ENG 10H Literary Terms & Definitions
These terms will help you as you analyze literature.
Terms in this set (73)
The degree of emotional involvement in a work of art. The most obvious example occurs with paintings. Some paintings require us to stand back to see the design of the whole painting; standing close, we see the technique of the painting, say the brush strokes, but not the whole. Writers like Faulkner, the Bronte sisters, or Faulkner pull the reader into their work; the reader identifies closely with the characters and is fully involved with the happenings.
A work with two levels of meaning—a literal one and a symbolic one. In such work, most of the characters, objects, settings, and events, represent abstract qualities.
The repetition of the same sound at the beginning of a word, such as the repetition of b sounds in Keats's "beaded bubbles winking at the brim" ("Ode to a Nightingale").
The repetition of consonants, but not the vowels, as in horror-hearer.
The repetition of vowel sounds, please-niece-ski-tree.
A brief reference to a person, event, place, or phrase. The writer assumes the reader will recognize the reference.
A statement which has two or more possible meanings or a statement whose meaning is unclear. Depending on the circumstances, it can be negative, leading to confusion or even disaster. On the other hand, writers often use it to achieve special effects, for instance, to reflect the complexity of an issue or to indicate the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of determining truth.
A pattern in literature that is found in a variety of works from different cultures throughout the ages. It can be a plot, a character, and image, or a setting. For example, the association of death and rebirth with winter and spring.
A writer usually writes for one of more reasons for example, express thoughts or feelings, to inform or explain, to persuade, or to entertain.
The way an author presents characters. In direct presentation, a character is described by the author, the narrator or the other characters. In indirect presentation, a character's traits are revealed by action and speech.
May be classified as dynamic--round three-dimensional, fully developed or as flat/static--having only a few traits or only enough traits to fulfill their function in the work.
The main character, who is not necessarily a hero or a heroine.
The opponent may be society, nature, a person, or an aspect of the protagonist.
The character who lacks or seems to lack heroic traits.
A fictional character. Sometimes the term means the mask or alter-ego of the author; it is often used for first person works and lyric poems, to distinguish the writer of the work from the character in the work.
A secondary character who contrasts with a major character; in Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras, whose fathers have been killed, are foils for Hamlet.
The point of maximum interest or tension. Usually the turning point in the story, after the reader has understood the conflict and become emotionally involved with the characters.
A struggle between opposing forces. Almost every story has a main struggle that is the story's focus.
Involves a character pitted against an outside force, such as nature, a physical obstacle, or another character.
The struggle that happens within a character.
A rule or practice based upon general consent and upheld by society at large; OR an arbitrary rule or practice recognized as valid in any particular art or discipline, such as literature or art.
A practice or device which is accepted as a necessary, useful, or given feature of a genre, like a soliloquy, the epithet or boast in the epic
A specific type of person in a genre, e.g., the heroine disguised as a man in Elizabethan drama, the confidant, the hardboiled detective, the tightlipped sheriff, the girl next door, the cruel stepmother, etc...
A frequently recurring sequence of action in a genre, e.g., rags-to-riches, boy-meets-girl, the eternal triangle, the innocent proves himself or herself.
A habitual or automatic reaction based on the reader's beliefs or feelings, rather than on the work itself. A sentimentalist is automatically moved by any love story, regardless of the quality of the writing or the acting; someone requiring excitement may enjoy any violent story or movie, regardless of how mindless, unmotivated or brutal the violence is.
The first stage of a typical story plot. This stage provides important background information and introduces the setting and the important characters. The conflict the characters face may also may be introduced in this section.
In a plot, this action follows the climax and shows the results of the important decision or action that happened at the climax. Tension eases as this action begins; however, the final outcome of the story is not yet fully worked out at this stage.
Prose narrative based on imagination, usually the novel or the short story.
An account of a conversation, an episode, or an event that happened before the beginning of a story. Often an it interrupts the chronological flow of a story to give the reader information needed for the understanding of a character's present situation.
The writer's use of hints or clues to suggest events that will occur later in a story. The hints and clues might be included in a character's dialogue or behavior, or they might be included in details or description. It creates suspense and makes readers eager to find out what will happen next.
A literary species or form, e.g., tragedy, epic, comedy, novel, essay, biography, lyric poem.
The discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, what is said and what is done, what is expected or intended and what happens, what is meant or said and what others understand.
Expectations aroused by a situations that are reversed
Misfortune is the result of fate, chance, or God
The audience knows more than the characters in the play, so that words and action have additional meaning for the audience
Named after Socrates' teaching method, whereby he assumes ignorance and openness to opposing points of view which turn out to be (he shows them to be) foolish.
One kind of irony; it is praise which is really an insult; generally involves malice, the desire to put someone down, e.g., "This is my brilliant son, who failed out of college."
The exposure of the vices or follies of an individual, a group, an institution, an idea, a society, etc., usually with a view to correcting it. Frequently use irony.
The literal meaning of a word; there are no emotions, values, or images associated with this type of meaning. Often seen in scientific and mathematical language.
The emotions, values, or images associated with a word. The intensity of emotions or the power of the values and images associated with a word varies. Words connected with religion, politics, and sex tend to have the strongest feelings and images associated with them.
Refers to things that are intangible, that is, which are perceived not through the senses but by the mind, such as truth, God, education, vice, transportation, poetry, war, love.
Identifies things perceived through the senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste), such as soft, stench, red, loud, or bitter.
Means exactly what it says; a rose is the physical flower. Exact meaning of words.
Changes the literal meaning, to make a meaning fresh or clearer, to express complexity, to capture a physical or sensory effect, or to extend meaning. Sometimes called figures of speech.
A comparison of two dissimilar things using "like" or "as."
A comparison of two dissimilar things which does not use "like" or "as."
Treating abstractions or inanimate objects as human, that is, giving them human attributes, powers, or feelings.
Exaggeration, often extravagant; it may be used for serious or for comic effect.
A direct address to a person, thing, or abstraction, such as "O Western Wind," or "Ah, Sorrow, you consume us." Apostrophes are generally capitalized.
A word whose sounds seem to duplicate the sounds they describe--hiss, buzz, bang, murmur, meow, growl.
A statement with two parts which seem contradictory.
Elevated Language or Elevated Style
Formal, dignified language; it often uses more elaborate figures of speech and/or is used to give dignity to a hero. It can also be used to reveal a self-important or a pretentious character, for humor and/or for satire.
In a literary work, this is the feeling or atmosphere that a writer creates for the reader. Descriptive words, imagery, and figurative language contribute to this, as do the sound and rhythm of the language being used.
A statement whose two parts seem contradictory yet make sense with more thought.
This is a particular type of plot in which two stories of equal importance are told simultaneously. The story moves back and forth between the two plots.
The sequence of events in a story that focuses on a central conflict or problem faced by the main character. The actions that the character takes to resolve the conflict build toward a climax. This typically develops in five stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
Point of View:
The perspective from which the story is told.
The most obvious point of view for a piece of writing told using "I"
The narrator knows everything, may reveal the motivations, thoughts and feelings of the characters, and gives the reader information.
Limited Omniscient Narrator
This narrator presents material from the point of view of a character in third person.
Objective Point of View
This point of view presents the action and the characters' speech, without comment or emotion. The reader has to interpret them and uncover their meaning.
This is the stage of a plot in which the conflict develops and story events build toward a climax. During this stage, complications arise that make the conflict more intense. Tension grows as the characters struggle to resolve the conflict.
This is the time and place of the action of a short story, drama, novel, narrative, poem, or narrative nonfiction work. In addition to time and place, this sometimes includes the larger historical and cultural contexts that form the background for a narrative.
In drama, a this is a speech in which a character speaks his or her thoughts aloud. Generally, the character is on the stage alone, not speaking to other characters and perhaps not even consciously addressing an audience.
In literature, a simplified or stock character who conforms to a fixed pattern or is defined by a single trait is known as this. Such a character does not usually demonstrate the complexities of a real person.
The framework of a work of literature; the organization or over-all design of a work.
The manner of expression; how a speaker or writer says what he says.
In general terms, anything that stands for something else. Obvious example is a flag, which represent a nation.
An unexpected plot twist at the end of a story. It may be a sudden turn in the action or a piece of information that gives a different perspective to the entire story.
The excitement or tension that readers feel as they wait to find out how a story ends or a conflict is resolved. Writers create this feeling by rising questions in readers' minds about what might happen next.
The writer's attitude toward the material and/or readers. It may be playful, formal, intimate, angry, serious, ironic, outraged, baffled, tender, serene, depressed, etc.
The abstract concept explored in a literary work; (2) frequently recurring ideas, such as enjoy-life while-you-can; (3) repetition of a meaningful element in a work, such as references to sight, vision, and blindness in Oedipus Rex.
A literary and particularly a dramatic presentation of serious actions in which the chief character has a disastrous fate.