41 terms

Literary Terms

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Characterization
The various ways a writer presents a character in fiction. Example: "The family looked Indian but dressed as foreigners did, the children in stiff, brightly colored clothing and caps with translucent visors." ("Interpreter of Maladies")
Direct Characterization
the author, by exposition or analysis, tells us directly what a character is like, or has someone else in the story do so.
Example: "That stupid old thing. . . why does she come here at all--who wants her? Why doesn't she keep her silly old mug at home?" ("Miss Brill")
Allegory
a narrative or description that has two levels of meaning: literal and figurative, often relating each literal term to a fixed corresponding abstract idea. Example: Thomas Cole's Voyage of Life painting above.
Conflict
clash of action between the antagonists vs. the protagonist Example: Gene vs. his inner self.
Protagonist
central character in the story;
Seymour in "Perfect Day for Bananafish"
Antagonist
Any force that is in conflict with the protagonist. Example: Seymour's PTSD in "Perfect Day for Bananafish"
Irony
A situation or a use of language involving some kind of incongruity or discrepancy--i.e. a clash between what you think and what is real.
Example: In "The Swimmer," Neddy believes everyone at the public swimming pool is beneath him and he can do whatever he pleases, but they kick him out because he did not follow the rules.
Epiphany
A moment the character achieves spiritual insight
Example: When Neddy asks himself, "Was he losing his memory, had the gift for concealing painful facts let him forget that he had sold his house, that his children were in trouble, and that his friend had been ill?"
Situational irony
A situation where the opposite of what you expect happens, in which there is an incongruity between the appearance and reality, or between expectation and fulfillment, or between the actual situation and what would seem appropriate.
Example: When Seymour returns to his hotel room and shoots himself in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."
Verbal irony
A figure of speech in which what is said is the opposite of or different from what is meant.
Example: In "Hills Like White Elephants" when the girls tells the American, "I feel fine. There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine."
Dramatic Irony
The reader knows something the character doesn't know or expect.
Example: The reader knows Juliet is not dead when Romeo kills himself because he thinks she is dead.
Literal
A passage, story, or text intended only (or primarily) as a factual account of an event.
Example: Hemingway introduces "Hills" with this objective description: The hills across the valley of the Ebro' were long and white. On this side
there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of
rails in the sun.
Plot
The sequence of incidents or events of which a story is composed. Includes exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, outcome. Example: In "Teddy," the main character on a cruise ship with his family looks for his sister before heading toward the pool for a swim lesson. On the way he meets an adult male on the deck of the oceanliner.
Rising action
That development of plot in a story that precedes and leads up to the climax.
Example: Teddy goes to look for his little sister on the ocean liner.
Climax
The moment in a play, novel, short story, or narrative poem at which the crisis reaches its point of greatest intensity and is thereafter resolved. It is also the peak of emotional response from a reader or spectator and usually the turning point in the action. Example: When the girl tells the American to "please stop talking" in "Hills."
Falling action
The segment of the plot that comes between the climax and the conclusion.
Example: When Sgt. X in "Esme" begins his recovery from PTSD after receiving the gift from Esme.
Outcome/conclusion
When the conflict has been solved
Example: When Neddy from "The Swimmer," returns home to find it abandoned.
Theme
The central idea or unifying generalization implied or stated by a literary work.
Example: The horrors of war will forever damage those who fought, especially the sensitive people. "A Perfect Day for Banafish."
Point of View
The way a story gets told and who tells it. It is the method of narration that determines the position, or angle of vision, from which the story unfolds.
Example: "The Swimmer" changes from 3rd person limited omniscient to second person half-way through the story but then returns to 3rd person limited omniscient.
First Person
The narrator speaks as "I" and the narrator is a character in the story who may or may not influence events within it.
Example: From "ASP," Gene opens the story, saying, "I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before."
Third Person Omniscient
The narrator seems to be someone standing outside the story who refers to all the characters by name or as he, she, they, and so on.
The narrator gives facts, details, and the inner thoughts and emotions of one or more characters. Example: "Mr. Kapasi found it strange that Mr. Das should refer to his wife by her first name when speaking to the little girl." "Interpreter"
Third Person Objective or Dramatic
The author tells the story using the third person but reports only what the characters say or do; the author does not interpret their behavior or tell their private thoughts or feelings. Like a movie cameraman, the author "shoots" the scene with little or no comment or narration.
Example: From "Hills Like White Elephants" "The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro" (Hemingway 222).
Third Person Limited
The author tells the story using the third person but is limited to a complete knowledge of one character in the story and tells us only what that one character thinks, feels, sees, or hears.
Example: "To be embraced and sustained by the light green water was less a pleasure, it seemed, than the resumption of a natural condition, and he would have liked to swim without trunks." -- "The Swimmer"
Setting
The context in time and place in which the action of the story occurs.
Example: In ASP, New England in 1942 and 1957. Note that a real geographical place must be identified if present in the story. Also-- time period should be specific.
Atmosphere
The emotional feelings inspired by a work. The term is borrowed for meteorology to describe the dominant mood of a selection as it is created by diction, dialogue, setting, and description.
Example: In "Hills," "The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry." The scene is described literally but also suggests lack of fertility.
Diction
The choice of a particular word as opposed to others. The word choice a writer makes determines the reader's reaction to the object of description.
Example: The language in "Hills" is simple and straightforward while the word choice in "The Swimmer" is elevated, precise, and figurative.
Allusion
A reference in literature to a person, place, event, or work of art (literature, painting, sculpture, film).
Example: In "The Swimmer," Neddy "might have been compared to a summer's day," which is a reference to a Shakespearean sonnet about the fleeting nature of life.
Foreshadowing
Suggesting, hinting, indicating, or showing what will occur later in a narrative, often providing hints about what will happen next.
Example: In "The Swimmer, "a massive stand of cumulus clouds" (Cheever 536) foreshadows a thunderstorm and Neddy's doom.
Tone
The writer's attitude towards the subject of the story. Example: In "Miss Brill," the narrator compares Miss Brill's "dark room" to a "cupboard," suggesting that Miss Brill is pathetic. It can be described as: harsh, sentimental, whimsical, humorous, ironic, sardonic, poignant, uplifting, comforting, disturbing -- words that evoke an emotional response from the reader.
Syntax
the standard word order and sentence structure of a language, as opposed to diction (the actual choice of words) or content (the meaning of individual words)
Motif
A conspicuous recurring element, such as a type of incident, a device, a reference, or verbal formula, which appears frequently in works of literature.
Example: Neddy swims throughout the Lucinda River (many pools) and is determined to make the finish line. The Lucinda River appears many times in the short story. It symbolizes his journey through life.
Iceberg Theory
Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker believed that as a writer of short stories Hemingway learned "how to get the most from the least, how to prune language and avoid wasted emotion, how to multiply intensities, and how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more than the truth." Furthermore, Baker explains that in the writing style the hard facts float above water, while the supporting structure, complete with symbolism, operates out-of-sight.
Example: In "Hills for White Elephants" the American man describes an abortion by saying "it's just to let the air in" (Hemingway 221). This simplifies the operation into one simple statement without stating it directly.
sub-text
content of a book, play, musical work, film, video game, or television series which is not announced explicitly by the characters (or author) but is implicit or becomes something understood by the observer of the work as the production unfolds. It is content underneath the spoken dialogue. Under dialogue, there can be conflict, anger, competition, pride, showing off, or other implicit ideas and emotions. It is the unspoken thoughts and motives of characters—what they really think and believe.
"reading between the lines" See "iceberg theory" in Wikipedia
Example: In "Hills," The American clearly wants the girls to have an abortion but continually says he does not want her to do anything she doesn't want to do.
symbol
Example: Esme's father's watch, Miss Brill's "fur"
A word, place, character, or object that means something beyond what it is on a literal level.
Something that means more that what it is; an object, person, situation, or action that in addition to its literary meaning suggest other meanings as well.
Example: The "Hills Like White Elepants"
figurative
A metaphorical expression, an allegorical expression or truth, or a hypothetical example.
Example: Neddy's "swim across the county" is not intended to be taken on the literal level only.
Flash fiction
is a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity. There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as three hundred words, while others consider stories as long as a thousand words to be flash fiction.
Other names include micro fiction, micro narrative, micro-story, postcard fiction, short short, short short story, sudden fiction, nano fiction, twitterature, drabble.
Six-Word Short Story
Inspired by Ernest Hemingway, who once claimed he could write a great story in six words or less. it is tale of only six words in the format of a classified advertisement that tells a complete story or even a novel.
Modernism
With roots in the late 19th century, Modernism, a movement in literature and art, developed as a response to "disenchantment" with humanity following World War I. Simply put, the movement is identified with "iconoclasm," the shattering of beliefs in religion, society, and human nature.
--abrupt, indeterminate endings
--not a lot of context
--taboo subjects
--realistic
--discomfort for reader
--random
--meaning obscure
Frame Narrative
The result of inserting one or more small stories within the body of a larger story that encompasses the smaller ones. Often this term is used interchangeably with both the literary technique and the larger story itself that contains the smaller ones, which are called pericopes, "framed narratives" or "embedded narratives." Homer's Odyssey contains an example when Odysseus tells King Alcinous the story of the Trojan War and his own life. The 1001 Arabian Nights is probably the most famous Middle Eastern frame narrative. "Esme" uses a frame narrative to tell the story of Sgt. X.
Ending--indeterminate
No definitive resolution is reached; characteristic of "Modern" literature. Examples: "Hills," "Miss Brill"
Mock heroic
focuses frequently on the exploits of an antihero whose activities illustrate the stupidity of the class or group he represents. Example: "The Swimmer"

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