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Home > English > Close reading > Imagery




Identifying imagery

Imagery is a feature of written and spoken language and occurs whenever someone has chosen to use language in a non-literal way.

Imagery is a way of describing something symbolically, using words to create a picture in the reader's imagination.

In the Close Reading paper you need to be able to recognise imagery and to consider how successful the imagery is at conveying to you what the writer is trying to express.

Imagery frequently conveys more than just meaning. It is used to heighten the effect of language and is often an extension of word-choice.

Normally an image will extend to a phrase or a few words but sometimes it will be longer.

The simplest form of imagery to recognise is when something or someone is compared to something else, with the purpose of establishing some parallel between the two. Images of this kind frequently concern qualities like beauty, speed, force, power and natural and animal traits.


He ran as fast as a leopard.

This does not literally mean that he ran as fast as the animal, but that he ran quickly and probably gracefully as well. It says more than: "He ran fast."

In this way an image carries an extra dimension of meaning in subtle ways.

As a reader, your task is to get as much from reading materials as you can, by recognising images when you see them and by taking from them the extra layers of meaning that they contain.


Here is a very simple image from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men: "swinging his hands like a bear".

In the book this works as an extended image - where a descriptive idea is consistently used and developed throughout the story.

The image gives the reader the picture of a man moving like a slow, lumbering animal. It also implies the idea of a dangerous beast and, as the story progresses, this idea of danger increases. The effect of the image is emphasised by the added layer of menace or danger.



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Hazard Perception

Metaphors, similes, personification... test yourself on these and many more English terms with this hazardous game!

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