“I would rather be attacked than unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an author is to be silent as to his works.
Samuel Johnson (English author)
An abundance of the much-celebrated authors agree, not unlike the legendary English author, that literature stands firm on the grounds of literary analyses and critique from the readers. All those college and university essays on literary analyses of poems, prose, novels, and whatnot are actually for instilling in the students the skills of composing a deft critique by understanding the author’s reasons behind the choice of words and phrases. Why do the writers write the way they do? They do so simply to invoke the feelings in us that they wish to – with the help of the words and sentences that they string together, they are able to bring life to situations, inanimate objects and create a world of dilemmas among the minds of the readers.
Understanding the writer’s perspective starts with understanding the conscious choice that goes behind every word that he pens down. For that, we must be aware of the tools and techniques that are at his disposal and the ones that he frequently falls back on to bind us in a spell of words, phrases and sentences through his creations.
Literary terms: what are they?
Simply put, literary terms are names given to the various techniques, tools and devices that the writers use in their works to produce a targeted feeling, sensation, or special effects in the narration – especially used while composing a critique or analyses of literature. The literary devices, tools and techniques in the writer’s quiver all have specific literary terms assigned to them, so they are easy to identify and explain when writing analyses or critique of the literature.
Literary terms are the ones that help us categorise the type of literary device that has been used by the writer while explaining a certain scenario or character in the narrative. These terms help us learn more about the writer’s perspective as well as provide us with insights about his unique writing style.
Must-know literary terms for writing impressive essays
Writers have myriad methods of expressing their ideas and feelings through their works. However, understanding the perspective of the writer, imperative while composing a literary analysis, may prove to be difficult at times. To make things easier for you, here are the must-know literary terms, compiled from the (almost) unending list of tools and techniques used by the writers, that will help you to nail that literary essay and impress your professors.
- Worded wonders
A constant favourite among authors, wordplay through the use of literary devices has evolved through the classics and still find their place in the literature of the new age. One classic literary device that has been used in myriad instances is alliteration. Analysing classics and poems will now be easy with following definition and examples collected from classic literature, compiled at one place so you can compose a literary essay like a pro.
A literary device that repeats a speech sound in consecutive words (or those in proximity) within a sentence is called alliteration. Used to give stress to a syllable, alliterations usually occur at the beginning of the words, normally with the help of a consonant. Alliterations lend flow, structure and style to the literary work, be it poem or prose. Here are some examples of alliteration used in literature throughout time that gives an idea of the timeless literary device that it is.
- From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; | A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life. – Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare)
- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. – The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
- Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheaved His vastness. – Paradise Lost (John Milton)
- The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, | The furrow followed free, | We were the first that ever burst | Into that silent s – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
- Contrast and compare
The usage of contrast and comparison help the writers to convey a message through their works more efficiently. That is perhaps the reason for literature containing so many different literary techniques for contrasting and comparing. From analogy to symbolism, comparisons have formed a solid foundation for literature through the ages. The next time you compose a literary essay, look out for signs of the usage of literary techniques of comparison in the form of allegories, analogies, similes, metaphors or symbolism, and be prepared to tackle the literary analyses impressively.
The use of analogy is vast and extensive in literature through the ages. An analogy is the comparison drawn between two ideas or things that are apparently dissimilar but helps the reader to grasp the writer’s point of view quite easily with an explanation or a twist in it that tells all. Analogies help the readers grasp complex and abstract ideas in relation to everyday things, quite often mundane and routinely. The following are some of the examples of analogy as observed in literature.
- Read from some humbler poet, | Whose songs gushed from his heart, | As showers from the clouds of summer, | Or tears from the eyelids start. – The Day is Done (H.W. Longfellow)
Here, Longfellow draws an analogy between the gushing of his poems and the gushing of tears from the eye or rains from the summer clouds.
- Memory is to love what the saucer is to the cup. – The House in Paris (Elizabeth Bowen)
Here, the inseparable, as well as needful nature of the relationship between a cup and a saucer, has been used as an analogy to explain the relationship between memory and love.
Allegory is a literary device that has found its place in the works of many renowned authors throughout the ages. An allegory uses the narrative entwining the plot and characters to depict a larger and more abstract idea, value or moral than the one it apparently represents. In allegory, there are two layers of meaning as authors use this literary device to add a multi-layered dimension to their writings. The literary term for depicting an abstract value or idea – usually having a political or religious significance – through the usage of characters, plots, and events in the narrative is thus called allegory. Here are some examples of the usage of allegory in classic literature and iconic cinemas that help you understand the nature and purpose of this much-favoured literary device.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell is a classic example of a political allegory where the events and occurrences in Communist Russia between 1917 and 1943 have been depicted through the story set in a barnyard. The narrative of the story along with the plot and characters seem to be unfolding along the lines of interactions between the farm animals whereas the deeper significance of the political events that took place in Russia. In Animal Farm, Orwell uses the allegory in the form of the pigs representing the people in power in the country following the overthrowing of Tsar Nicholas II, or Mr. Jones, the owner of the farm in the story, and Boxer, horse representing the working class in the country in post-revolution Russia.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is a religious allegory where the author has depicted the betrayal of Judas through Edmund and Aslan as Jesus Christ.
- In popular movies, you can observe the examples of allegory in Wall-E where the story represents the need to save planet earth from the inevitable doom brought on by deforestation and rampant industrial growth with not a care about environmental hazards and imbalances in the ecosystem. Another movie that addresses the issue of deforestation and ruining of green cover of the earth through its narrative is Avatar where the Pandora Woods represent the Amazon rainforest in the allegorical sense.
A form of analogy, similes are used to compare between two objects, people or places in a narrative to show the similarities using the words such as ‘like’ or ‘as’. Authors prefer to use a simile when they want to say that object 01 is similar to or ‘like’ object 02. The usage of similes, found in everyday usage of English, is also another favourite literary device for the authors who wish to draw resemblances in their narratives. A literary device used for comparison, here are some examples of similes from literature.
- Does it stink like rotten meat? | Or crust and sugar over – | Like a syrupy sweet? – Harlem (Langston Hughes)
- I wait, washed, brushed, fed, like a prize pig. – The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
- In spite of our warnings and explanations, it drew him as the moon draws water, but drew him no nearer than the light-pole on the corner, a safe distance from the Radley gate. – To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
A metaphor is a powerful literary device used for drawing a form of analogy of similarity between two things. Do not confuse a metaphor with a simile for the former uses a direct comparison by stating that the two things are akin whereas the latter shows the similarities as being alike. In a metaphor, the author uses a compelling comparison to say that object 01 is object 02 and not merely ‘like’ it in nature. The function of a metaphor is drawing the readers’ attention to the detailed description in the narrative as well as appeal sharply to their senses to captivate them.
- She’s all states, and all princes, I. – The Sun Rising (John Donne)
- It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. – Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare)
- And it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant, and whatever a sun will always sing is you. – I Carry Your Heart With Me (E.E. Cummings)
One of the more popular literary devices, symbolism finds its place in literature through the ages. We use symbolism in our daily conversations quite often and some even draw inspirations from literature loaded with symbolic significance. Symbolism occurs when a writer assigns a value or idea to an object (symbol) that is not similar to the value or idea it literally represents. Everyday objects and colours represent the symbols for various ideas or values such as a red rose represents romance, and the colour white depicts purity and tranquillity universally. The following are some of the examples of symbolism from literature and movies.
- All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts. – As You Like It (William Shakespeare)
- The much-celebrated director, Alfred Hitchcock, incorporated symbolism into his film Vertigo by using many spirals in the visual treatment throughout the movie to represent the heady and dizzy feeling one has when experiencing vertigo.
- Depictions through descriptions
Bringing life to words that spring forth pictures and emotions in the minds of the readers is perhaps one of the best things about being a writer. As the authors have immense power to wield with their pens, their descriptions have brought forth a wide array of literary terms to categorise the ways the writers describe the characters, attributes, places and events in their narratives. The following are the most important forms of descriptive literary terms that are used widely in literature by hundreds of authors.
Imagery is a literary device that serves the purpose of description by appealing to the readers’ five senses. Invoking feelings and sensation through the usage of words in one or more than one of the five senses is the main function of imagery. Children’s literature has traditionally depended heavily upon imagery to bring life to a scene that needed detailed description. The following are some of the examples from literature that will help you understand more about the usage of imagery.
- The only other sound’s the sweep | Of easy wind and downy flake. – Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost)
- And moveless fish in the water gleam | By silver reeds in a silver stream. – Silver (Walter de la Mare)
- When all at once I saw a crowd, | A host, of golden daffodils, | Beside the lake, beneath the trees, | Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. – Daffodils (William Wordsworth)
A favourite among the quirkiest of authors, hyperbole is the art of deftly using exaggeration to convey a depiction or description to the reader with emphasis. A literary device that is fun to use, hyperbole is, simply put, an exaggerated description of the actual occurrence, attribute or event. The function of a hyperbole is thus to either introduce an element of amusement or to emphasise something with the usage of exaggerated terms and words. Some of the famous examples of the usage of hyperbole are as follows.
- I’ll love you till the ocean | Is folded and hung up to dry | And the seven stars go squawking | Like geese about the sky. – As I Walked Out One Evening (W.H. Auden)
- I had to wait in the station for ten days – an eternity. – The Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
Another fun-filled literary device, personification assigns humanly traits to inanimate or non-human characters so that the attributes or behaviour of the characters can be better explained in the narrative. When the authors decide to assign a human attribute to a non-human entity in their works, they use personification for bringing inanimate things to life, to add to the vividness of the description, and for perceiving the world through human eyes. The following are the examples of how some noted authors have used personification in their literary works.
- I’d love to take a poem to lunch | Or treat it to a wholesome brunch | Of fresh-cut fruit and apple crunch. – Take a Poem to Lunch (Denise Rodgers)
- I am not cruel, only truthful, | The eye of a little god, four-cornered. – The Mirror (Sylvia Plath)
- Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer | The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. – Hamlet (William Shakespeare)
- Classic cases
Literature is based firmly on the foundations of tried and tested methods of narration and storytelling. Some literary elements have found their way into timeless literature of all kinds and have an all-pervasive impact among all the languages of the world. The literary elements that are easily found in almost all narratives in literature are archetype and allusion.
Archetypes are essentially typecasting of innate human nature and dichotomies that have existed since time immemorial. The authors have been using archetypes through the characters and theme of the narrative since a long time. Archetypes exist in movies, songs, plays, stories and even poems. They represent the timeless dichotomies and some of the innate traits of humans that have stood the test of time and are here to stay. Here are some of the examples of archetypes in literature and cinema.
- K Rowling uses the archetype of good vs. evil throughout the Harry Potter series with the Death Eaters and Voldemort representing evil while the rest take sides with the good.
- Katniss Everdeen’s survival strategies and tactics to win the games in The Hunger Games represents the archetype of the journey that every epic hero must undertake towards enlightenment and a better tomorrow.
- Storytelling secrets
Every author has a bunch of storytelling secrets up their sleeves. The most important of the literary devices that help in storytelling are conflict and theme. While the former highlights the struggle that propels the narrative forward, the latter conveys an underlying message on which the story or narrative is spun.
Conflict is the literary device that helps authors to show the struggles of the protagonist or the hero archetype by introducing problems, challenges and dilemma that the hero ultimately conquers to emerge as the champion (or not, in case of tragedies). The conflict can be either external, where the hero battles against enemies that are outside (such as an opponent in a game or archenemies hunched for battle) or internal, where the hero has to tame the demons inside in order to be able to emerge victoriously. The five types of conflict in literature are Man vs. Man, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Nature, and Man vs. Technology. The following are some of the examples of conflict in literature and cinema.
- Hester Prynne, the protagonist of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is observed to be in conflict with the societal stigma that she faces for mothering a lovechild.
- In the Star Wars movies, Luke Skywalker, representing the side of the light or good side, is seen to be in conflict with darkness or evil, that is, the Emperor’s forces, especially Darth Vader.
The theme of a literary work is the underlying message that it wishes to convey. It is an indispensable literary element found in all forms of literature, and authors always resort to conveying a message through the theme. The theme has a personalised touch from the author; it not be confused with the topic of the literary work in analysis. The following are some of the examples of theme that will help you gauge its usage in literature through the ages.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen revolves around the main theme of marriage while some of the minor themes are friendship, coming of age, affection, and romance.
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell deals with the main theme of war and some of the minor themes are love, friendship, heartbreak and passion.
Now that you know about the important literary terms do not hesitate to compose that stellar literary analysis essay due over the weekend. A thorough knowledge of these literary terms will now help you to easily identify the patterns in the literary works of the stalwarts as well as help you gain an understanding of the reason behind they chose the words or phrases that they did. Literary devices are the greatest weapons that the authors have, and you should know about them to write an in-depth literary analysis or just to appreciate literature better.
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