Synesthesia, which is more prevalently known as a medical state described in neuropsychology, can be applied to literary pieces as well. In literature, it implies a specific linguistic technique when the author uses words in a figurative way, describing one of the senses using another, unrelated sense. For instance, calling a color “screaming” or “cool” is the literary synesthesia.

To understand this writing device, it is better to look at the medical origin of the term. In neuropsychology, synesthesia defines a condition when a person perceives a sensory sensation by means of another sense. For instance, some people feel that numbers have different colors or associate the letters of the alphabet with particular scents. Therefore, when synesthesia is applied in literature as a linguistic tool, it overlays one sense with another.

The term derives from the combination of two Greek words: “sýn” meaning “together”, “with”; and “aísthēsis”, which translates as “perception” or “sensation”. It was first mentioned in English approximately between 1885 and 1895 and was used only in medicine at that time.

Synesthesia is more prevalent in poetry than in prose since its use adds a more artistic and lyrical touch to the text. However, many prose authors use synesthesia to make their works look more appealing, creative, and interesting. By combining unusual descriptions and comparing unrelated sensory sensations, the authors are able to create a more vivid image and express themselves in more diverse and creative ways.

Literary synesthesia can be employed when the author wants to illustrate the character’s mental state, for instance, excitement or confusion. By overlapping the sensory perceptions, the author can enrich the character’s vocabulary and depict his or her emotions more brightly.

Oftentimes, the authors use synesthesia when they need to provide a very specific description of an object or a concept. In such a case, synesthesia allows them to highlight particular traits of an object and even enhance them. Therefore, synesthesia is an excellent way to illustrate a concept or an object in a very vivid, specific, and unique way.

Synesthesia serves to make the narration (especially in poetry) more complex. It allows the writers to illustrate some additional layers of meaning and step away from the ordinary literary descriptions. It is also an effective way to use and create new metaphors and similes, which can help the author improve his or her creative skills and explore the new sides of writing.

Synesthesia isn’t a very prevalent linguistic tool, as it is a complex and unique technique. Still, the number of its use examples is quite large. For instance, F. S. Fitzgerald used synesthesia in one of his works, “The Great Gatsby”. Here, the author presents an interesting word combination, “yellow cocktail music”. The author creates a new, cross-sensory description of music using the color word. By doing that, he allows the reader to feel and imagine that ambiance of cocktail parties, with light, bright, yellow music and a very particular atmosphere. When reading this synesthetic description, the reader is able to both hear and see the music. This is an excellent example of how synesthesia can create a vivid image and set the scene in a very specific way.

In “Divine Comedy”, Dante uses synesthesia to create a vivid description and enhance the feeling of despair that the scene is casting. The words “the sun is silent” are an excellent example of synesthesia being used to provide a very specific description and set the scene in a particular, unique way. By combining the word “sun” with the characteristic of a sound, “silent”, the author introduces a completely new, vivid metaphor, which helps him convey his message more clearly and specifically.

Shakespeare, being the master of literary tools and techniques, used synesthesia in some of his literary works. In one of them, “Othello”, the author describes the feeling of jealousy by using the words “green-eyed monster”.  In this case, synesthesia is a bit harder to spot as it is presented in a form of a metaphor. However, the author overlaps sensory phenomena and transfers the green color onto the feeling, creating a new, unique association.

The Summary
Synesthesia, being a term that originates from neuropsychology, is a literary technique that implies overlapping the sensory characteristics and describing objects or concepts in a figurative way. For instance, saying that some color is “screaming” is synesthesia as it involves transferring the sound characteristic onto the color.

Because synesthesia derives from neuropsychology, it’s important to understand its original meaning. As a medical condition, synesthesia defines a state when a person experiences sensory sensations through other unrelated senses. As an example, some people associate names with certain scents or see the colors of the music. 

The term was first used in the English language somewhere around 1885 and 1895. It derives from the words “sýn” and “aísthēsis” (Greek), which can be translated as “together” and “perception” and clearly explain the meaning of the term: to perceive a couple of senses together at the same time.

Authors use synesthesia in their works for a number of reasons. This literary tool can help them make the narration more artistic and lyrical, provide a very vivid and specific description, add more meaning to the text, or create new metaphors.