What imagery is used in the short story "The Phoenix" by Sylvia Townsend Warner?

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Imagery can be defined as those techniques in writing which are specifically used to paint a picture (image) in the reader's mind. As such, the author uses figurative language or descriptive writing to achieve this purpose. In our story, one can identify the following techniques:

Personification: Giving an object or abstract idea human qualities.

It was a remarkably fine phoenix, with a charming characteraffable to the other birds in the aviary and much attached to Lord Strawberry.

But it was not puffed by these attentions, and when it was no longer in the news, and the visits fell off, it showed no pique or rancour.

In these examples, the phoenix is described as if it is human. The purpose is to create sympathy for the suffering that it has to endure, especially later in the tale.

Exaggeration:

“Eating his head off,”

This line exaggerates how much the phoenix feeds, to such an extent that its owner feels that he is suffering a loss. The phoenix, as far as he is concerned, is not a profitable investment.

Alliteration: Repetition of especially consonants in a line

The phoenix,” the loud-speaker continued, “is as capricious as Cleopatra, as luxurious as la du Barry, as heady as a strain of wild gypsy music. All the fantastic pomp and passion of the ancient East, its languorous magic, its subtle cruelties…”

The 'c' 'l' and 'p' sounds are repeated to emphasise how extraordinary the phoenix is and is a marketing strategy to draw in the crowds.

Simile: Comparison using the words 'like' or 'as'

... is as capricious as Cleopatra

as luxurious as la du Barry

as heady as a strain of wild gypsy music

The purpose here is the same as in the above example.

Furthermore, the tale contains an extended metaphor of man's greed and his exploitation of nature for profit. Mr Tancred Poldero's only desire is to make money and he does not care at all for the phoenix's well-being.

Although not so much an aspect of to imagery, one can also mention the irony in the story. Mr Poldero's insatiable greed is what eventually destroys him, and ironically, the one thing he abused for profit survives through its rebirth. Further irony lies in the fact that the audience's desperate desire to be entertained and fascinated is what leads to their (fiery) demise - a completely unexpected result.

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