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What Are the Best Tips for Writing an Essay on Imagery?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 23, 2024
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Imagery is one of the most commonly used and most effective literary techniques to really transport the reader into the story. As a result, it is common for teachers to assign students to write essays on imagery to be sure they understand this important concept. To begin writing an essay on imagery, it is first necessary to identify the examples of imagery in the story. Then, start considering the bigger picture; beyond the image itself, what could the author be trying to convey? It might be a symbolic image, or one meant to conjure up feelings related to something else in the text.

Identifying imagery can be difficult at first, but with practice it will become easier. When writing an essay on imagery, and trying to locate the examples of imagery in the story, it helps to consider the different possible types. Visual imagery is the most common, in which an author will describe how something looks, often making use of metaphor and simile. However, imagery can be used with any of the other four senses, including touch, smell, taste, and hearing. If an author takes the time to describe the way something smells, or the sound it makes, chances are it is an important part of imagery for the story.

Making notes and creating a type of outline of the imagery found throughout the story can be a great place to begin writing the essay. It can also make it easier to identify patterns. If a certain image is seen over and over again, this is a great place to focus to consider what the author meant by it. Even if images are not repeated, it is still necessary to look deeper; don't simply describe the images, but consider what they might mean on a deeper level.

A certain repeated image could represent the mood or personality of a character, for example. It might represent certain religious symbolism, or be indicative of a larger, theoretical idea. Though it may seem like too simple of an idea, it is also very helpful to consider other major aspects of the story, like plot and theme, when writing an essay on imagery. The theme of a book or short story is often repeated, over and over again, in the imagery used throughout. Asking these types of questions will generally make it easier to develop a thesis statement, which will help to guide the writing of the rest of the essay on imagery.

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Discussion Comments
By allenJo — On Jan 10, 2012

@Charred - I’ll give you one piece of advice, although it may be hard to carry out. Read the story twice. The first time around you should just focus on understanding the story. Don’t worry about symbols or whatever.

The second time around, go through and start looking at the imagery. This is where you’ll be able to develop a clear sense of what the author is intending. If you’re really brave you can read it for a third time too. That way you’ll develop a really cogent argument. I never had that kind of time in college however.

By NathanG — On Jan 09, 2012

@MrMoody - Stay with metaphors and similes and you’ll be safe. I do agree that in either case repetition is important and you need to tie your interpretation to the larger context of what the author is saying.

Since you mentioned the classics it’s important to point out that a lot of those were written within a Judeo Christian context. So I expect that you would find crosses and other emblems of redemption.

Of course in some works like “The Scarlet Letter” the imagery is more explicit – scarlet being the color of sin and redemption (blood). Not all novels are that easy to interpret, but I think understanding the times in which they lived will help you to hone in on the precise imagery.

By MrMoody — On Jan 08, 2012

@Charred - If you didn’t think those symbols existed, you should have spoken up. It’s up to you to make the argument about where the imagery existed in the story.

How can you tell what’s real and what is imagined? I think the article makes a good point when it talks about patterns. To stay with your example, if such symbolism really existed, you would see it over and over again, as you read other parts of the story where it appeared that the author was trying to make some kind of statement about sexuality.

By Charred — On Jan 08, 2012

I always kind of hated writing these essays because I always blushed when the teacher told us locate the phallic symbols in the story. Was he simply trying to tease us? Did all great works of literature necessarily have symbols of the male reproductive organ?

I think this is where we get into reading into the story something that isn’t necessarily there. Put in other words, that kind of “symbolism” may reveal more about the person reading the story than what the author’s real intentions were.

I’ll concede that perhaps in feminist works of literature this kind of symbolism may have been more present and more overt. But in the great classics, I was never convinced. Nevertheless, I dutifully followed instructions, locating where I thought such symbolism existed, whether I believe it was so or not.

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