Images are comparisons between something the author describes, and an idea the author imagines for the sake of the comparison. For example, in Chapter 2 we quoted Catherine’s description of her love for Linton: ‘My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees’ (p. 82). This describes Catherine’s affection for Edgar by comparing it to ‘the foliage in the woods’. The attraction she feels towards Edgar is there in the story, it really exists: that is the literal side of the comparison. The foliage in the woods is not there, it is an image-idea Brontë makes Catherine imagine as a comparison for her feeling: that is the figurative side of the comparison. In this example, Catherine explains that her feeling is ‘like the foliage in the woods’. The word ‘like’ tells us that there is a comparison, so we call this image a simile. One page before this example, Catherine imagines that ‘every Linton on the face of the earth might melt into nothing’ (p. 81). This time the insignificance of the Lintons (the literal side of the comparison) is compared to a vision of them as they ‘melt into nothing’ (the figurative side); but none of the words tell us that it feels ‘as if’ they might melt, Brontë simply writes that the Lintons are soft and likely to melt. This kind of image is called a metaphor.
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