Guide to Literary Terms Questions and Answers

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What is the difference between imagery and symbolism?  

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shakespeareguru eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Imagery is a term used when referring to any descriptive language used by a writer.  When you see something in real life, or in a photo or a film, you see an image.  When you read a description of something a writer wants you to visualize (or sense in some other way), he/she must use imagery to get the picture across to the reader.

Symbolism is one thing that stands in for or represents another.  Colors are common symbols in literature:  white for purity, virginity or cleanliness; red for passion, anger or evil.  Usually a color or other object needs to be repeated in order for the reader to understand that the writer intends it to be symbolic.

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Kitty Sharp eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Imagery  is defined as any type of description that relates to a person's five senses.  Technically, however, there are seven types of specific imagery related to our senses:

  • Visual:  related to things that may be seen
  • Auditory:  related to things that may be heard
  • Olfactory:  related to things that may be smelled
  • Gustatory:  related to things that may be tasted
  • Tactile:  related to things that may be touched (with the hand or some other body part)
  • Kinesthetic:  related to motion and/or movement
  • Organic:  related to feelings inside the body (i.e. hunger, emotions)

Symbolism refers to things that represent other ideas.  For example, a white lamb in a poem may be a symbol for innocence.

So, although there might be symbols used in descriptive images, the two terms are not interchangeable.

 

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lsgirl | Student

Imagery is the formation of mental images, figures, or likenesses of things, or of such images collectively: the dim imagery of a dream.

Symbolism is the practice of representing things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character.