Reading Assignment: Roland Barthes Rhetoric of the Image

What are some of the key questions Barthes aims to investigate in the article?

Barthes aims to explore and scrutinize the synergy between three distinct types of information or message that a image can bring out to the people reading or looking at. The three types of messages areĀ linguistic, the coded and non-coded iconic messages. Barthes then discusses how these 3 elements is used to break down hidden and intentional meanings in an image with aid of our existing philosophy, knowledge and culture. He also challenges the boundaries as to how far we can go about decoding the messages found in an image.

What are some of the key terms/ concepts introduced and discussed?

  1. Linguistic message – The text the image that predominantly serves two major purposes, anchorage and relaying. Text can be used to help the target audience to shift and formulate towards the message the image was trying to convey. In a way it acts a guide to shift their focus in such a way that the audience are seeing the message like how the media wants them to see. Text can also be used as a form of extension towards the message that is put across through the picture. In these cases, the text carries more weightage. The text is helping to explain what the image is trying to say if the messages connoted from the image can be very general. In both cases, they are used to focus the target audience into thinking the right thing; the right message.
  2. Iconic messages (Coded) – Shows how the image is treated as it is, raw. The messages are just what we literally see in that image. There’s no underlying meaning. It’s just denotations.
  3. Iconic messages (Non-coded) – These are messages that are hidden and have to be connoted through our pre-existing knowledge and philosophies so that the real meaning can surface. This is always used to read between the lines of the coded messages that you get from an image to deconstruct the ideology behind the image/print even further.

Do you agree or disagree with his argument and point of view?

I would largely agree to his argument and point of view even though it has it’s limitations. Firstly, credits have to be given to Barthes, for constructing a form of structure to decipher the codes ( hidden or non-hidden ) within an image as it really encompasses the elements and thought process that went in to make an image or print for target audience to see and consume.

However, not all images are for print or for a purpose as to say. These prints Barthes mentioned have an idea or a message that needs to be told to groups of people in our society. For that this systematic way of deciphering it is all good, but when we are not looking at it from a perspective of advertisement, some images are just meant to be seen as it is. Using his perspective to decipher it will make little to no sense because sometimes images provoke your thinking and not to tell you what to think about (like how advertisement do).

Provide a brief analysis (200 words) on an advertisement of your choice by using the terms/ concepts proposed by Barthes and discuss the role of text and its relationship with the image in the advertisement. Please include an image the advertisement in your post.

Advertisement on Smoking


This is an advertisement on a campaign that influences people to stop smoking. Purely by denoting (Coded iconic messages), the attention is immediately shifted to the two huge cigarette sticks in the foreground of the picture and there is smoke coming off from it which covers the blue sky and enveloping the entire city in the background. Then you are swayed to the text that is sitting right about the mid-ground of the picture that says “STOP BURNING OUR LIFE”. Now if we were decipher this, the cigarettes are connoted to be the factory chimneys that give off all the harmful gases that causes air pollution. Similarly, the cigarettes gives of harmful gases too that endangers others and also the smokers themselves, known as “Second hand smoke”. Thus it’s seen as a pollution. To anchor this message further the Linguistic element of the image is used where it states “our” and not “your” which means they are trying to tell us that its everyone that’s getting affected just like how the smoke envelopes the entire city. The second text however is the campaign’s slogan so its of a very small and simple font so that it doesn’t come off as distracting or loud which would make the advertisement less effective.

Leave a Reply