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This is a list of important literary terms that we will be learning or reinforcing in American Literature. It is not enough just to know definitions. You must be able to recognize these elements in literature and you must know how to write about them in an analytical essay.


a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one


use of the same consonant at the beginning of each stressed syllable in a line of verse


a reference to someone or something that is known from history, literature, religion, politics, sports, science, or some other branch of culture


A character or force in conflict with the main character


A brief, cleverly worded statement that makes a wise observation about life.


The emotional quality of a literary work. Often created with details about people and setting.

author's style

a number of different elements come together to make up a writer's style. They include (but are not necessarily limited to) diction, sentence length, sentence type, and the absence or presence of various literary devices.

round character

this character is fully developed - the writer reveals good and bad traits as well as background

flat character

this character seems to possess only one or two personality traits - little or no background is revealed

static character

a character who does not change at all, or who remains almost entirely the same, throughout the course of a play or story

dynamic character

A character who grows, learns, or changes as a result of the story's action

character motivation

a reason that explains, or partially explains a character's thoughts, feelings, actions or speech


the process by which the writer reveals the personality of a character

indirect characterization

the writer reveals information about a character and his personality through that character's thoughts, words, and actions, along with how other characters respond to that character, including what they think and say about him.

direct characterization

In literature and drama, the method of character development in which the author simply tells what the character is like

charged words

words likely to produce a strong emotional response


the point of highest interest, the conflict must be resolved one way or another or a character begins to take action to end the conflict

internal conflict

a struggle between opposing needs, desires, or emotions within a single character

external conflict

a problem or struggle between a character and someone or something outside of the character


the feelings or emotions surrounding a word

context clues

A vocabulary strategy in which the reader looks at the words around an unfamiliar word to find clues to its meaning.


a person, place, thing, or event that has meaning in itself also represents something else

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