Barron’s AP Literature and Composition Vocabulary

Topics: ArtSymbolism

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Last updated: May 9, 2019

abstract
An abbreviated synopsis of a longer work of scholarship or research.

adage
A saying or proverb containing a truth based on experience and often couched in metaphorical language.

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allegory
A story in which the narrative or characters carry an underlying symbolic, metaphorical, or possibly an ethical meaning.

alliteration
The repetition of one or more initial consonants in a group of words or lines of poetry or pose.

allusion
A reference to a person, place, or event meant to create an effect or enhance the meaning of an idea.

ambiguity
A vagueness of meaning; a conscious lack of clarity meant to evoke multiple

anachronism
A person, scene, event, or other element in literature that fails to correspond with the time or era in which the work is set.

analogy
A comparison that points out similarities between two dissimilar things.

annotation
A brief explanation, summary, or evaluation of a text or work of literature.

antagonist
A rhetorical opposition or contrast of ides by means of a grammatical arrangement of words, clauses, or sentences, as in following: “They promised freedom but provided slavery.

apostrophe
A rhetorical device in which a speaker addresses a person or personified thing not present. An example: “Oh, you cruel streets of Manhattan, how I detest you!”

archetype
An abstract or ideal conception of a type; a perfectly typical example; an original model or form.

assonance
The repetition of two or more vowel sounds in a group of words or lines in poetry and prose. Note the assonance in “Meet Pete Green; he’s as mad as a batter.”

ballad
A simple narrative verse that tells a story that is sung or recited.

Popular ballads include Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Keat’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” and Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Goal.”

bathos
The use of insincere or overdone sentimentality.

bibliography
A list of works cited or otherwise relevant to a subject or other work.

Bildungsroman
A German word referring to a novel structured as a series of events that take place as the hero travels in quest of a goal.

blank verse
Poetry written in iambic pentameter, the primary meter used in English poetry and the works of Shakespeare and Milton. It is “blank” because the lines generally don’t rhyme.

bombast
Inflated, pretentious language used for trivial subjects.

burlesque
A work of literature meant to ridicule a subject; a grotesque imitation.

cacophony
Grating, inharmonious sounds.

caesura
A pause somewhere in the middle of a verse, often (but not always) marked by punctuation.

canon
The works considered most important in a national literature or period; works widely read and studied.

caricature
A grotesque likeness of striking qualities in persons and things.

carpe diem
Literally, “seize the day”; enjoy life while you can, a common theme on literature.

catharsis
A cleansing of the spirit brought about by the pity and terror of a dramatic tragedy.

classic
A highly regarded work of literature or other art form that has withstood the test of time.

classical, classicism
Deriving from the orderly qualities of ancient Greek and Roman culture; implies formality, objectivity, simplicity, and restraint.

climax
The high point, or turning point, or a story or play.

coming-of-age-story/novel
A tale in which a young protagonist experiences an introduction to adulthood.

The character may develop understanding via disillusionment, education, doses of reality, or any other experiences that alter his or her emotional or intellectual maturity. (ex. To Kill a Mockingbird)

conceit
A witty or ingenious thought; a diverting a highly fanciful idea, often stated in figurative language.

connotation
The suggested or implied meaning of a word or phrase.

consonance
The repetition of two or more consonant sounds in a group of words or a line of poetry.

couplet
A pair of rhyming lines in a poem.

denotation
The dictionary definition of a word.

denouement
The resolution that occurs at the end of a play or work of fiction.

deus ex machina
In literature, the use of an artificial device or gimmick to solve a problem.

diction
The choice of words in oral and written discourse.

dramatic irony
A circumstance in which he audience or reader knows more about a situation than a character. King Oedipus, for example, unwittingly kills his own father, yet later declares that he shall find and punish his father’s killer.

elegy
A poem or prose selection that laments or meditates on the passing or death of something or someone of value.

ellipsis
Three periods (…) indication the omission of words in a thought or quotation.

elliptical construction
A sentence containing a deliberate omission of words. In the sentence “May was hot and June the same,” the verb was is omitted from the second clause.

empathy
A feeling of association or identification with an object or person.

end-stopped
A term that describes a line of poetry that ends with a natural pause often indicated by a mark of punctuation, as in these lines from “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot:In the mountains, there you feel free.I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

enjambment
In poetry, the use of successive lines with no punctuation or pause between them.

epic
An extended narrative poem that tells of the adventures and exploits of a hero that is generally larger than life and is often considered a legendary figure such as Odysseus or Beowulf.

epigram
A concise but ingenious, witty, and thoughtful statement.

euphony
Pleasing, harmonious sounds.

epithet
An adjective or phrase that expresses a striking quality of a person or thing; sun bright topaz, sun-lit lake, and sun-bright lake are examples.

eponymous
A term for the title character of a work of literature.

euphemism
A mild or less negative usage for a harsh or blunt term; pass away is a euphemism for die.

expose
A piece of writing that reveals weaknesses, faults, frailties, or other short-comings.

exposition
The background and events that lead to the presentation of the main idea or purpose of a work of literature.

explication
The interpretation or analysis of a text.

extended metaphor
A series of comparisons between two unlike objects.

fable
A short tale often featuring nonhuman characters that act as people whose actions enable the author to make observations or draw useful lessons about human behavior. (ex. Orwell’s “Animal Farm”)

falling action
The action in play or story that occurs after the climax and that leads to the conclusion and often to the resolution of the conflict.

fantasy
A story containing unreal, imaginary features.

farce
A comedy that contains an extravagant and nonsensical disregard of seriousness, although it may have a serious, scornful purpose.

figure of speech, figurative language
In contrast to literal language, figurative language implies meanings. Figures of speech include metaphors, similes, and personification, among many others.

first-person narrative
A narrative told by a character involved in the story, using first-person pronouns such as I and we.

flashback
A return to an earlier time in a story or play in order to clarify present action or circumstances. An author may simple state: “There was a time when Henry loved June with great passion…

” A flashback might also be a character’s account of the past, a dream, or a sudden association with past events.

foil
A minor character whose personality or attitude contrasts with that of the main character.

foot
A unit of stressed and unstressed syllables used to determine the meter of a poetic line.

foreshadowing
Providing hints of things to come in a story or play.

frame
A structure that provides premise or setting for a narrative.

free verse
A kind of poetry without rhymed lines, rhythm, or fixed metrical feet.

genre
A term used to describe literary forms, such as novel, play, and essay.

Gothic novel
A novel in which supernatural horrors and an atmosphere of unknown terrors pervades the action.

heroic couplet
Two rhymed lines written in iambic pentameter and used widely in eighteenth-century verse.

hubris
The excessive pride that often leads tragic heroes to their death.

humanism
A belief that emphasizes faith and optimism in human potential and creativity.

hyperbole
Overstatement; gross exaggeration for rhetorical effect.

idyll
A lyric poem or passage that describes a kind of ideal life or place.

image
A word or phrase representing that which can be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, or felt.

in medias res
A Latin term for a narrative that starts not at the beginning of events but at some other critical point.

indirect quotation
A rendering of a quotation in which actual words are not stated but only approximated or paraphrased.

irony
A mode of expression in which the intended meaning is the opposite of what is stated, often implying ridicule or light sarcasm; a state of affairs or events that is the reverse of what might have been expected.

lampoon
A mocking, satirical assault on a person or situation.

light verse
A variety of poetry meant to entertain or amuse, but sometimes with a satirical thrust.

litotes
A form of understatement in which the negative of the contrary is used to achieve emphasis or intensity.

(ex. He is not a bad dancer)

loose sentence
A sentence that follows the customary word order of English sentences, i.e., subject-verb-object. The main idea of the sentence is presented first and is then followed by one or more subordinate clauses.

maxim
A saying or proverb expressing common wisdom or truth.

melodrama
A literary form in which events are exaggerated in order to create an extreme emotional response.

metaphor
A figure of speech that compares unlike objects.

metaphysical poetry
The work of poets, particularly those of the seventeenth century, that uses elaborate conceits, is highly intellectual, and expresses the complexities of love and life.

meter
The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables found in poetry.

metonymy
A figure of speech that uses the example of one thing to represent something else with which it is associated. (ex.

“The White House says…”

Middle English
The language spoken in England roughly between 1150 and 1500 A.

D. Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in Middle English.

mock epic
A parody of traditional epic form. It usually treats a frivolous topic with extreme seriousness, using conventions such as invocations to the Muse, action-packed battle scenes, and accounts of heroic exploits

mode
The general form, pattern, and manner of expression of a work of literature.

montage
A quick succession of images or impressions used to express an idea.

mood
The emotional tone in a work of literature.

moral
A brief and often simplistic lesson that a reader may infer from a work of literature.

motif
A phrase, idea, or event that through repetition serves to unify or convey a theme in a work of literature.

muse
One of the ancient Greek goddesses presiding over the arts. The imaginary source of inspiration for an artist or writer.

myth
An imaginary story that has become an accepted part of the cultural or religious tradition of a group or society.

Myths are often used to explain natural phenomena.

narrative
A form of verse or prose that tells a story.

naturalism
A term often used as a synonym for realism; also a view of experience that is generally characterized as bleak and pessimistic.

non sequitur
A statement or idea that fails to follow logically from the one before.

novella
A work of fiction roughly 20,000 to 50,000 words-longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel.

novel of manners
A novel focusing on and describing the social customs and habits of a particular social group. (ex. Pride and Prejudice)

ode
A lyric poem usually marked by serious, respectful, and exalted feelings toward the subject.

Old English
The Anglo-Saxon language spoken in what is now England from approximately 450 to 1150 A.D.

omniscient narrator
A narrator with unlimited awareness, understanding, and insight of characters, setting, background, and all other elements of the story.

onomatopoeia
The use of words whose sounds suggest their meaning.

ottava rima
An eight-line rhyming stanza of a poem.

oxymoron
A term consisting of contradictory elements juxtaposed to create a paradoxical effect.

parable
A story consisting of events from which a moral or spiritual truth may be derived.

paradox
A statement that seems self-contradictory but is nevertheless true.

parody
An imitation of a work meant to ridicule its style and subject.

paraphrase
A version of a text put into simpler, everyday, words.

pastoral
A work of literature dealing with rural life.

pathetic fallacy
Faulty reasoning that inappropriately ascribes human feelings to nature or nonhuman objects.

pathos
That element in literature that stimulates pity or sorrow.

pentameter
A verse with five poetic feet per line.

periodic sentence
A sentence that departs from the usual word order of English sentences by expressing its main thought only at the end.

persona
The role that a character assumes or depicts to a reader, a viewer, or the world at large.

personification
A figure of speech in which objects and animals are given human-like characteristics.

plot
The interrelationship among the vents in a story

picaresque novel
An episodic novel about a roguelike wanderer who lives off his wits.

point of view
The relation in which a narrator or speaker stands to the story or subject matter of a poem.

protagonist
The main character.

pseudonym
A false name or alias used by writers, such as Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens).

pulp fiction
Novels written for mass consumption, often emphasizing exciting plots.

pun
A humorous play on words, using similar-sounding or identical words to suggest different meanings.

quatrain
A four-line poem.

realism
The depiction of people, things, and events as they really are without idealization or exaggeration for effect.

rhetoric
The language of a work and its style.

rhyme
The repetition of similar sounds at regular intervals, used mostly in poetry.

rhyme scheme
The pattern of rhymes within a given poem.

rhythm
The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that make up a line of poetry.

roman a clef
French for a novel in which historical events and actual people appear under the guise of fiction.

romance
An extended narrative about improbable events and extraordinary people in exotic places.

sarcasm
A sharp, caustic expression or remark; bitter jibe or taunt.

satire
A literary style used to poke fun at, attack or ridicule an idea often for the purpose of inducing change.

scan
The act of determining the meter of a poetic line.

sentiment
A synonym for view of feeling, also a refined and tender emotion in literature.

sentimental
A term that describes characters’ excessive emotional response to experience.

setting
The total environment for that action in a novel or play.

simile
A figurative comparison using the words like or as.

sonet
A popular form of verse consisting of fourteen lines and a prescribed rhyme scheme.

stanza
A group of two or more lines in poetry combined according to subject matter, rhyme, or some other plan.

stream of consciousness
A style of writing in which the author tries to reproduce the random flow of thoughts in the human mind.

style
The manner in which an author uses and arranges words, shapes ideas, forms sentences, and creates a structure to convey ideas.

subplot
A subordinate or minor collection of events in a novel or play.

subtext
The implied meaning that underlies the main meaning of a work of literature.

symbolism
The use of one object to evoke ideas and associations not literally part literally part of the original object.

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