82 terms

Ap Lit Terms

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alliteration
The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words
allusion
A passing reference to historical or fictional characters, places, or events, or to other works that the writer assumes the reader will recognize. Allusions to the Bible, to Greek mythology, and to William Shakespeare's works are common. It is often a way of placing one's poem or idea within, or alongside, a whole other context that is thus evoked in a very economical fashion.
ambiguity
When something is ambiguous, it is uncertain or indefinite; it is subject to more than one interpretation. For example, you might say, "The poet's use of the word is ambiguous," to begin to discuss the multiple meanings suggested by the use of the word and to indicate that there is an uncertainty of interpretation.
anagnorisis
In Greek drama, recognition or discovery on the part of the hero; change from ignorance to knowledge; see epiphany
analogy
A comparison of similar things, often for the purpose of using something familiar to explain something unfamiliar. For example, the branching of a river system is often explained by comparing it to a tree. A simile is an expressed analogy; a metaphor an implied one.
anaphora
A specific type of the exact repetition of a word, phrase or clause at the beginning of two or more sentences or clauses in a row, i.e. "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the streets...." Winston Churchill. Anaphora works to unify and make points emphatic. Anaphora can be a form of parallelism.
antagonist
The principal character in opposition to the protagonist of a narrative or drama. The antagonist can also be a force of nature or the supernatural.
antithesis
A figure of speech in which opposing or contrasting ideas are balanced against each other in grammatically parallel syntax by strongly contrasting words, clauses, sentences, or ideas, as in "Man proposes, God disposes" or "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." 2. In reasoning by means of argument, known as dialectic, the antithesis is the statement of the opposing viewpoint. In other words, parallel elements contrast with one another.
apostrophe
The device, usually in poetry, of calling out to an imaginary, dead, or absent person, or to a place, thing, or personified abstraction either to begin a poem or to make a dramatic break in thought somewhere within the poem. In identifying apostrophe, it helps to look for a name set off by commas or an exclamation point. Ex: "O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;" (Virgil, The Aeneid)
archetype
Prototype. A basic pattern or model of an action (such as lamenting the dead) from which patterns are made. A character type (rebellious youth), or an image (paradise as a garden) that recurs consistently enough in life and literature to be considered universal. The abstract idea of a class of things which represents the most typical and essential characteristics shared by that class of things.
asyndeton
(ə-ˈsin-də-ˌtän) Omission of conjunctions between coordinate sentence elements: "I came, I saw, I conquered." (Julius Ceasar)
atmosphere
The pervasive mood or emotional feeling a place, scene, or event in a literary work—gloom, foreboding, joyful, expectation. In Toni Morrison's Beloved, for example, the opening chapters convey an atmosphere of loneliness and grief.
blank verse
An unrhymed form of poetry. Each line usually consists of 10 syllables in which every other syllable, beginning with the second, is stressed (iambic pentameter). Since blank verse is often used in very long poems, it may depart from the strict pattern from time to time.
canon
Generally, any group of writings that has been established as authentic, more specifically, those books of the Christian Bible that are accepted as Scripture.
catalyst
A character whose actions serve to complicate the story, change the course of a character's actions, or make possible the tragic or happy ending.
catharsis
According to Aristotle, the power of tragedy to purge the emotions of pity and fear that its incidents have aroused.
character types
round Character has a complex, fully rounded personality
flat Character is presented with a focus on only one dominant trait to the exclusion of other traits.
dynamic A character that changes in response to the actions or events through which he/she passes.
static A character that changes little over the course of a literary work.
archetypal A character that embodies a certain kind of universal experience, i.e. femme fatale, Earth mother, nerdy smart kid, workaholic, the blind seer, the mentor, the sidekick, etc.
characterization
The techniques a writer uses to develop character. Three main methods of characterization:
Narrator's own comments about the appearance, background and/or personality of a character. This is also called direct characterization.
The character's own actions, words, thoughts and feelings. This is also referred to as indirect characterization.
The actions, words, thoughts and feelings of other characters that pertain to the character. This is also referred to as indirect characterization.
choragus
leader of the Chorus who also participates in the dialogue with the actors
chorus
A group of about 15 actors in Greek tragedy who commented on the action of the play, giving insights into the themes. They represented the voice of public opinion responding to the tragic events unfolding in the drama. Between scenes the chorus sang and danced to musical accompaniment in choral odes.
colloquialism
A word or phrase in everyday use in conversation and informal writing, but sometimes inappropriate in a formal essay.
conflict
conflict—external Pits a character against nature, fate, society or another character.
conflict—internal Conflict between opposing forces within a character.
conflict—five universal types A person in conflict with another person, his or her society, fate, nature, his or her inner self
connotation
The associations, images, or impressions carried by a word, as opposed to the word's literal meaning.
denotation
The precise, literal meaning of a word, without emotional associations or overtones.
detail
Facts, observations, and incidents revealed by the author that an author uses to develop a topic, shape and season voice or tone. Ask yourself: why these details?
dialect
The distinct form of language as it is spoken in one geographical area or by a particular social or ethnic group.
diction
The author's choice of words based on their correctness, clearness, effectiveness, or level of language. A writer's diction contributes to the tone of the text. The word choice is intended to convey a particular effect. The foundation of voice, contributing to all of its elements. Ask yourself: what is the effect of these particular word choices, especially as they work in combination? When writing about diction, it is desirable to characterize the diction you are analyzing.
ellipsis
The omission of words for rhetorical effect: Drop dead for You drop dead. Or "All Nature is but Art; unknown to thee/All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see/All Discord, harmony, not understood/All partial Evil, universal Good" (Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man) Pope omits "is but" of his first line in subsequent lines.
epiphany
A moment of revelation or profound insight. In Greek tragedy, the epiphany is specifically known as anagnorisis.
ethnocentrism
characterized by or based on the attitude that one's own group is superior
exposition
The immediate revelation to the audience of the setting and other background information necessary for understanding the plot.
fiction
The word "fiction" comes from the Latin word meaning "to invent, to form, to imagine." Works of fiction can be based on actual occurrences, but their status as fiction means that something has been imagined or invented in the telling of the occurrence.
figurative language
Language that contains figures of speech, such as metaphor, simile, personification, and symbols. Figurative language is an umbrella term for all uses of language that imply an imaginative comparison.
flashback
A scene that interrupts that action of a work to show a previous event.
foil
Usually a character (or a scene) who, by contrast, points up the qualities or characteristics of another character.
foreshadowing
The use of a hint or clue to suggest a larger event that occurs later in the work.
frame story
narrative technique of a story within a story—might organize a series of shorter stories or surround a single story
genre
A type of literary work. The four major genres are fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama. There are also subgenres such as science fiction or sonnets.
hamartia
Greek word for tragic flaw. A weakness in the character or a wrong judgment on the part of a dignified, noble character which sets the plot in motion and leads to the character's downfall or destruction.
hubris
arrogance or overweening pride - considered to be a tragic flaw that leads to the downfall of the tragic hero; the hero's transgression against the gods
hyperbole
A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used to achieve emphasis. The expressions, "My feet are as cold as an iceberg" and "I'll die if I don't see you soon," are examples of hyperbole. The emphasis is on exaggeration rather than literal representation. Hyperbole is the opposite of understatement.
imagery
Verbal representation of sense experience. The making of "pictures in words"; the pictorial quality of a literary work achieved through a collection of images. Imagery also refers to the creation of sensory experience (sight, sound, touch, hearing, taste).
inversion
Reversing the normal order of sentence parts. Inversion is commonly and effectively used to ask a question. Shakespeare often uses - creates rhythm, adds emphasis, effects special speech patterns for a character.
irony types
The expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.
There are three basic types of irony. Check out The Oatmeal for illustrations.
verbal irony—occurs when a speaker or narrator says one thing while meaning the opposite.
situational irony—occurs when a situation turns out differently from what one would
normally expect—though often the twist is oddly appropriate.
dramatic irony—occurs when readers know more about a situation or a character than the
characters do.
ladder
A rhetorical device in which a process is described as a number of "steps," which by their very orderliness seem to follow logically. The process may be ascending or descending, and the figurative steps build in intensity.
litotes
Understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary (as in "not a bad singer" or "not unhappy").
malapropism
The comic substitution of one word for another similar in sound but quite different in meaning.
metonymy
A figure of speech that commonly substitutes the name of a related object, person, or idea for the subject at hand. Crown is often substituted for monarchy. Other examples: "The pen is mightier than the sword." "The White House is concerned about terrorism." (Metonymy should not be confused with synecdoche, a substitution of a part of something for the whole or the whole for a part.
metaphor
A figure of speech, an implied analogy in which one thing is imaginatively compared to or identified with another, dissimilar thing. Usually connected by the verb "to be." Does not use comparatives (like, as, or than). "...Juliet is the sun." Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
mood
The prevailing emotional attitude in a literary work or in part of a work, for example, regret, hopefulness, bitterness. Mood is often used interchangeably with atmosphere. The opening scene of Macbeth in which three witches are center stage, for instance, sets a mood of doom and tragedy for the first act of the play.
motif
A repeated pattern or idea in a work of literature, i.e. illusion, coming of age, courage, etc.
myth
A story in a system of narratives set in an imaginary world that once served to explain the origin of life, religious beliefs, and the forces of nature as supernatural occurrences.
oxymoron
A figure of speech in which two contradictory words or phrases are combined in a single expression, giving the effect of a condensed paradox. "wise fool," "living death."
palindrome
A word, phrase, passage, or number that reads the same forward and backward, e.g. "Anna," "Draw, o coward," or "23832"
paradox
A statement that, while apparently self-contradictory, is nonetheless essentially true. For example, the paradoxical expression, "He lifted himself up by his bootstraps," suggests a physical impossibility, and thus communicates a truth about the enormity of the person's achievements. In a certain context, the conflicting thoughts shed insight on a particular idea or sentiment.
parallel character
A character whose similar situation or attitude toward a situation reinforces the main theme.
parallelism
The technique of arranging words, phrases, clauses or larger structures by placing them side by side and making them similar in form in order to show that the ideas are equal and they all relate to the same theme. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson lists the grievances against the King of England by using parallelism such as "He has obstructed..." "He has abused..." etc. Repetition often plays a part.
pathos
The quality in a work of art or literature that arouses feelings of sympathy, pity, or sorrow in the viewer or reader. In rhetorical writing, authors often attempt to persuade readers by appealing to their sense of pathos, or their emotions.
periodic sentence
Sentence in which the meaning of the main clause is not completed until the end of the sentence (just before the period). To have marked periodicity, a sentence must be fairly long. Ex: "To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius." (Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-Reliance," 1841)
peripeteia
In Greek tragedy, a reversal of fortune
persona
A term used in literary criticism to refer to the voice created by the author through which a story is told. A voice or character representing the speaker in a literary work. A mask (in Latin); in poetry and fiction, the projected speaker or narrator of the work - that is, a mask for the actual author. The persona is not the author, the person who sits down to write, but a "second self" an artistic creation through whom the author speaks.
personification
A figure of speech in which human characteristics and sensibilities are attributed to animals, plants, inanimate objects, natural forces, or abstract ideas.
plot
The sequence of actions and events in a literary work.
point of view
The perspective from which the literary work is presented.
protagonist
The main character in a literary work, usually the one with whom the audience identifies.
pun
A form of wit, not necessarily funny, involving a play on a word with two or more meanings, e.g. when Mercutio is bleeding to death in Romeo and Juliet, he says "Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man."
realism
A literary style and movement that stressed accuracy in the portrayal of life, focusing on characters with whom middle-class readers could identify; a direct contrast to Romanticism.
repetition
The reiteration of a word or phrase to create a sense of emphasis and rhythm - for example, Martin Luther King, Jr. uses the phrase "I have a dream" several times in his famous speech.
rhetorical question
A question posed for emphasis of a point, not for the purpose of getting an answer. This is a question the speaker knows is answer to already - and the audience knows the answer. The idea is that the answer, reverberating around in everyone's minds, is much more powerful that if the speaker actually said it
scene
A subdivision of an act in drama.
simile
A figure of speech that uses like, as, or as if to compare two essentially different objects, actions, or attributes that share some aspect of similarity.
stichomythia
dialogue especially of altercation or dispute delivered by two actors in alternating lines (as in classical Greek drama)
syntax
The arrangement and grammatical relation of words, phrases, and clauses in sentences; the ordering of words into phrases, clauses, and sentences. Controls verbal pacing and focus.
tension
A feeling of excitement and expectation the reader or audience feels because of the conflict, mood, or atmosphere of the work.
theme
A universal idea about life or people in general that the author conveys through a literary work. A theme can never be just one word, such as "love," but instead must express a complete point or idea, such as "Love is worth the pain and sacrifice that are often a part of a relationship."
tone
The reflection in a work of the author's attitude toward his or her subject, characters and readers. Conveyed through details and author's choice of words (diction), and by the purposeful use of details and images.
tragedy
A dramatic work that presents the downfall of a dignified character who is involved in historically, morally, or socially significant events. An imitation of a serious action which will arouse pity and fear in the viewer
tragic flaw
(hamartia) A weakness in the character or a wrong judgment on the part of a dignified, noble character which sets the plot in motion and leads to the character's downfall or destruction.
tragic hero
A character, often of high birth, whose basic goodness and superiority are marred by a tragic flaw such as pride. The tragic hero recognizes his or her flaw, but only after it is too late.
understatement
A type of verbal irony in which something is purposely represented as being less important than it actually is.
verisimilitude
The appearance of truth, actuality, or reality; what seems to be true in fiction.
voice
A term used in literary criticism to identify the sense a written work conveys to a reader of its writer's attitude, personality, and character. For example, the speaker's voice can be loud or soft, personal or cold, strident or gentle, authoritative or hesitant, or can have any manner or combination of characteristics.