Imagery means to use figurative language to represent objects, actions and ideas in such a way that it appeals to our physical senses.
Usually it is thought that imagery makes use of particular words that create visual representation of ideas in our minds. The word imagery is associated with mental pictures. However, this idea is but partially correct. Imagery, to be realistic, turns out to be more complex than just a picture. Read the following examples of imagery carefully:
- It was dark and dim in the forest. – The words “dark” and “dim” are visual images.
- The children were screaming and shouting in the fields. – “Screaming” and “shouting” appeal to our sense of hearing or auditory sense.
- He whiffed the aroma of brewed coffee. – “whiff” and “aroma” evoke our sense of smell or olfactory sense.
- The girl ran her hands on a soft satin fabric. – The idea of “soft” in this example appeals to our sense of touch or tactile sense.
- The fresh and juicy orange is very cold and sweet. – “ juicy” and “sweet” when associated with oranges have an effect on our sense of taste or gustatory sense.
Imagery needs the aid of figures of speech like simile, metaphor, personification, onomatopoeia etc. in order to appeal to the bodily senses. Let us analyze how famous poets and writers use imagery in literature.
Imagery Examples in Literature
Imagery of light and darkness is repeated many times in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Consider an example from Act I, Scene V:
“O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;”
Romeo praises Juliet by saying that she appears more radiant than the brightly lit torches in the hall. He says that at night her face glows like a bright jewel shining against the dark skin of an African. Through the contrasting images of light and dark, Romeo portrays Juliet’s beauty.
John Keats’ “To the Autumn” is an ode rich with auditory imagery examples. In the last five lines of his ode he says:
“Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.”
The animal sounds in the above excerpt keep appealing to our sense of hearing. We hear the lamb bleating and the crickets chirping. We hear the whistles of the redbreast robin and the twitters of swallows in the sing. Keats call these sounds as the song of autumn.
In prose, imagery aids writers to accomplish a vivid description of events. Below is an example of an effective use of imagery from E.B. White’s “Once More to the Lake“:
“When the others went swimming my son said he was going in, too. He pulled his dripping trunks from the line where they had hung all through the shower and wrung them out. Languidly, and with no thought of going in, I watched him, his hard little body, skinny and bare, saw him wince slightly as he pulled up around his vitals the small, soggy, icy garment. As he buckled the swollen belt, suddenly my groin felt the chill of death.”
The images depicting the dampness of clothes, in the above lines, convey a sense of chilly sensation that we get from wet clothes.
In “The Great Expectations” written by Charles Dickens, Pip (the hero of the novel) uses many images to describe a damp morning in a marsh:
“It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window… Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass,…. On every rail and gate, wet lay clammy; and the marsh-mist was so thick, that the wooden finger on the post directing people to our village—a direction which they never accepted, for they never came there—was invisible to me until I was quite close under it.”
The repeated use of the words “damp” and “wet” makes us feel how rough it was for him in that damp and cold morning. The thick “marsh-mist” aids our imagination to visualize the scene of mourning in a marshland.
Function of Imagery
The function of imagery in literature is to generate a vibrant and graphic presentation of a scene that appeals to as many of the reader’s senses as possible. It aids the reader’s imagination to envision the characters and scenes in the literary piece clearly. Apart from the above mentioned function, images , which are drawn by using figures of speech like metaphor, simile, personification, onomatopoeia etc. serve the function of beautifying a piece of literature.