Lit terms

Created by dterrell 

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Lit terms for T3 elective 2011

allegory

a narrative that serves as an extended metaphor. Orwell's Animal Farm, for example, is an allegory for the corruption of Stalinism. We see something similar in The Wizard of Oz and Golding's Lord of the Flies, which examines the nature vs. nurture debate.

allusion

a passing reference to another work of art, person, place, event. For example, D. H. Lawrence's poem "The Snake" makes an allusion to Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Janie's pear tree, in Their Eyes, is an allusion to the apple tree in the Garden of Eden—where Janie is "tempted" by the myth of true love.

ambiguity

when something is left undetermined and open to different interpretations. For example, at the end of Catcher in the Rye, the reader doesn't know if Holden will recover from his breakdown. The ending of Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is ambiguous because the speaker's tone lacks confidence, as if he's trying to convince himself he's made the right decision.

conceit

an unusual concept for a work. For example, in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden tells his story (in his journal) from inside a hospital where he is recovering from a nervous breakdown. Conceit can also refer to an unusual metaphor, such as when John Donne uses a flea in a seduction poem. Shakespeare's sonnet 18: throughout the poem the speaker compares the girl to a summer's day. The Beatles' White Album includes the song "Happiness is a Warm Gun."

exposition

summarized background information that appears at the beginning of a work. For example, in Hamlet 1.1 Horatio provides the background information about Fortinbras' plan to attack Denmark. In the movie The Wizard of Oz, the exposition shows us, in black and white, Dorothy's life at home before she "lands" in Oz, where her only goal, like Odysseus', is to return home.

juxtapose

to arrange two or more ideas, characters, actions, settings, phrases, or words side-by-side or in similar narrative moments for the purpose of comparison, contrast, rhetorical effect, suspense, or character development. Consider how Salinger juxtaposes Holden w/ his roommate, Stradlater. In Revolutionary Road, Yates juxtaposes the Log Cabin, the blue-collar bar, with April's participation in the pretentious play The Petrified Forest.

metaphor

an implied comparison. When the Givingses first bring John to meet April and Frank, Helen's fake smile is compared to a gun when Yates writes that she "was the first one out, aiming a blind, brilliant smile toward" the Wheeler's house.

metonymy

Using a vaguely suggestive, physical object to embody a more general idea. For example, we use the term The White House to refer to the current administration. The word Hollywood refers to the entire movie industry. Madison Avenue refers to the advertising industry.

motif

a conspicuous recurring element in a work of literature, often used to emphasize a theme. The pear tree in Their Eyes. The rising storm in Tale of Two Cities. The "acting" in Revolutionary Road.

parallelism

writing about similar things in a similar way. Lincoln ends the Gettysburg Address with parallel prepositional phrases: "of the people, by the people, for the people." About Hamlet's insanity, Ophelia says, "The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword . . ."; the three possessive forms are parallel with the three nouns.

satire

an attack on or criticism of any stupidity or vice in the form of scathing humor, or a critique of what the author sees as dangerous religious, political, moral, or social standards. Both Goodbye, Columbus and Revolutionary Road satirize middle-class life in the 1950s.

turn

the first eight lines of an Italian sonnet typically describe a scene or tell a story; the last six lines reflect on the first eight. The turn signals that shift from concrete to abstract. Frost's "Design" is a good example.
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth --
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth --
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

understatement

the opposite of exaggeration, such as "American Idol is quite popular," or, "During the tornado, it got a bit windy at the airport." Sometimes understatement uses the negative to say something positive. Imagine Albert hitting a grand slam, followed by a sportscaster saying, "Not a bad swing."

diction

the choice of particular words that reveal a writer's style and tone. For example, in Revolutionary Road, Yates has a gift for describing what's brutally unattractive. Ordway's wife is "massively soft" instead of fat; in an intimate moment with Shep, Milly is described as "rancid" instead of sweaty.

deus ex machina

when the end of a play or novel is resolved unsatisfactorily in an unexpected and unbelievable manner. For example, at the end of Lord of the Flies, the navy magically appears before Ralph is murdered. The end of A Tale of Two Cities, when Carton pulls off the switcheroo with Darnay inside the prison.

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