of war


Movie SceneDevice Example
The letter to Ryan’s motherRepresents the human cost of war
Upham’s ammunition beltRepresents his transformation from a non-combatant to a soldier


Movie SceneDevice Example
Miller’s hand shaking early in the filmForeshadows his death and the toll of leadership
The promise to the dying WadeForeshadows the squad’s ultimate sacrifice


Movie SceneDevice Example
Miller’s mission to save RyanThe irony of risking many lives to save one
German soldier’s reappearanceThe soldier they spare later kills one of their own


Movie SceneDevice Example
Opening scene in the cemeteryThe film itself starts with an older Ryan reflecting back
Miller recounting pre-war lifeFlashback to his life as a teacher, humanizing his character


Movie SceneDevice Example
Omaha Beach LandingVivid, gruesome battle scenes
The calm French countrysideContrast with the devastation of war


Movie SceneDevice Example
War scenes vs. peaceful pre-war lifeHighlights the disruption war causes
American soldiers vs. German soldiersEmphasizes shared humanity despite being enemies


Movie SceneDevice Example
The American flagRecurring symbol of patriotism and sacrifice
Soldiers talking about homeRecurring theme of longing for peace


Movie SceneDevice Example
Descriptions of combatExaggerated to emphasize the chaos and horror
Soldiers’ stories about pre-war exploitsExaggerated for camaraderie and morale


Movie SceneDevice Example
Reference to Abraham Lincoln’s letterLinks to historical context and adds depth
Biblical referencesAdds a moral and existential layer to the narrative

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Captain John H. Miller

Literary DeviceExplanation
SymbolismMiller’s shaking hand symbolizes the unseen psychological scars of leadership in war.
IronyDespite his heroism and strong leadership, Miller’s ultimate fate is ironically tragic.

Private James Francis Ryan

Literary DeviceExplanation
MetaphorRyan represents the everyman soldier, the common hero whose life is valued above all.
ForeshadowingThe letters to Ryan’s mother foreshadow the impact his return will have on her.

Sergeant Horvath

Literary DeviceExplanation
JuxtapositionHis tough exterior juxtaposed with moments of vulnerability shows the multifaceted nature of soldiers.
FlashbackHis stories of home and pre-war life add depth to his character.

Corporal Upham

Literary DeviceExplanation
SymbolismUpham’s character arc from cowardice to courage symbolizes the transformative power of war.
MotifHis continual questioning of the mission reflects the moral ambiguity of war.

Private Daniel Jackson

Literary DeviceExplanation
AllusionHis frequent biblical references add a layer of moral and philosophical contemplation.
HyperboleHis exaggerated prowess with the sniper rifle enhances his mythic warrior status.

Character Dynamics

  • Miller and Horvath: Their deep mutual respect and trust are key to their survival and leadership, highlighting themes of camaraderie and loyalty.
  • Miller and Ryan: The evolving relationship between Miller and Ryan underscores the film’s exploration of duty, sacrifice, and the value of a single life.
  • Upham and the Squad: Upham’s initial detachment and eventual integration into the squad reflect themes of growth, belonging, and the harsh realities of war.

Thematic Analysis


Literary DeviceExplanation
SymbolismThe recurring motif of letters to families symbolizes the ultimate sacrifice soldiers make.
IronyThe ironic mission to save one man at the cost of many lives underscores the theme of sacrifice.


Literary DeviceExplanation
MetaphorThe squad as a “band of brothers” metaphorically represents the close-knit bonds formed in combat.
FlashbackStories of home life shared among soldiers highlight their unity and shared humanity.

The Horrors of War

Literary DeviceExplanation
ImageryVivid, graphic depictions of battle scenes emphasize the brutal reality of war.
HyperboleExaggerated accounts of combat experiences convey the chaos and fear of warfare.

Duty and Responsibility

Literary DeviceExplanation
JuxtapositionThe peaceful pre-war life contrasted with the war scenes highlights the burden of duty.
ForeshadowingEarly signs of Miller’s stress foreshadow the heavy responsibility of command.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Visual and Sound Techniques

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
ImageryHandheld camera shotsCreates a visceral, immersive experience of the chaos of battle.
SymbolismUse of color and lightingThe stark contrast between the bright American flag and the drab battlefield highlights themes of patriotism and sacrifice.
ForeshadowingSound design (e.g., Miller’s hand shaking sound)Subtle audio cues foreshadow the toll of war on soldiers’ psyches.
MetaphorVisual juxtaposition of scenesPeaceful countryside scenes versus brutal war scenes metaphorically represent the fragility of peace.

Key Scene Analysis

Omaha Beach Landing

  • YouTube Link: Omaha Beach Landing
  • Scene Breakdown: This scene is a masterclass in realism, using handheld cameras, rapid cuts, and immersive sound design to place the viewer in the midst of the chaos. The brutality of the imagery, with graphic depictions of death and destruction, serves to underscore the horrors of war. The beach itself becomes a hellscape, a metaphor for the soldiers’ descent into chaos.

Captain Miller’s Death

  • YouTube Link: Captain Miller’s Death
  • Scene Breakdown: Miller’s final moments are imbued with deep irony and pathos. As he tells Ryan to “earn this,” the camera focuses on his shaking hand, a recurring symbol of his psychological strain. The use of soft, fading lighting and slow-motion captures the poignancy and tragedy of his death, emphasizing the theme of sacrifice.

The Bridge Battle

  • YouTube Link: The Bridge Battle
  • Scene Breakdown: This climactic battle uses a combination of tight close-ups, frenetic pacing, and a cacophony of sound to heighten the tension and chaos. The dynamic between characters, particularly Upham’s transformation, is highlighted through symbolic imagery and dramatic irony, as he ultimately confronts his fears.


Let’s wrap up our literary devices study guide with a fun, interactive quiz! Test your understanding and see how well you’ve grasped the intricate use of literary devices in Saving Private Ryan.

Interactive Quiz

  1. What does Captain Miller’s shaking hand symbolize?
    • A) Physical injury
    • B) Psychological strain
    • C) Nervousness about the mission
    • D) None of the above
  2. Which literary device is predominantly used to depict the Omaha Beach Landing scene?
  3. How is foreshadowing used in relation to Captain Miller’s character?
    • A) Through his discussions about post-war plans
    • B) Through his interactions with Private Ryan
    • C) Through the depiction of his shaking hand
    • D) Through his leadership decisions
  4. Which character’s arc represents the transformative power of war?
    • A) Captain Miller
    • B) Private Ryan
    • C) Corporal Upham
    • D) Sergeant Horvath
  5. What theme is emphasized by the use of letters to soldiers’ families?
    • A) Brotherhood
    • B) The horrors of war
    • C) Duty and responsibility
    • D) Sacrifice

Answer Key:

  1. B
  2. B
  3. C
  4. C
  5. D