In literature, Imagery means to use figurative language to represent objects, actions and ideas in such a way that it appeals to our physical five senses. Imagery draws on the five senses, namely the details of taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound. When a writer attempts to describe something so that it appeals to our sense of smell, sight, taste, touch, or hearing; he/she has used imagery. As a literary device, imagery comprises of imaginative descriptive language that can function as a way for the reader to better imagine the world of the piece of literature and also add symbolism to the work.

 Imagery helps the reader to visualize more realistically the author’s writings. Often, imagery is built on other literary devices, such as simile or metaphor, personification, onomatopoeia etc. as the author uses comparisons to appeal to our senses besides it needs the aid of figures of speech in order to appeal to the bodily senses.

In literature, one of the strongest devices is imagery wherein the author uses words and phrases to create “mental images” for the reader. Imagery can also pertain to details about movement or a sense of a body in motion (kinesthetic imagery) or the emotions or sensations of a person, such as fear or hunger (organic imagery or subjective imagery).

Common Examples of Imagery

We use imagery in everyday speech to convey our meaning. Here are some examples of imagery from each of the five senses:
    • Taste: The familiar tang of his grandmother’s barbeque sauce reminded him of his youth.
    • Sight: The sunset was the most dazzling they’d ever seen; the clouds were decorated with orange and gold.
    • Sound: The concert was so loud that his ears rang for days afterward.
    • Smell: After eating the curry, his breath reeked of garlic.
    • Touch: The tree bark was rough against her skin.

Definition of Imagery in Literature

The usage of allusions, descriptive words, metaphors and similes amongst other literary forms in order to “tickle” and awaken the readers’ sensory perceptions is referred to as imagery. Imagery is not only limited to visual sensations, but also refers to igniting kinesthetic, olfactory, tactile, gustatory, thermal and auditory sensations as well. Using imagery helps the reader improve a more fully comprehended understanding of the fantasy world that the author has created.

The function of imagery in literature is to generate a vivacious and detailed presentation of a scene that appeals to as many of the reader’s senses as possible. It aids the reader’s imagination to envisage the characters and scenes in the literary piece evidently. Apart from the above mentioned function, images , which are drawn by using figures of speech like  simile, personification, metaphor, onomatopoeia etc. serve the function of beautifying a piece of literature.

The word imagery is associated with mental pictures. However, this idea is but partially correct. Imagery, to be realistic, turns out to be more multifaceted than just a picture. Read the following examples of imagery carefully:
  1. It was dark and shadowy in the forest. – The words “dark” and “shadowy” are visual images.
  2. He whiffed the aroma of brewed coffee. – “whiff” and “aroma” evoke our sense of smell or olfactory sense.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The children were screaming and shouting in the meadows. – “Screaming” and “shouting” appeal to our sense of hearing or auditory sense.

Types of Imagery in Literature

Imagery may be defined as the illustration through language of sense experience. Poetry indirectly appeals to our senses through imagery. Imagery is more incidental to a poem than metaphors, symbols and theme and they are often confused. On the other hand, an image should invoke up something more than the mere mentioning of the object or situation. A mistake often made is to take every image as though it were a symbol or metaphor. 

There are seven distinct types of imagery: visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, kinesthetic and organic. Many of these deal with the five senses, which all work together to help us create mental images of whatever we are reading.

Visual Imagery 

This form helps in evoking the sight of a particular image explained. Visual imagery appeals to the sense of sight, and plays the largest role in imagery in literature. It describes what a scene or character looks like.

Visual imagery may include:
    • Color, such as: burnt red, verdant green, dull yellow, bright orange, and Robin’s egg blue.
    • Shapes, such as: square, circular, rectangular, tubular and conical.
    • Size, such as: miniscule, small, large, tiny, medium-sized, and gigantic.
    • Pattern, such as: polka-dotted, zig-zagged, striped, jagged, and straight.
    • The night was black as ever, but bright stars lit up the sky
    • The deep blue hues of twilight were reflected in the still water.
    • the slight glint of moonlight peeked through the clouds.

Auditory Imagery

 It is used to represent sound. Auditory imagery describes specific sounds that are happening within the story. Words such as “bang!” “achoo!” “cacaw!” all work to describe sounds that most people are familiar with.

Auditory imagery may include:
    • Enjoyable sounds, such as: beautiful music, birdsong, and the voices of a chorus.
    • Noises, such as: the bang of a gun, the sound of a broom moving across the floor, and the sound of broken glass shattering on the firm floor.
    • The lack of noise, describing a peaceful calm or eerie silence.

    • Anna, the minute she set her eyes on him, let loose the scream of her life.
    • The rumbling sound of clouds, indicated start of monsoon.
    • An Old Man's spent the Winter Night with the roar of trees, the crack of branches, beating on a box.
    • The rooster crowed at early dawn, a sign that it was time to start the day.

Olfactory Imagery

Olfactory imagery describes a particular scent. It is related to the nose, that is, smell. Thus, it helps to conjure up smells to the reader.

Olfactory imagery may include:
    • Fragrances, such as perfumes, enticing food and drink, and blooming flowers.
    • Odors, such as rotting trash, body odors, or a stinky wet dog.
    • The sweet scent of maple wafted through the room.
    • Sam loved the smell of petrol.
    • She smelled as sweet as roses.
    • I was awakened by the strong smell of a freshly brewed coffee.

Gustatory Imagery

Gustatory imagery pertains to the sense of taste. It helps evoke the sense of taste in one's mind.

Gustatory imagery can include:
    • Sweetness, such as cookies,candies, and desserts.
    • Sourness, bitterness, and tartness, such as lemons and limes.
    • Saltiness, such as french fries, pretzels, and pepperonis.
    • Spiciness, such as salsas and curries.
    • Savoriness, such as a steak dinner or thick soup.
    • She served the bland sea-shell pasta with the sweet mariana sauce.
    • The taste of toothpaste was as bitter as gall.
    • I touched the naked wire. It was the biggest mistake of my life.
    • Jason took one look at the cupcake in front of him and couldn’t wait another second.

Tactile Imagery

Tactile imagery appeals to the sense of touch. Sense of touch is represented with the use of tactile imagery.

Tactile imagery includes:
    • Temperature, such as bitter cold, humidity, mildness, and stifling heat.
    • Touch, such as hand-holding, one’s in the grass, or the feeling of starched fabric on one’s skin.
    • Texture, such as rough, ragged, seamless, and smooth.
    • Movement, such as burning muscles from exertion, swimming in cold water, or kicking a soccer ball.
    • Mary touches the harp like morning-glory strings and plays some tenderness.
    • Sarah placed her bare hand on the cold snow. 
    • The feeling of a nice fuzzy blanket on a cold night is heaven.
    • Sarah placed her bare hand on the cold snow. 

Organic Imagery 

Organic imagery is the most difficult form of imagery to write, because it deals with creating a specific feeling or emotion within the reader. Phrases that make the reader feel nostalgic,sad, fearful, elated, even lost are all extremely effective organic imagery. Internal sensation: hunger, thirst, fatigue, fear

'It's when I'm weary of considerations, And life is too much like a pathless wood.' From Robert Frosts "Birches"

Kinesthetic Imagery

Kinesthetic imagery deals with the movement or action of objects or people. It is a broad term that is used to describe various emotions. It includes sense of touch, movement, feeling and temperature, internal emotions and physical interactions.

    • I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
    • The birds flapped their wings in excitement.
    • They sprung out of the tree, one by one, soaring through the branches and swooping down low.
    • Her heartbeat was so loud, she felt it could be heard across the room.
    • Slowly, the water trickled down his back, tickling him and making him uncomfortable. But, he dare not move or risk begin caught.

Imagery Examples

How could you tell a story without evoking a particular emotion, setting the scene or recounting a character? A story simply cannot be told without imagery. Every great author has known exactly what to say to help readers create visual images in their mind throughout the entire novel. One of the key usages is that the imagery in a piece can help create mood, such as the clichéd opening “It was a dark and stormy night.” Because we experience life through our senses, a strong work should appeal to them through the use of imagery. Without the help of this literary device, readers would not find themselves engrossed in another world; they would be left simply staring at words on a page.

Descriptive imagery launches the reader into the experience of a warm spring day, blazing hot summer, crisp fall, or harsh winter. Imagery creates a mood of foreboding. It allows readers to directly empathize with characters and narrators as they imagine having the same sense experiences. Thus, when analyzing literature it is important to consider the imagery used so as to understand both the mood and the symbolism in the piece. Imagery commonly helps build compelling poetry, vivid plays, convincing narratives, well-designed film sets, and descriptive songs.

Examples of Imagery in Literature

  1. On a starry winter night in Portugal the birds chirped clearly.
  2. He fell down like an old tree falling down in a storm.
  3. Came and went like time spent through an hourglass.
  4. Where the ocean kissed the southern shore the poet wrote his first.
  5. He fumed and charged like an angry bull.
  6. She was like a breath of fresh air infusing life back into him.
  7. He felt like the flowers were waving him a hello.
  8. The music coursed through us, shaking our bodies as if it came from within us.
  9. Her blue eyes were as bright as the Sun, blue as the sky, but soft as silk.
  10. He could never escape from the iron grip of desire.
  11. The pot was a red as a tongue after eating a cherry flavored ring pop.
  12. He could hear his world crashing down when he heard the news about her.
  13. The eerie silence was shattered by her scream.
  14. The word spread like leaves in a storm.
  15. Her face blossomed when she caught a glance of him.
  16. The lake was left shivering by the touch of morning wind.
  17. He could hear the footsteps of doom nearing.
  18. Glittering white, the blanket of snow covered everything in sight.
  19. Though I was on the sheer face of a mountain, the feeling of swinging through the air was euphoric, almost like flying without wings.
  20. The giant tree was ablaze with the orange, red, and yellow leaves that were beginning to make their decent to the ground.