Literary Terms Glossary
Literary Terms and
Critical Thinking Terms
- absolute – a word free from limitations or qualifications (best, all, perfect)
- accent – when a part of a word, phrase or sentence is spoken with greater force or stronger tone
- adage – a familiar proverb or wise saying
- ad hominem argument – to the man; appealing to personal interests, prejudices or emotions rather than to reason; an argument attacking an individual’s character rather than his or her position on an issue
- allegory – a literary work with two or more levels of meaning: one literal level and one or more symbolic levels. The events, settings, objects or characters in an allegory stand for ideas of qualities beyond themselves. (Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory of the spiritual journey.)
- alliteration – the repetition of initial consonant sounds of several words in a group. It is often used in poetry to emphasize and to link words as well as to create pleasing, musical sounds. (“Out from the marsh, from the foot of misty/ Hills and bogs, bearing God’s hatred, Grendel came.” Beowulf)
- allusion – a reference to a well-known person, place, event, literary work or work of art. Allusions often come from the Bible, classical Greek and Roman myths, plays by Shakespeare, historical or political events and other materials authors expect their readers to know.
- ambiguity – is the intentional or unintentional expression of a word or idea that implies more than one meaning and usually leaves uncertainty in the reader – a statement that can contain two or more meanings.
- anachronism – anything out of its proper time (an airplane in the Odyssey)
- anadiplosis – repeating the end of a word of a clause as the beginning of the next one (“Pleasure might cause her to read, reading might cause her to know, knowledge might piety win, and piety grace obtain.”)
- anagram – the rearrangement of the letters in a word or phrase to make another word or phrase (Drab is an anagram of bard.)
- analogy – a comparison made between two objects, situations or ideas that are somewhat alike but unlike in most respects
- analysis – is the process of studying the whole by examining its parts
- anaphora – the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of several successive verses, clauses, or paragraphs
- anecdote – is a brief story about an interesting, amusing or strange event
- antagonist – is a character or force in conflict with the main character (protagonist) in a literary work (In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Green Knight is the antagonist, who challenges Sir Gawain.)
- antecedent - means going before or preceding. It is also a word, phrase or clause that a relative pronoun refers to.
- anticlimax – is often used deliberately for comic effect to create an ironical letdown by descending from a noble tone or image to a trivial or ludicrous one
- antihero – a protagonist who lacks traditional heroic virtues and noble qualities and is sometimes inept, cowardly, stupid or dishonest—yet sensitive (Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights)
- antipathy – a strong feeling of aversion or opposition
- antithesis – a statement in which two opposing ideas are balanced; a figure of speech in which contrasting or paradoxical ideas are presented in parallel form (“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”)
- aphorism – a general truth or observation about life, usually stated concisely and pointedly. It can be witty or wise. (Francis Bacon – “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.”)
- apostrophe – is where a speaker directly addresses an absent person or a personified quality, object or idea. It is often used in poetry and in speeches to add emotional intensity. (Percy Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” addresses the wind.)
- archetype – an image, a descriptive detail, a plot pattern or a character type that occurs frequently in literature, myth, religion or folklore and is, therefore, believed to evoke profound emotions in the reader because it awakens a primordial image in the unconscious memory. Archetypes can be primitive and universal and consist of general themes like birth, death, coming of age, love, guilt, redemption, conflict between free will and destiny, rivalry among family members, fertility rites; of characters like the hero rebel, the wanderer, the devil, the buffoon; and of creatures like the lion, serpent or eagle.
- argument – a set of logically related statements consisting of a conclusion and one or more premises. The premises are the reasons for accepting the conclusion. Argument can also refer to a brief summary, or synopsis, of a literary work.
- aside – a brief speech in which a character turns from the person he/she is addressing to speak directly to the audience—a dramatic device for letting the audience know what he/she is really thinking or feeling as opposed to what he/she pretends to think or feel. (Macbeth speaking: “If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me / Without my stir.”)
- assonance- the repetition of vowel sounds in stressed syllables containing dissimilar consonant sounds (Robert Browning – “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” The long “e” sound is repeated in “reach” and “exceed.”)
- asyndeton – the omission of conjunctions from constructions in which they would normally be used – speeds up the rhythm of the sentence (“I came, I saw, I conquered.”)
- avant-garde – (French – “advance guard”) art and literature that are ahead of their time, that are innovative and that often attack established conventions
- ballad –a song-like poem that tells a story, often one dealing with adventure or romance. Ballads often employ repetition of a refrain.
- ballad meter – a four-line stanza rhymed abcb with four feet in lines one and three and three feet in lines two and four:
“O mother, mother make my bed.
O make it soft and narrow.
Since my love died for me today,
I’ll die for him tomorrow.”
- bandwagon – a propaganda technique that encourages people to think or act in some way simply because other people are doing so
- bathos – a figure of speech which descends from the sublime to the ridiculous in an attempt to create a grandiose or pathetic effect (an unintentional anticlimax) (found in Lord Byron’s mocking epic Don Juan)
- beast fable – a tale or collection of tales written in mock epic, allegorical style, in which the central characters are animals and the tone is often satirical and purpose is to teach a moral or social truth (Aesop’s fables, Orwell’s Animal Farm and Kipling’s The Jungle Book)
- begging the question – (a fallacy) This fallacy occurs when someone assumes the truth of the statement to be proved without providing any evidence to support the statement. (“Everyone knows that contemporary poetry is obscure.” No evidence is given to support the claim.)
- black humor – a substantial aspect of the Theatre (Drama) of the Absurd and of much modern fiction. The term describes sardonically humorous effects derived from mordant wit or grotesque situations that deal with anxiety, suffering or death. The tone is often one of resignation, anger or bitterness. (Kafka’s The Metamorphosis)
- blank verse – unrhymed iambic pentameter. Blank verse is the meter of most of Shakespeare’s plays as well as that of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
- burlesque – a form of comedy, generally associated with stage performances, that achieves its effects through distortion, exaggeration and imitation
- Byronic hero – an antihero who is a romanticized but wicked character, a young, attractive male with a bad reputation. He defies authority and conventional morality and become paradoxically ennobled by his peculiar rejection of virtue. Byronic heroes are associated with destructive passions, selfish brooding, loneliness, intense introspection and fiery rebellion. (James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, and Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost.)
- caesura – a natural pause or break in the middle of a line of poetry
- canto – a section of a long poem
- caricature – a distorted or exaggerated portrayal of a person. It is used to ridicule personal flaws and general social failings. Although one thinks of caricatures as distorted drawings, caricature of characters appears in literature. (Charles Dickens – Ebenezer Scrooge in The Christmas Carol and Miss Havisham in Great Expectations)
- carpe diem – a Latin phrase meaning “seize the day.” Many great literary works have been written with the carpe diem theme, urging people to live for the moment. (Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.”)
- catalog – a list of people, things or attributes included in a literary work basically to overwhelm the reader with the number of items mentioned. The epic uses the catalog of heroes, or ships, of armor and such. The Bible has many catalogs, the most notable example being the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, chapter 1. In the Renaissance, the sonnet and the lyric cataloged the charms of the beloved.
- catastrophe – in classical dramatic structure, a term for the final unwinding of the plot in which dramatic conflict comes to an end
- catharsis – (means a purging or a cleansing) the process by which an unhealthy emotional state produced by an imbalance of feelings is corrected and emotional health is restored. In literature, it refers to the audience’s emotional response to a tragic work. Catharsis is an emotional cleansing or expurgation.
- character – a person or animal that takes part in the action of a literary work. Major characters are those who play important roles in a work; minor characters are those who play lesser roles. A complex character is considered a “round” character while a simple character is “flat.” A dynamic character changes throughout the work, but a static character remains the same.
- chiasmus – the reversal of syntax or word order for effect (“Empty his bottle, and his girlfriend gone.”)
- circular reasoning – (a fallacy) This fallacy occurs when the evidence given to support a claim is simply a restatement of the claim in other words. (“Wordsworth should be considered a nature poet because he wrote poems about nature.” The second part of the statement simply restates the claim made in the first part.)
- classical – usually a term referring to the classics or to 5th and 4th centuries B.C. in Greece and to the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D in Rome, when each culture reached its artistic culmination. In literature and art, it is a term used to express dominance of form over content; technical precision over emotional expressiveness; clarity, restraint and rationality over ambiguity; extravagance and free play of the imagination.
- clause – a group of words containing a subject and its verb that may or may not be a complete sentence
- cliché – a trite phrase that has become overused. Clichés are considered bad writing and bad literature. (“There’s no place like home.” “The check is in the mail.” “As easy as pie.”)
- climax - the high point of interest of suspense in a literary work. It is usually the crisis in the plot, the point at which the protagonist changes his or her understanding of the situation. Sometimes the climax coincides with the resolution, the point at which the central conflict is resolved.
- “cogito ergo sum” - Latin phrase meaning “I think, therefore I exist.” This was an axiom (a statement which is regarded as being established, accepted or self-evidently true) of Descartes and his philosophy.
- colloquial – a word or phrase used every day in plain and relaxed speech but rarely found in formal writing, usually pertinent to a given area (“I hear tell that Jake got a new truck.” – southern slang)
- comedy – a work of literature, especially a play that has a happy ending. Comedies often show ordinary characters in conflict with their societies. Comedy is often contrasted with tragedy.
- comedy of manners – a play satirizing the fashions, manners and outlook on life of an artificial, highly sophisticated society (Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Jane Austen’s novels – Pride and Prejudice)
- comic relief – is the feeling created by a humorous action or speech that appears within a serious work of literature. It is often used to emphasize, by contrast, the seriousness of the main action. (the drunken Porter in Macbeth; the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet)
- conceit - an unusual and surprising comparison between two very different things. This special kind of metaphor or complicated analogy is often the basis for a whole poem. It is also a whimsical, ingenious, extended metaphor in which an object, scene, person, situation or emotion is presented in terms of a simpler analogue, usually from nature or a context familiar to author and reader alike. The metaphysical poets used conceit to startle the reader by showing a very exact correspondence between a thought or emotion and some particular aspect of a seemingly alien and inappropriate object. (John Donne used a drawing compass to describe the bond between the soul of him and his mistress.)
- conclusion – anything that follows reasonably from something else. In a literary work, the conclusion is the final part, or ending, of the work.
- conflict – a struggle between opposing forces. The struggle can be internal, within the character. The struggle can be external—between the character and some outside force. The four types of conflict in literature are as follows: (1) man against man, (2) man against self, (3) man against nature and (4) man against society.
- connotation – an association that a word calls to mind in addition to its dictionary meaning (Home and domicile have the same dictionary meaning, but home has positive and warm connotations while domicile does not.)
- consonance – the repetition of consonant sounds in stressed syllables containing dissimilar vowel sounds (“On a hot, hot day, and I in pajamas for the heat…” Note that the consonants are the same, but the vowels are different.)
- contrast – the process of observing and pointing out differences
- convention – any device or style or subject matter which has become, in its time and by reason of its habitual use, a recognized means of literary expression, an accepted element in technique. (soliloquy associated with drama, simile with poetry, and catalog with the epic)
- couplet – a pair of rhyming lines written in the same meter. Shakespeare ended his sonnets with couplets. (“So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” Sonnet XVIII – Shakespeare)
- crisis – in the plot of a story or play is the turning point for the protagonist and often coincides with the climax of the story
- cynicism - is a cynical attitude or character. Cynical means being contemptuous of the motives or virtues of others—mocking and sneering. (Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights)
- dactyl – a metrical foot of three syllables, an accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables
- damning with faint praise (fallacy) attacking a person by formally praising him/her, but for an achievement that should not be praised
- dead metaphor – is a metaphor that has been overused to the point that its original impact has been lost (“the foot of the bed” and “toe the line”)
- decadence – a term used in literature or art history for the decline that marks the end of a great artistic period. The general characteristics of decadence are often self-consciousness, artificiality, over-refinement and perversity.
- decorum – deals with the ideal of propriety. It stemmed from the classical authors and was used widely by the 17th and 18th century writers. It stressed that literary works had to be polished, dignified, clear, rational and elevated.
- deduction - is a form of argument in which the conclusion has to be true if the premises are true. (EX. People living in the 18th century had no experience with cars. Dr. Johnson lived in the 18th century. Dr. Johnson had no experience with cars.)
- deism – a belief in the existence of a personal God who is manifested neither supernaturally in history nor in nature
- “déjà vu” – French for “already seen” – an experience involving a feeling of familiarity in a place where one has never been before or in a situation one has not before experienced
- denotation – a word’s actual dictionary meaning as opposed to a word’s connotative meaning
- denouement – in a literary work, it is anything that happens after the resolution of the plot. At this point the central conflict is resolved, and the consequences for the protagonist are already decided. It is the tying up of loose ends.
- determinism – the belief that all apparent acts of the will are actually the result of causes which determine them. In classical literature, it may be fate. In Calvinistic teachings, it may be the predestined will of God. (Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles)
- Devil’s advocate - one who deliberately takes the opposite in an argument to prove a point; a destructive critic who searches for flaws to bring out the whole truth
- dialect – a variety of speech characterized by its own particular grammar or pronunciation, often associated with a particular geographical region
- dialectic – In classical literature, it refers to the tradition of continuing debate or discussion of eternally unresolved issues, such as beauty vs. truth or the individual vs. the state.
- diction – is word choice. Diction can be formal or informal, abstract or concrete, plain or ornate, ordinary or technical. A writer’s choice of words has great impact in a literary work. Hemingway stated that he had to rewrite the ending to A Farewell to Arms 39 times. When asked why, he answered, “Getting the words right.” (Archaic diction refers to words that are no longer in everyday use.)
- didactic – instructiveness in a literary work, one of the purposes of which appears to be to give guidance, particularly in moral, ethical or religious matters. Didactic literature (especially poetry) teaches moral lessons. (Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale”)
- digression – to stray from the main subject in speaking or writing
- dilemma – a situation that requires a person to decide between two equally attractive or equally unattractive alternatives
- dime novel – a cheaply made, often sensational and melodramatic paperback novel of history, crime or adventure, printed in America in the latter half of the 19th century. These novels were priced at ten cents each.
- dirge – a lamentation sung or recited at a funeral or composed in commemoration of a death; a sad song
- discursive – digressing from subject to subject; relating to discourse or modes of discourse
- dissonance – harsh and inharmonious sounds that are discordant with the words and the rhythms surrounding them in a line or sentence
- drama of the absurd – a type of drama allied to comedy, radically nonrealistic in both content and presentation, that emphasizes the absurdity, emptiness or meaninglessness of life (Kafka’s The Metamorphosis where Gregor, whose life seems empty, morphs into a gigantic beetle – and R&G Are Dead)
- dramatic irony – when there is a contradiction between what a character thinks and what the reader or audience knows to be true (Oedipus is unaware that he killed his own father and married his mother.)
- dramatic monologue – a lyric poem in which a speaker addresses a silent or absent listener in a moment of high intensity or deep emotion, as if engaged in private conversation. The speaker proceeds without interruption or argument, and the effect on the reader is that of hearing just one side of a conversation. This takes the reader inside the speaker’s mind. (Robert Browning’s “The Last Duchess”)
- dynamic character – a character who is different at the end of the book than he/she was at the beginning of the book. The character has undergone changes and has matured greatly, usually learning harsh lessons along the way. (Pip in Great Expectations or Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird)
- elegy – a solemn and formal lyric poem about death—often in tribute to a person who has died recently. Most elegies are written in formal, dignified language and are serious in tone. (Tennyson’s In Memoriam and Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”) (elegiac is the adjective form)
- Elizabethan drama – English comic and tragic plays produced during the Renaissance—during the last years of and the few years after Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Thus, Shakespeare is an Elizabethan dramatist, although more than one-third of his active career lies in the reign of James I who succeeded Queen Elizabeth I to the throne. Modern English drama developed so rapidly and brilliantly that the Elizabethan Era is the golden age of English drama.
- ellipsis – the omission of a word or phrase which is grammatically necessary but can be deduced from the context (“Some people prefer cats; others, dogs.”) – A series of marks used in writing to show omission of words (“To be…that is the question.”)
- Enlightenment, The – a philosophical movement of the 18th century, particularly in France but effectively over much of Europe and America. The Enlightenment celebrated reason, the scientific method and human beings’ ability to perfect themselves and society. In England, Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Pope and others responded to the elements of Enlightenment thought.
- end-stopped – a line with a pause at the end. Lines that end with a period, comma, colon, semicolon, exclamation point, or question mark are end-stopped lines.
- epic – a long, narrative poem about the adventures of gods or of a hero. The epic usually presents an encyclopedic portrait of the culture in which it was produced (The Odyssey and Beowulf).
- epigram – a brief, pointed statement in prose or in verse. It developed from simple inscriptions on monuments into a literary genre—short poems or sayings characterized by conciseness, balance, clarity and wit. Epigrams are used for many purposes, including the expression of friendship, grief, criticism, praise and philosophy. (from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism – “Good nature and good sense must ever join; To err is human, to forgive, divine.”)
- epigraph – is a quotation that appears at the beginning of a literary work. It usually introduces a motif or theme that is developed in the work itself.
- epilogue – the final part of a work of literature (except a play) completing and rounding it off; the opposite of preface
- epiphany – a moment of sudden revelation or insight
- epistle – Theoretically, an epistle is any letter, but in practice the term is limited to formal compositions written by an individual or group to a distant individual or group.
- epitaph – is an inscription on a tomb or monument to honor the memory of a deceased person. It is also used to describe any verse commemorating someone who has died. It may be serious or humorous.
- epithet – is a brief phrase that points out traits associated with a particular person or thing. Homer’s Iliad contains many examples of epithets, such as the references to Achilles as “the great runner” and to Hector a “killer of men.”
- essay – a short, nonfiction work about a particular subject. It can be formal or informal. It may be classified as descriptive, narrative, expository, argumentative or persuasive.
- 109. eulogy – a formal piece of writing or an oration in praise of a person or thing; it has come to mean any general expression of praise
- euphemism – a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing (“downsizing” is a euphemism for cutting jobs)
- euphony – a term that denotes sounds pleasing to the ear; it is the opposite of cacophony
- eureka – Greek meaning “I have found it” – an exclamation of delight at having made a discovery
- exemplum – a short tale or anecdote with a moral, especially one used in a medieval sermon (Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale” illustrates the moral that “love of wealth is the root of all evil.”)
- 114. expletive – an interjection to lend emphasis; sometimes, a profanity
- 115. exposition – (1) lays the groundwork for the plot and provides the reader with essential background information. Characters are introduced, the setting is described, and the major conflict is identified. Although the exposition generally appears at the opening of a work, it may also occur later in the narrative. (2) is writing or speech that explains, informs or presents information. Types of exposition include analysis, classification, comparison and contrast, definition and xemplification.
- fable – a brief story, usually with animal characters, that teaches a lesson or moral. Aesop, a Greek writer of the 6th century, wrote the earliest fables.
- 117. fact – a statement that can be proved true or false by evidence
- fallacy – a logical fallacy is an error in reasoning. In the attempt to make persuasive arguments, people often fall into such errors.
- 119. falling action – is all of the action that takes place after the climax in a literary work. During this time, the conflict is resolved, and the suspense decreases.
- false dilemma – (fallacy) This is an argument that forces an opponent to choose between two alternatives both unfavorable to him/her.
- 121. fantasy – is highly imaginative writing that contains elements not found in real life. Some fantasies include extreme or grotesque characters. Others portray realistic characters in a realistic world who only marginally overstep the bounds of reality.
- 122. farce – a kind of comedy that features physical horseplay, stereotypical characters and absurd plots, often ones involving mistaken identities and recognition scenes. The writer of farce uses exaggeration, irony and witty dialogue to move his or her audience to laughter. (Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew)
- 123. figurative language – is writing or speech not meant to be interpreted literally. It creates vivid word pictures and makes writing emotionally intense and concentrated (simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification, apostrophe. etc.).
- 124. flashback – a section of a literary work that interrupts the sequence of events to relate an event from an earlier time
- 125. flat character – a character who embodies a single quality and who does nor develop in the course of the story
- 126. foil – a character who provides a contrast to another character, thus intensifying the impact of that other character (Laertes is a foil to Hamlet.)
- 127. folklore – includes the stories, legends, myths, ballads, riddles, sayings and other traditional works produced orally by illiterate or semi-literate peoples
- 128. foreshadowing – is the use, in a literary work, of clues that suggest events that have yet to occur. Writers use this to create suspense or to prepare the audience for the eventual outcome of events.
- 129. form – of a literary work is its structure, shape, pattern, organization or style—the way it is made. Form is different from content, which is what it is about. When applied to poetry, form refers to all the principles of arrangement in a poem—the ways in which the words and images are organized and patterned to produce a pleasing whole, including the length and placement of lines and the grouping of lines into stanzas. Elements of form—such as the sound devices of rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, consonance, and assonance—work together with elements such as figurative language and imagery to shape a poem, convey meaning and create a total experience for the reader.
- 130. forms of discourse – are the main types of writing: description, narration, exposition and persuasion
- 131. framework story or frame device – a story within a narrative setting or framework, a story within a story. This is a convention frequently used in classical and modern writing (Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Frankenstein, and Wuthering Heights).
- 132. free verse – poetry which is not written in a traditional meter but is still rhythmical. (Walt Whitman’s poetry)
- generalization - is a statement that applies to more than one thing. (Elizabethan poetry often praised Queen Elizabeth. This is a generalization because it applies to more than one Elizabethan poem. To avoid overgeneralizations, use qualifiers such as: few, some, many, most, etc.).
- genre – a term used in literary criticism to designate the distinct types or categories into which literary works are grouped according to form or technique or, sometimes, subject matter (tragedy, comedy, epic, lyric, pastoral, novel, short story, essay, plays, television, movie)
- gothic – is a term used to describe literary works that make extensive use of primitive, Medieval, wild, mysterious, or natural elements. Gothic novels like Frankenstein are often set in gloomy locations where horrifying, supernatural events occur.
- grotesque – characterized by distortions or incongruities. The fiction of Poe is often described as grotesque.
- heroic couplet – iambic pentameter lines rhymed in pairs. The favorite meter of Chaucer, this verse form did not come into its greatest popularity, however, until the middle of the 17th century, after which time it was for several years the dominant mode for the poetic drama.
“But when to mischief mortals bend their will,
How soon they find fit instruments of ill.”
- hexameter - a line containing six feet
- homily – a sermon or a moralistic lecture
- hubris – Greek – extreme pride. Hubris is a tragic flaw of pride, ambition or overconfidence that leads a hero to ignore warnings of the gods or to disregard established moral codes, resulting in the hero’s downfall. (Macbeth in Macbeth)
- humor – In literature there are three basic types of humor, all of which may involve exaggeration or irony. Humor of situation is derived from the plot of a work. It usually involves exaggerated events or situational irony, which occurs when something happens that is different from what was expected. Humor of character is often based on exaggerated personalities or on characters who fail to recognize their own flaws, a form of dramatic irony. Humor of language may include sarcasm, exaggeration, puns or verbal irony, which occurs when what is said is not what is meant.
- hyperbole – is a deliberate exaggeration or overstatement (I could sleep for a year. This book weighs a ton.) Macbeth after murdering King Duncan, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?”
- 143. hypothetical question – a question that raises a hypothesis, conjecture, or supposition
- iambic pentameter – is metrical poetry that consists of five iambic feet per line (iamb, or iambic foot, consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable – ex. “away” the “a” is unstressed and “way” is stressed) Milton – “How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth.”
- idealism – the practice of seeing or representing things in ideal form rather than as they usually exist in real life; the opposite of the realist who conforms
- idiom – an expression having a special meaning not obtainable or not clear from the usual meaning of the words in the expression (“fly off the handle” or “on pins and needles” or “raining cats and dogs”)
- 147. idyll – a pastoral poem, usually brief, describing the picturesque in country life and conveying a mood of peace and contentment. Any bucolic, peaceful, romantic episode or period in life or literature that might be a suitable subject for an idyll. (Tennyson’s Idylls of the King deal with the Arthurian Legend.)
- imagery – is the descriptive language used in literature to recreate sensory experiences relating to sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell. Imagery enriches writing by making it more vivid, setting a tone, suggesting emotions and guiding the reader’s reaction.
- imperative – constituting the mood that expresses a command or request
- implication – a suggestion an author or speaker makes (implies) without stating it directly (NOTE: the author/sender implies; the reader/audience infers)
- inciting incident – in a plot, it introduces the central conflict
- incongruity – is a juxtaposition of incompatible or opposite elements. (Pope’s The Rape of the Lock uses the formality of the epic style, but the subject centers on a lock of hair.)
- induction – is a form of argument in which the conclusion is probably but not necessarily true. It is the production of facts to prove a general statement. Literary study often involves induction. After reading several works by one author in a particular period, you could induct generalizations about his work. (Thomas Hardy’s use of rural settings and their purpose in his novels)
- inference – is any logical or reasonable conclusion based on known facts or accepted premises. The conclusions of both deductive and inductive arguments are inferences.
- “in medias res” – Latin for “in the middle of things.” When an epic or narrative starts in media res, the tale begins in the middle of the action.
- 156. interlude – a form of dramatic entertainment that originated as a brief skit between meals. It was a transitional form between the Miracle plays and the Morality plays of the Middle Ages.
- 157. internal rhyme – is rhyme that occurs within a line, rather than at the end
Ex. “God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!
Why look’st thou so?—With my crossbow
I shot the Albatross.”
- invective – an intensely vehement, highly emotional verbal attack
- inversion – a reversal or change in the regular word order of a sentence
- invocation – an appeal to a Muse or to another divine being for help in writing a poem. In ancient Greece and Rome, writers often began their work by calling for the aid of the Muses, who were the 9 daughters of Zeus, responsible for the various arts.
- irony – is a contrast between expectation and reality, usually surprising the reader or viewer. The techniques of irony include hyperbole, understatement and sarcasm. Irony is often subtle and easily overlooked or misinterpreted.
(1) Situation irony – occurs when a character or the reader expects one thing to
happen but something else actually happens (Hardy’s “Ah, Are You Digging on
(2) Verbal irony – occurs when a writer or character says one thing but means
another (Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”)
(3) Dramatic irony – occurs when the reader or viewer knows something that a
character does not know (Lady Macbeth plotting King Duncan’s murder)
- jargon – the special language of a profession or group. The term jargon usually has pejorative (downgrading, lower opinion) associations, with the implication that jargon is evasive, tedious and unintelligible to outsiders. The writings of the lawyer and the literary critic are both susceptible to jargon. Computer jargon has been popular the past twenty years.
- judgment – a statement about the quality or value of something. A sound judgment of a literary work is one that is based on evidence derived from careful reading and thoughtful analysis.
- juxtaposition – two contrasting elements side by side. (Two scenes in Macbeth: Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are discussing the murder of Duncan; in the following scene, Duncan arrives at the castle and comments on how “sweet” the air about the castle smells.)
- kenning – is a metaphorical phrase used in Anglo-Saxon poetry to replace a concrete noun (Beowulf – “whale road” used for “sea”)
- laureate – one honored by a crown of laurel; hence, one especially singled out because of distinctive achievement. The term has come to be most frequently used in the British post of “Poet Laureate.” It is also applied to the recipient of other major honors, as a Nobel Laureate.
- legend – is a widely told story about the past, one that may or may not have a foundation in fact. It often reflects a people’s identity or cultural values, generally with more historical truth and less emphasis on the supernatural than in a myth. (King Arthur, Robin Hood)
- limerick – a humorous, epigrammatic (in style of epigram: concise and clever) piece of verse in five lines (There once was a….)
- limited point of view – is when the knowledge of the storyteller is limited to the internal states of one character
- literal – not figurative; accurate to the letter, matter of fact or concrete
- litotes – ironical understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary (“I shan’t be sorry for I shall be glad.”)
- lyric poem – is a highly musical verse that expresses the observations and feelings of a single speaker. Unlike a narrative poem, it presents an experience or a single effect, but it does not tell a full story. Types of lyrics include the elegy, the ode and the sonnet.
- malapropism – the mistaken substitution of one word for another word that sounds similar (“The doctor wrote a subscription.”)
- masque – a form of dramatic entertainment. The masque, like drama, probably found its roots in primitive fertility rites. It appears in many societies in many forms. Usually it ends with a dance where both spectator and performer dance.
- 175. maxim – a concise statement, often offering advice; an adage
- melodrama – a play spoken with musical accompaniment. At one time it meant an opera, but today it indicates a play, with or without music, with a romantic plot and appealing to the emotions of the spectators.
- metaphor – is a comparison between two unlike things without using “like” or “as.” “Time’s winged chariot” is a metaphor in which the swift passage of time is compared to a speeding chariot. An extended metaphor is one that is developed at length and involves several points of comparison. A mixed metaphor occurs when two are jumbled together (thorns and rain as in “the thorns of life rained down on him.” A dead metaphor is one that is overused.
- metaphysical poetry – is a style of poetry written by a group of 17th-century poets, of whom John Donne was the first. These poets were intellectuals who, like the ideal Renaissance man, were well-read in a broad spectrum of subjects. Although their poems often used simplistic words, their meaning was obscure or confusing due to the poets’ use of paradox.
- meter – is the repetition of a regular rhythmic unit in poetry. Each unit of measure is known as a foot, consisting of one stressed syllable and one or two unstressed syllables.
- metonymy – a figure of speech that substitutes something closely related for the thing actually meant (“Just for a handful of silver he left us,” refers to money. The crown can be the king, the White House can be the government. “The pen [writing] is mightier than the sword [war/fighting]”.)
- metrical romance – a romantic tale in verse. The term is applied both to such medieval verse romances as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and to the type of verse romances produced by Lord Byron.
- 182. mime – an early form of comedy, probably originating in Italy, where players combined dialogue with dancing and suggestive gestures. Today no dialogue is heard.
- 183. mock epic – is a poem about a trivial matter written in the style of a serious epic. The incongruity of style and subject matter produces comic effects (Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.)
- 184. monologue – is a speech or performance given entirely by one person or by one character
- 185. mood – or atmosphere, is the feeling created in the reader by a literary work or passage. The mood is YOUR reaction and feeling to a work; the tone is the WRITER’s attitude. Writers create mood through the following: connotation, details, dialogue, imagery, figurative language, foreshadowing, setting and rhythm.
- 186. morality play – These plays were allegorical dramas of the late Middle Ages. Characters are always abstract personifications. The most famous morality play is Everyman with its abstract characters.
- 187. motif – is a recurring literary convention or element that is repeated within a literary work. It could be synonymous with theme, but usually motif unifies a work and adds to its theme. (In Macbeth, references to blood, sleep and water form motifs in the play.)
- 188. motivation – is a reason that explains or partially explains a character’s thoughts, feelings, actions or speech
- 189. Muses – Nine goddesses represented as presiding over song, the various departments of literature and the liberal arts. They are generally considered to be the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory). In literature, their traditional significance is that of inspiring and helping poets.
(1) Calliope – Muse of epic poetry (symbols are tablet and stylus, sometimes a
(2) Clio – Muse of heroic poetry or history (symbol is a scroll or an open chest of
(3) Erato – Muse of love poetry (symbol is a lyre)
(4) Euterpe – Muse of music, particularly wind instruments (symbol is flute)
(5) Melpomene – Muse of tragedy (symbols are a tragic mask, club of Hercules
and a sword)
(6) Polyhymnia – Muse of sacred poetry and hymns (no symbol but sits in a
(7) Terpsichore – Muse of choral song and dance (symbol is a lyre)
(8) Thalia – Muse of comedy (symbols are a comic mask, a shepherd’s crook and
a wreath of ivy)
(9) Urania – Muse of astronomy (symbol is a staff pointing to a globe)
- myth – a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events (ancient Celtic myths or the heroes of Greek myths)
- narcissism – describes a neurotic obsession with one’s own person. (Narcissus was loved by the nymph Echo, but when he failed to return her love, she caused him to fall in love with his reflection in a pool of water. He pined away and was turned into the flowers that bears his name.) Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, where Dorian’s narcissistic behavior destroys him)
- narrative – is writing that tells a story and is one of the major forms of discourse
- 193. narrator – the one who tells the story; may be first- or third-person, limited or omniscient
- naturalism – a term that is sometimes applied to writing that demonstrates a deep interest in nature, such as Wordsworth and other Romantic writers had and sometimes used to describe any form of extreme realism. In its simplest sense, naturalism is the application of the principles of scientific determinism to fiction and drama.
- neoclassicism – a revival in the 17th and 18th centuries of classical standards of order, balance and harmony in literature. John Dryden and Alexander Pope were major exponents of the neoclassical school.
- nonfiction – prose writing that is about real people, places and events. It is largely concerned with factual information, although the writer selects and interprets the information according to his or her purpose and viewpoint. Nonfiction includes autobiographies, biographies, letters, essays, diaries, journals, memoirs and speeches.
- non sequitur – a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement
- novel – a long work of fiction. It usually has a complicated plot, many major and minor characters, a significant theme and several settings.
- novella – is a serious fictional form that is somewhere between the novel and the short story in length (Conrad’s The Secret Sharer and Heart of Darkness are novellas as well as Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.)
- objectivity – a quality in a literary work of impersonality, of freedom from the expression of personal sentiments, attitudes, or emotions by the author (subjectivity is the opposite and is based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions)
- 201. octave – first 8 lines of a sonnet
- 202. ode – a formal lyric poem with a serious theme. Odes often honor people, commemorate events, respond to natural scenes or consider serious human problems. (Percy Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”)
- 203. omniscient point of view – when the storyteller’s knowledge extends to the internal states of all the characters. This all-knowing point of view gives the writer greater flexibility and provides the reader with access to all the characters’ motivations and responses to events that may be occurring simultaneously. (D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner”)
- 204. onomatopoeia – use of words whose sounds echo their meanings, such as buzz, whisper, gargle and murmur
- 205. oral tradition – the passing of songs, stories and poems from generation to generation by word of mouth (Beowulf)
- 206. overstatement – synonymous with hyperbole; an exaggeration
- 207. oxymoron – a combination of contradictory terms or ideas (“loving hate” in Romeo and Juliet)
- palindrome – a word or line reads the same backward as it does forward (Madam, I’m Adam.)
- parable – is a brief story that is meant to teach a lesson or to illustrate a moral truth. It is more than a simple story. Each detail of the parable corresponds to some aspect of the problem or moral dilemma to which it is directed. (The prodigal son in the Bible is a parable.)
- paradox – a statement that seems to be contradictory but that actually reveals some element of truth.
- parallelism – the repetition of a grammatical pattern to express ideas that are related or equal in importance. The parallel elements may be words, phrases, sentences or paragraphs. (“Is it wise / To hug misery / To make a song?” Infinitives are repeated here.)
- paraphrase – is a restatement in different words. One is not to alter the meaning of the words, merely translate what the writer has said into equivalent words of one’s own.
- 213. parenthetical – a comment that interrupts the immediate subject, often to qualify or explain
- parody – imitates or mocks another work or type of literature. The purpose of a parody may be to ridicule through broad humor, or it may broaden understanding of or add insight to the original work. (Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a parody on Hamlet.) (Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” is a parody of love poetry.)
- pastoral – a poem presenting shepherds in rural settings, usually in an idealized manner. The language and form are artificial, using formal, courtly speech. Pastoral can also be any literary work that deals with the pleasures of a simple, rural life or with escape to a simpler place and time—typically in a romanticized or idealized form. (Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”)
- pathos – is the quality in a literary work that arouses feelings of pity, sorrow or compassion in a reader or the audience (the murdering of Macduff’s family in Macbeth)
- 217. pedantic – characterized by an excessive display of learning or scholarship
- 218. pentameter – a line of poetry containing five feet. The iambic pentameter is the most common line in English verse written before 1950.
- 219. peroration – the concluding part of a speech, typically intended to inspire enthusiasm in the audience (Martin Luther King’s speeches, sermons)
- persona – is the “I” created by an author and through whom the author unravels his perceptions of characters and events (Narrator, Marlowe, is Conrad’s persona in Heart of Darkness.)
- personification – is when a nonhuman object is given human characteristics (Gray’s Elegy…Churchyard” where “Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth” – the earth is personified.)
- persuasion - is a technique used by speakers and writers to convince an audience to adopt a particular opinion, perform an action or both (Churchill’s speech of May 19, 1940)
- philippic – a strong verbal denunciation
- picaresque – is used to describe a genre of literature in which the life and adventures of a rogue are chronicled (Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Cervantes’ Don Quixote)
- plot – is a sequence of events in a literary work. Two primary elements are characters and a conflict. A plot includes the following: exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action.
- point of view – is the perspective from which a story is told. (1) First-person point of view is when the narrator is a character in the work and narrates the action as he/she perceives and understands it. (2) Third-person point of view is when the events and characters are described by a narrator outside the action. Third person omniscient point of view has the narrator all-knowing, seeing into the minds of more than one character. (3) Third-person limited point of view is when the narrator tells the story from the perspective of only one of the characters, so the reader learns only what that character thinks, feels, observes and experiences.
- 227. polemic – a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something (his polemic against the cultural relativism of the Sixties)
- 228. polysyndeton – the repetition of connectives or conjunctions in close succession for rhetorical effect (here and there and everywhere)
- 229. prosaic – having or using the style or diction of prose as opposed to poetry; lacking imaginativeness or originality
- prose – is the ordinary form of written language and one of the three major types of literature. Most writing that is not poetry, drama or song is considered prose, and prose is found in two major forms: fiction and nonfiction.
- 231. protagonist – is the central character in a story, novel or play. The protagonist is always involved in the main conflict of the plot and often changes during the course of the work. The force or person who opposes the protagonist is the antagonist.
- 232. pun – is a play on words used to convey two meanings at the same time. (Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet – “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.” He has just been stabbed, and the pun is on the word “grave” – a serious person or a corpse in the grave.)
- quatrain – is a four-line stanza, or unit, of poetry.
- realism – refers to any effort to offer an accurate and detailed portrayal of actual life. Chaucer is praised for his realistic descriptions of people from all social classes of the 14th century. Shakespeare is praised for his realistic portrayals of character. Realism also refers to a literary method developed in the 19th century. These realists based their writing on careful observations of ordinary life, often focusing on the middle or lower classes. They attempted to present life objectively and honestly, without the sentimentality or idealism that had characterized earlier literature.
- refrain – is a regularly repeated line or group of lines in a poem or song
- reliability – a quality of some fictional narrators whose word the reader can trust. There are both reliable and unreliable narrators, that is, tellers of a story who should or should not be trusted. Most narrators are reliable (Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway or Conrad’s Marlow), but some are clearly not to be trusted (Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart”).
- repetition – is a technique in which a sound, word, phrase or line is repeated for emphasis or unity (lines in Blake’s poems “The Lamb” and “The Tyger”)
- resolution - is when the conflict of a plot is ended
- rhetoric – the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques; language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect, but which is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content (All we get from politicians is empty rhetoric.)
- 240. rhetorical devices – literary techniques used to heighten the effectiveness of expression
- rhetorical question – It implies that the answer is obvious—the kind of question that does not need to be answered. It is used for rhetorically persuading someone of a truth without argument or to give emphasis to a supposed truth by stating its opposite ironically. Rhetorical questions are often used for comic effect as in Henry IV when Falstaff lies about fighting off eleven men single-handedly, then responds to the prince’s doubts, “Art thou mad? Is not the truth the truth?” On the other hand, Iago in Othello uses rhetorical questions for sinister ends, persuading Othello that his loving wife is a whore. Iago hints with questions (“Honest, my lord?” “Is’t possible, my lord?”)
- 242. rhyme – Words rhyme when the sounds of their accented vowels and all succeeding sounds are identical, as in amuse and confuse. For true rhyme, the consonants that preceded the vowels must be different. Rhyme that occurs at the end of lines of poetry is called end rhyme, as in Thomas Hardy’s rhyming of face and place in “The Man He Killed.” End rhymes that are not exact but approximate are called off rhyme, or slant rhyme, as in the words come and doom. Rhyme that occurs within a single line is called internal rhyme: “Give crowns and pounds and guineas,” A.E. Housman.
- rising action – in the plot is where complications usually arise, causing difficulties for the main characters and making the conflict more difficult to resolve. As the characters struggle to find solutions to the conflict, suspense builds.
- romance – has been a popular narrative form since the Middle Ages. Generally, the term refers to any imaginative adventure concerned with noble heroes, gallant love, a chivalric code of honor, daring deeds and supernatural events. Romances usually have faraway settings, depict events unlike those of ordinary life and idealize their heroes as well as the eras in which the heroes lived. Medieval romances are often lighthearted in tone, usually consist of a number of episodes and often involve one of more characters in a quest. Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur is an example of a medieval romance with its stories of kings, knights and ladies.
- romanticism – refers to a literary movement that flourished in Britain and Europe throughout much of the 19th century. Romantic writers looked to nature for inspiration , idealized the distant past and celebrated the individual. In reaction against neoclassicism, their treatment of subjects was emotional rather than rational, imaginative rather than analytical. The romance period in English Literature is generally viewed as beginning with the publication of Lyrical Ballads, poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge.
- 246. round character – a character who demonstrates some complexity and who develops or changes in the course of a work
- sadism – the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering or humiliation on others
- saga – a long story of heroic achievement, especially a medieval prose narrative in Old Norse or Old Icelandic (long, narrative epic)
- sarcasm – is a type of verbal irony that refers to a remark in which the literal meaning is complimentary but the actual meaning is critical. Sarcasm is the use of irony to mock or to convey contempt. (Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – “You have clearly proved that ignorance, idleness, and vice are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator.”)
- satire – writing that ridicules or holds up to contempt the faults of individuals or groups in order to improve the individual or group. Satire may be witty, mildly abrasive or bitterly critical, and it often uses exaggeration to force readers to see something in a more critical light. Satire points out foibles (weakness or eccentricity in one’s character) and failings that are universal to human experience—in order to correct these flaws. (Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” proposes to alleviate the hunger in Ireland by eating the children.)
- 251. scapegoat – a person or group that bears the blame for another
- setting – defined as the time and place of the action of a short story, novel, play, narrative poem or nonfiction narrative. Setting may also include the social and moral environment that forms the background for a narrative. It is one of the main elements in fiction and often plays an important role in what happens and why. (Thomas Hardy’s use of his rural Wessex in his novels – Tess of the
- 253. simile – a figure of speech that compares two things that are basically unlike yet have something in common with the use of “like” or “as.” Whereas a metaphor only implies a comparison, a simile states it. Similes intensify emotional response, stimulate vibrant images, provide imaginative delight and concentrate the expression of ideas. (Virginia Woolf uses simile to describe the duchess as she sits down in “The Duchess and the Jeweler” - “As a parasol with many flounces, as a peacock with many feathers, shuts its flounces, folds it feathers, so she subsided and shut herself as she sank down in the leather armchair.”)
- 254. solecism – nonstandard grammatical usage; a violation of grammatical rules (This is between you and I. Correct sentence is “This is between you and me.”)
- 255. soliloquy – is a speech in a dramatic work in which a character speaks his or her thoughts aloud. Usually the character is onstage alone, not speaking to other characters and perhaps not even consciously addressing the audience. The purpose of the soliloquy is to reveal a character’s inner thoughts, feelings and plans to the audience. Soliloquies are characteristic of Elizabethan drama. (Macbeth’s “Out, out brief candle” soliloquy upon the death of Lady Macbeth and Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…”)
- 256. sonnet – a 14-line lyric poem focused on a single theme. It is commonly written in iambic pentameter. (1) Petrarchan or Italian sonnet was introduced into English by Sir Thomas Wyatt and is named after Petrarch, the 14th-century Italian poet. This sonnet consists of two parts: octave (first 8 lines) and the sestet (last 6 lines). John Milton’s sonnets are written in this form. (2) Shakespearean or English sonnet is sometimes called the Elizabethan sonnet. It consists of three quatrains (4-line units) and a final couplet. The rhyme is abab cdcd efef gg. The couplet provides a final commentary on the subject developed in the three quatrains.
- 257. speaker – in a poem is the voice that “talks” to the reader, like the narrator in fiction. The speaker is sometimes a distant observer and at other times intimately involved with the experiences and ideas being expressed in the poem. The speaker and poet are not necessarily identical. Often a poet creates a speaker with a distinct identity in order to achieve a particular effect. (In Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” the speaker is neutral and objective, as though merely recording observations. The speaker in Tennyson’s “Ulysses” is passionately involved in the ideas and feelings he is expressing as he, an aged hero, longs once more for adventure.)
- 258. speculative – engaged in, expressing, or based on conjecture rather than knowledge (He gave her a speculative glance.) Also, it means involving a high risk of loss.
- 259. stanza – is a group of lines that form a unit in a poem. It is roughly comparable to the paragraph in prose. In traditional poems, the stanzas usually have the same number of lines and often have the same rhyme scheme and meter. In the 20th century, poets have experimented more freely with stanza form, sometimes writing poems that have no stanza breaks at all.
- 260. stereotype – simplified characters who conform to a fixed pattern or are defined by a single trait. These characters do not usually demonstrate the complexities of real people. (the absent-minded professor, the jock, the merciless villain, the dumb blond, the mad scientist, etc.)
- 261. stream of consciousness – is a narrative technique that presents thoughts as if they were coming directly from a character’s mind. Instead of being arranged in chronological order, these events are presented from the character’s point of view, mixed in with the character’s ongoing feelings and memories. (writings of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce)
- 262. structure – is the way in which the parts of a literary work are put together. Paragraphs are a basic unit in prose, as are chapters in novels, acts and scenes in plays, and stanzas and lines in poems. A prose selection can be structured by idea or incident, like most essays, short stories, narrative poems, and one-act plays. Structure in poetry involves the arrangement of words and lines to produce a desired effect; a poem’s structure takes into account the sounds in the poem as well as the ideas. Structure usually emphasizes certain important aspects of content in prose or poetry. T.S. Eliot’s poem “Preludes” uses sections to shift between different times of day and between the interior of a room and the street outside. Analyzing structure is imperative for the AP exam.
- 263. style – is the particular way in which a piece of literature is written. Style is not what is said but how it is said. It is the writer’s uniquely individual way of communicating ideas. Many elements contribute to style, including word choice, sentence length, tone, figurative language, use of dialogue and point of view. A literary style may be described in a variety of ways, such as formal, conversational, journalistic, wordy, ornate, poetic or dynamic. (In Elie Wiesel’s Night, the author uses simple words, short sentences, imagery and dialogue to convey his horrifying experiences.) Interpreting style is imperative for the AP exam.
- 264. subplot – is a second, less important plot within a story or play
- 265. supercilious – behaving as though one thinks one is superior to others
- 266. surrealism – is a movement in art and literature emphasizing the expression of the imagination as realized in dreams and presented without conscious control. It is a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example, by the irrational juxtaposition of images. (Salvador Dali’s melting clock picture Persistence of Memory 1931)
- 267. symbol – is a person, place, object or activity that stands for something beyond itself. Night to represent death is a common symbol. Other symbols acquire their meanings within the contexts of the works in which they occur. (In Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the albatross ymbolizes a burden one must bear.)
- 268. symbolism – a literary movement of 19th-century France which stressed the importance of emotional states by using symbols to correspond to these states
- 269. syllepsis - construction in which one word is used in two different senses (“After he threw the ball, he threw a fit.”)
- 270. syllogism – is a form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. (All men are fools. Mr. Smith is a man. Therefore, Mr. Smith is a fool.)
- 271. synecdoche – is a figure of speech in which the name of a part is used to refer to a whole (“wheels” used for cars) (T.S. Eliot uses “muddy feet” in “Preludes” to refer to the early-morning crowds of people going to work.)
- 272. synesthesia – is a form of imagery where one sensation is described in terms of another (“a loud color,” “a sweet sound”)
- 273. syntax – the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language
- tall tale – a folklore genre, originating on the American frontier, in which the physical attributes, capabilities and exploits of characters are wildly exaggerated for comic effect (Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe)
- tautology – needless repetition which adds no meaning or understanding (“widow woman,” “free gift”)
- terza rima – a three-line stanza rhymed aba, bcb, cdc
- tetrameter – a line of four feet
- theme – is a central idea or message in a work of literature. Theme should not be confused with subject or what the work is about. Rather, theme is a perception about life or human nature shared with the reader. Sometimes the theme is directly stated within a work; at other times it is implied, and the reader must infer the theme. (In Macbeth, some themes are the corrupting effect of unbridled ambition, guilt, and the lure of supernatural forces.) To discover theme, consider what happens to the central characters. The importance of those events, stated in terms that apply to all human beings, is the theme. In poetry, imagery and figurative language also help convey theme. (In Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale,” what happens to the three young men illustrates the theme that “the love of money is the root of all evil.”) A “light’ work, one written strictly for entertainment, may not have a theme.
- 279. thesis – the primary position taken by a writer or speaker
- title – of a literary work introduces readers to the piece and may reveal something about its subject or theme
- tone – is an expression of a writer’s attitude toward a subject. Unlike mood, which is intended to shape the reader’s emotional response, tone reflects the feelings of the writer. The writer’s choice of words and details helps establish the tone, which might be serious, humorous, sarcastic, playful, ironic, bitter or objective. To identify the tone of a work, you might find it helpful to read the work aloud. The emotions you convey in reading should give you clues to the tone of the work. REMEMBER: TONE is set by the author. MOOD is the reader’s reaction. (Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is searingly ironic. A humorous tone pervades Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”)
- 282. tongue-in-cheek – meant or expressed ironically or facetiously
- tragedy – is a dramatic work that presents the downfall of a dignified character who is involved in historically or socially significant events. The main character, or tragic hero, has a tragic flaw—a quality that leads to his/her destruction. A tragic hero evokes both pity and fear in readers or viewers; pity because readers or viewers feel sorry for the character, and fear because they realize that the problems and struggles faced by the character are perhaps a necessary part of human life. At the end of a tragedy, a reader or viewer generally feels a sense of waste because humans who were in some way superior have been destroyed. Shakespeare’s plays Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, and King
Lear are famous examples of tragedies.
- 284. trite – overused and hackneyed
- truism – a statement that is obviously true and says nothing new or interesting (the truism that “you get what you pay for”)
- understatement – saying less than is actually meant, usually in an ironic way. Understatement is the opposite of hyperbole or exaggeration. One of the primary devices of irony, understatement can be used to develop a humorous effect, to create biting satire or to achieve a restrained tone. (saying a flooded area is “slightly soggy”)
- universality – a term employed to indicate something in a piece of writing that appeals to all readers (theme of suffering in Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country)
- vernacular – is the ordinary language of the people living in a particular region. Many writers use vernacular to create realistic characters in an informal way. (Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird employs the vernacular of the people from the South.)
- villanelle – an intricately patterned French verse form, planned to give the impression of simplicity. It has 19 lines. The first line is repeated as a refrain at the end of the second and fourth stanzas. The last line of the first stanza is repeated at the end of the third and fifth stanzas. Both lines reappear as the final two lines of the poem. (Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”)
- 290. voice – is the personality of the writer coming through on the page. It is what gives the writing a sense of flavor or uniqueness and gives the reader the feeling that the writer is talking directly to him or her. Voice can be the author’s attitude or a first-person narrator—a persona. The speaker is the voice that “talks” to the reader. The voice can be that of one who is a distant observer or one who is passionately involved with the experiences and ideas expressed in the writing.