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Page 1: Literary Terms

Literary Terms

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Literary form or type

Examples: short story; novel; tragedy; epic; essay; biography; poem; play.

Genre also applies to music, e.g., jazz, classical, pop, country, etc.

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Theme• Central message or insight revealed by a literary work.

• It is a thought or idea the author presents to the reader.

• It is generally not stated directly, but requires the reader to infer it.

• Question: Are “theme” and “subject” the same thing? Answer: No! “Subject” is what it is about; theme is the message.

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Point of View

The view or perspective by which a story is told.

There are three possible points of view:

1. First Person: This is where the narrator is part of the action in the story (uses I, me, and we).

2. Third-person omniscient: This is where the narrator is separate from the action and knows everything about all the characters—even what they are thinking (uses he, she, and they).

3. Third-person limited: This is where the narrator knows what only one character is thinking (also uses he, she, and they).

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Sequence of events in a literary work. It generally contains:

1. Exposition—Where we are exposed to the characters and essential details.

2. Rising Action—Where the story gets complicated and more intense—takes up the bulk of the story.

3. Climax—The emotional peak of the story; ultimate intensity or complication; the conflict begins to resolve.

4. Falling Action—Sorting out the details after the climax.

5. Resolution—Conflict is resolved, and the story is finished.

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The ways an author portrays particular character traits of characters. There are two ways to portray characterization: direct and indirect.

1. Direct—when an author says outright what a character is like.

2. Indirect—when an author shows what a character is like through indirect means: other people’s opinions; what the character says; what other people say; and how the character acts.

Example: In Of Mice and Men, we figure out that George has a quick temper because of the way he speaks to Lennie when Lennie does something wrong.

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Descriptive language used to create pictures in the mind of the reader (or listener).

Appeals to the five senses.

Remember: Martin Luther King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech and the imagery he used.

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Simile is a type of figurative language that makes a comparison between two unlike things.

Uses the words “like” and “as”

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Metaphor• “Similarity in dissimilars”

• A comparison where you call one thing something it is not.

• Figurative language in which a statement is made that says one thing is something else when literally it is not.

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Aristotle’s Thoughts on Metaphors• Aristotle claimed that for one to master the use of the

metaphor is “…a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars” (The Poet’s Dictionary).

• What do you infer from Aristotle’s statement about metaphors?

• What did he mean by “similarity in dissimilars”?

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A comparison of two things, usually noting more than one point of similarity.

An analogy draws particular attention to the features of two things that are alike.

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Allusion• An indirect hint (reference) to something well known, like

a person, place, event, or work of art or literature.

• In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s narrator, Jean Louise Finch (aka Scout), states that “Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.”

• This is an allusion to the inauguration speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. In the speech he said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

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Allusion• In that one line, Lee establishes the entire setting and

mood—it was during the Great Depression (1930s), and people were poor!

• Popular works to which writers often allude include the Bible, Shakespeare’s plays, and Greek mythology.

• Students often make allusions when they reference television shows, movies, songs, inside jokes, etc., without naming the source—it is just understood.

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Allusion• An allusion is different from a reference in that an allusion

hints at something indirectly, whereas a reference mentions the source specifically.

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Flashback• A flashback can be any event that occurred before the

normal chronological spot in the story. • Most often it is when a character tells a story of something

that happened earlier.

Example: In To Kill a Mockingbird, the narrator is telling a story about an earlier time (when she was growing up during the Great Depression), making almost the entire book a flashback.

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Foreshadowing• A hint of what’s to come.

• Foreshadowing is the use of clues to suggest events that have yet to occur.

• Often the reader will not recognize the foreshadowing until afterward.

• The hint tells readers something is coming and makes them want to find out what it is.

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Example: In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the narrator says, “Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure.” Later the house splits at the crack and falls apart.

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Character Foil

When a character is portrayed as opposite of another character in a particular way.

By putting the two characters next to each other, the different characteristic is emphasized.

The contrasting characteristics can be physical (size, strength, appearance, etc.) or personality, values, morals, etc.

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An allegory is a story that has both a literal meaning and symbolic meaning.

Characters or objects often embody abstract ideas.

It is a narrative that serves as an “extended metaphor.”

It is intended to convey ideas or to get a point across.

Example: “Butter Battle” (Yooks vs. Zooks) or George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

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Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent abstract ideas in concrete ways.• A symbol is a word or object that stands for another word

or object.

Examples: • The United States flag stands for freedom• A heart can represent love• A dove can stand for peace

Note that freedom, love, and peace are abstract ideas that cannot be seen.

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Giving non-human objects human characteristics.

Example: America has thrown her hat into the ring and will be joining forces with the British.

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Irony• The unexpected.

• Literary term which refers to how a person, situation, or statement is not as one would expect.

• Many times it is the exact opposite of what it appears to be—a discrepancy between what is said and what is meant.

• Irony spices up a literary work by adding unexpected twists.

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Samuel Clemens, otherwise better known as Mark Twain was a master of ironic, cynical humor.

Example: "I have no race prejudice. I think I have no color prejudices or caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being - that is enough for me; he can't be any worse.”

Example: "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."

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Irony• Dramatic irony occurs in a play when the audience

knows facts of which the characters in the play are ignorant.

• Example: In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Oedipus searches to find the murderer of the former king of Thebes, only to discover that it is himself, a fact the audience has known all along.

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Irony• Example: The Titanic was promoted as being 100%

unsinkable; but, in 1912 the ship sank on its maiden voyage.

• Example: At a ceremony celebrating the rehabilitation of seals after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, at an average cost of $80,000 per seal, two seals were released back into the wild only to be eaten within a minute by a killer whale.

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A statement whose two parts seem contradictory yet make sense with more thought.

A paradox attracts reader’s attention and gives emphasis.

Example: Christ used paradox in his teaching: “They have ears but do not hear.”

Example: “Deep down he’s very shallow.”

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Putting two contradictory words together

Example: bittersweet; jumbo shrimp; act naturally

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Example: I have a million things to do today.