Examples of sense mixing in literature

Written by vanessa knight
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Examples of sense mixing in literature
Synaesthesia is a literary device that mixes senses. (notas de colores image by Imagenatural from Fotolia.com)

Sense mixing is a valuable literary device that makes a person's reading experience more realistic. The correct combination of any of the five senses is key to making this happen. There are many examples of sense mixing in literature that captures the reader's imagination and envelops her in the story.

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Realism is used to create imagery by using all of the five senses to depict something in an objective manner without the use of flowery writing. This literary technique also gives the reader a strong sense of what is immediately occurring in the present time frame of a novel. This device is usually centred on the character and not the plot. A good example of realism in literature is Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," where sight and sound are used to describe what is happening to the main character:

"Upstairs the hall was dark, but I found the duke's room, and started to paw around it with my hands...so then I went to his room and begun to paw around there. But I see I couldn't do nothing without a candle, and I dasn't light one, of course...About that time I hears their footsteps coming, and was going to skip under the bed; I reached for it, but it wasn't where I thought it would be...so I jumped in behind that and snuggled in amongst the gowns, and stood there perfectly still."


Synaesthesia is another example of sense mixing used in literature. Technically it is a neurological condition where one type of sensory stimulus causes the activation of another sensory stimulus. In literature, synaesthesia is used to mix senses together following the same concept, but modified for the written word. In literary terms it's the use of one sense to describe another sense. Some good examples of synaesthesia are warm sounds, fragrant words, seeing sounds as colour, etc.


Imagery uses all five of the senses and mixes them to engage the reader and activate some kind of reaction, whether it is emotional, logical, philosophical or physical. This literary device is mainly used to describe something to the reader, and at times is used in conjunction with other sense-mixing techniques, genres or styles like realism. Imagery also recreates or describes events, settings and character actions. A good example of imagery is in Shakespeare's "Hamlet," where the main character repeatedly mixes and describes certain images in order to expose themes of deceit, murder, evil and truth. Shakespeare uses words like "inky cloak" and "harlot's cheek, beautied with plastering art" to describe what the characters are doing. In those particular examples, Hamlet is stating that the characters are hiding something.

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