Key Literary Terms

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Last updated: April 26, 2019
the point or main idea of a literary work

the time, place, and social conditions in which literary work occurs

grotesque character
(from Sherwood Anderson) a person who takes one of the many truths, calls it his/his own, and tries to live by it; implies a character who is wounded, scarred, obsessed, who has tunnel vision about some aspect of life.

round character
(from E.M. Forster) a character who has the emotional and psychological complexities associated with “real” people, a character who is capable of surprising the reader.

flat character
a “stock” or one-dimensional character, one who lacks the multifaceted qualities associated with real people, a character who is not capable of surprising the reader in a realistic way.

reptition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words

a brief, often casual reference to a work of art, person, place or thing

the reptition of vowel sounds

a pause in a line of poetry

the emotional associations of a word beyond its dictionary definition

a two-lined, usually rhymed stanza

dramatic situation
“what’s going on” in a story, poem, play etc. the events, setting, and relationships that contribute to the piece

a moment of a sudden insight, a revelation

the way a poem is arranged on a page

free verse
a poem written in open form, without the constrictions of traditional rhyme and meter

traditionally a 17-syllable poem (5/7/5) that emphasizes imagery and conciseness

an overstatement, a statement containing exaggeration

sense experience expressed in language, a picture made with words

a direct comparison, a statement that one thing is another thing

controlling/implied metaphor
a metaphor developed more subtley, throughout an entire work, a metaphor that uses neither a connective (like or as) or a form of the verb to be (is, am, are, was, were)

a “little song,” 14 line poem written in iambic pentameter

Shakespearean Sonnet
a sonnet that rhymes with the following pattern: abab cdcd efef gg (4 quatrains and a final couplet)

Italian/Petrachan sonnet
a sonnet that rhymes in one of the following patterns: abba abba (the octave) cdcdcd or cdecde or cdccdc

narrative poem
a poem that tells a story

when the sounds of the words in a line of poetry imitate an “actual sound”

the identity of “the speaker” in a poem, often different that the identity of the poet her(him)self

giving human qualities to non-human things

the study of metrical structures (rhythm) in poetry

the recurrence of stresses and pauses in poetry

the repetition of words, phrases, or lines in a poem or song

a comparision using like or as

a group of lines in a poem

a 19 line French form that emphasizes repetition. Uses the following rhyme pattern: aba aba aba aba aba abaa. Lines one and three repeat in their entirety throughout the poem!

the difference between what is expected to happen and what actually occurs

Automatic writing
“unconscious” writing , a stream of consciousness technique used to generate a great deal of content quickly; in automatic writing, writers record thoughts on paper as soon as they occur without analyzing them

a rapidly made list. When writers brainstorm they do not “second guess”

Thesis statement
traditionally in the first paragraph of the analytic/argumentative papers.

Presents topics the paper will address in an organized way and expresses the essay’s argument/opinion

Topic sentence
It’s like, “the thesis statement for a paragraph.” Organizes the paragraph and prepares readers for both topic of the paragraph and the argument opinion that the paragraph will address

an artistic movement in the late 18th/early 19th centuries that emphasized the personal freedom of the individual. Includes such ideas/ideals as pantheism, the “noble savage,” the transcendent aspects of nature, and the idea that humans can find/know G-d directly.

a symbol, character, situation, or image that evokes a deep universal response

Concrete poetry
when poetry makes designs (shapes) out of letters and words

the conclusion, outcome, resolution of a story

a sadly mediatative poem (a lament) sometimes written on the occasion of death

words spoken when the actor is alone or in an aside (out of hearing range from the other actors); purpose: to reveal the character’s thoughts and/or other information essential for the audience to know

a thing (action, object, place gesture, etc.) that suggests more than its literal meaning

a play usually in 5 acts, meant to arouse the emotions of pity and fear in the audience and thus produce a catharsis (purging) of these emotions [from Aristotle]

Tragic flaw
the shortcoming in the tragic hero that contributes to his/her downfall

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