Literary Terms w/ Examples!

Topics: ArtSymbolism

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Last updated: May 9, 2019

allegory
a story in which each aspect of the story has a symbolic meaning outside the tale itself. ex: in Dante’s Inferno, the different circles of hell represent the different sins people commit.

alliteration
the repetition of initial consonant sounds.ex: she sells seashells by the seashore

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allusion
a reference to another work or famous figure. There are different types of these figures of speech: classical, topical or popular. A classical one of these refers to Greek and Roman mythology, such as, the Odyssey.

A topical one of these refers to a current event. A popular one of these refers to a reference to a television show or a hit movie.ex: in the Count of Monte Cristo, Fernand Mondego betrayed the Ali Pasha, who was an actual Ottoman ruler during the years 1788-1822

analogy
a comparison of two unlike things, alike in certain aspects. Usually this literary term involves two or more symbolic parts, and are employed to clarify an action or a relationship.ex: Life may be described as a card game in which each person is dealt a hand and must decide what play he will make accordingly.

anaphora
the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of several successive verses, clauses, or paragraphs.

ex: “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills” -Winston S. Churchill.

anecdote
a short narrative, story dealing with particulars of an interesting episode–differs from a short story in that it lacks complicated plot. ex: like that one time when Bryan accidentally pulled the fire alarm

antihero
a protagonist who is markedly unheroic: morally weak, cowardly, dishonest, or any number of unsavory qualities. The character lacks the qualities of the hero: skill, grace, honesty, courage, truth. ex: the Count of Monte Cristo

aphorism
a short and usually witty saying, such as: “A classic? That’s a book that people praise and don’t read.” – Mark Twain

apostrophe
a figure of speech wherein the speaker talks directly to something that is nonhuman or absent. ex: one might talk to a friend who recently passed away

archetype
the original or primitive example that appears in many cultures; a pattern of plot or character which evokes what Carl Jung calls a “racial memory” ex: in a Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Santiago Nasar is a messianic archetype (he was in his mid-30s, unmarried, young, and he was sacrificed)

assonance
the repeated use of vowel soundsex: Old king Cole was a merry old soul

atmosphere
the emotional tone or background that surrounds a scene.

ex: “The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.” -Ch. 18, Their Eyes were Watching God

ballad
a long, narrative poem, usually in a very regular meter and rhyme. A ballad typically has a naive folksy quality, a characteristic that distinguishes it from epic poetryex: the Rime of the Ancient Mariner

bombast
a pretentious, exaggeratedly learned language.

When one tries to be eloquent by using the largest, most uncommon words, one falls into bombast.ex: “old sport” -Gatsby!

cacophony
in poetry, this figure of speech uses deliberately harsh, awkward sounds. ex: “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!Beware the Jubjub bird, and shunThe frumious Bandersnatch!”-Lewis Carroll, “Jabberwocky”

caesura
a pause in a line of poetry; this literary term is dictated not by meter but by natural speaking rhythm. ex: “to err is human || to forgive, divine” -Pope Alexander

chiasmus
a figure of speech by which the order of the terms in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second. This may involve a repetition of the same words. ex: I am stuck on Band-Aid brand ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me!

colloquialism
This is a word or phrase used in everyday conversational English that isn’t a part of the accepted “school-book” in Englishex: YOLO

conceit, controlling image
in poetry, this figure of speech doesn’t mean stuck-up. It refers to a startling or unusual metaphor, or to a metaphor developed and expanded upon several lines. When the image dominates and shapes the entire work, it’s called a controlling image.

ex: John Donne’s The Flea (a flea bites a man and his lover and he refers to the flea throughout the whole poem)

connotation
the implied or associative meaning of a wordex: “one cock in the basket” -Hedda Gabler

denotation
the dictionary meaning of the wordex: an actual chicken in a basket (Hedda Gabler)

consonance
The repetition of consonant sounds with words (rather than at their beginnings, which is alliteration)ex: A flock, or sick, black-checkered, ducks.

couplet
A pair of lines that end in rhymeex: “But as my back I always hear,Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”

diction
The author’s choice of word. Whether to use wept or cried is question of this literary term.

syntax
The author’s choice of ordering and structuring.

dynamic character
a character who changes his/her beliefs, values, opinions in a storyex: Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451

static character
A character with beliefs that stay the same. ex: Mildred, Guy Montag’s wife in Fahrenheit 451

elegy
a type of poem that meditates on death or mortality in a serious, thoughtful manner. These types of poems often use the recent death of a noted person or loved one as a starting point. They also memorialize specific dead people.

ex: O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman

enjambment
the continuation of a syntactic unit from one line or couplet of a poem to the next with no pause. – A run-on line of poetry that needs the next sentence to complete its senseex: “I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree. ” – Joyce Kilmer, “Trees”

epigram
short, clever, witty statement, poem or prose piece expressing a single idea with brevity.ex: “Here lies my wife: here let her lie!Now she’s at rest – and so am I.”- John Dryden

euphemism
A word or phrase that takes the place of a harsh, unpleasant, or impolite reality. The use of passed away for died, and let go for fired are two examples of euphemisms.ex: The Final Solution (Hitler’s decision to murder all Jews)

Euphony
When sounds blend harmoniously; combinations of sounds and words which are pleasant to the ear.

ex: “Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour.” – Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”

foil
a secondary character whose purpose is to highlight the characteristics of a main character, usually by contrast. For example, an author will often give a cynical, quick-witted character a docile, naive sweet-tempered friend to serve as a foil.ex: Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter

foreshadowing
an event or statement in a narrative that in miniature suggests a larger event that comes later.ex: In Things Fall Apart, Ikemefuna is described as an “ill-fated boy”. Okonkwo later kills him.

free verse
poetry written without a regular rhyme scheme or metrical patternex: e.e. cumming’s poetry:”in Just-spring when the world is mud-luscious the littlelame balloonman” – e.e. cummings, “[In Just-]”

hyperbole
exaggeration or deliberate overstatement.

ex: “I am so hungry, I can eat a horse.”

imagery
a word or phrase that appeals to one or more of the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smellex: the story of Kiowa dying in a sh*t-field

internal rhyme
rhyme occurring within a line of poetryex: “The wedding Guest he beat his breast”

inversion
switching the customary order of elements in a sentence or phrase.ex: *”In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit”* as opposed to “A hobbit lived in a hole in the ground.” (J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit)

juxtaposition
the act or instance of placing two things close together or side by side.

This is often done in order to compare/contrast the two, to show similarities or differences, etc. In literature, this literary term occurs when two images that are otherwise not commonly brought together appear side by side or structurally close together, thereby forcing the reader to stop and reconsider the meaning of the text through the contrasting images, ideas, motifs, etc.ex: “It was the best of times.

It was the worst of times…” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (this quote compares the two cities: London and Paris)

lyric
a type of poetry that explores the poet’s personal interpretation of and feelings about the world (or the part that his poem is about). When the word __?__ is used to describe a tone it refers to a sweet emotional melodiousness. ex: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?Thou art more lovely and more temperate.Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

“- William Shakespeare, Sonnet Number 18

metonymy
A word that used to stand for something else that it has attributes ex: The Oval Office = the activity of the presidency OR a herd of 50 cows could be called 50 head of cattle

mood
the atmosphere of a story. The feeling created in the reader by a literary work. Similar to tone.

motif
a recurring object, concept, or structure in a work of literature.ex: Janie’s hair in Their Eyes Are Watching God

ode
an exalted, complex lyric poem written about a dignified lofty subject.

onomatopoeia
Words that sound like what they mean.ex: “How they *tinkle, tinkle, tinkle*, In the icy air of night!To the tintinnabulation that so musically wellsFrom the bells, bells, bells, bells”- Edgar Allan Poe, “The Bells”

oxymoron
a phrase composed of opposites; a contradiction.ex: “same difference”

parable
like a fable, or an allegory, a __?__ is a story that instructs.ex: the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible

paradox
a situation or statement that seems to contradict itself, but on closer inspection, does not.ex: “That crazy bastard may be the only sane one left.” – Joseph Heller, Catch-22

parallelism
Repeated syntactical similarities used for effect.ex: “Veni, vidi, vici.

” (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar

parenthetical phrase
A phrase set off by commas (dashes or parenthesis) that interrupts the flow of a sentence with some commentary or added refill.

parody
The work that results when a specific work is exaggerated to ridiculousness. ex: Saturday Night Live’s skits

pastoral
a poem set in tranquil nature or even more specifically, one about shepherds.

personification
when an inanimate object takes on human shape.

ex: the animals in Animal Farm by George Orwell

point of view
the perspective from which the action of a novel (or narrative poem) is presented, whether the action is presented by one character or from different vantage points over the course of the novel. There are three mains types of narration: first person limited, the third person limited, an the omniscient.ex: • First person limited – This is a narrator who is a character in the story and tells the tale from his/her own point of view. “I feel stressed.”• Third person limited – This is a narrator who generally reports only what one character (usually the main character) sees, and who only reports the thoughts of that one privileged character. “Bob feels stressed. Bob is unprepared for this test.

” This narrator can also limited or biased.• The omniscient – This is a narrator who sees, like a God, into each character’s mind and understands all the action going on. “When it comes to the AP lit test, Bob is stressed, Pete is prepared, and Bertha is going to wing it.”

pun
the usually humorous use of a word in such a way to suggest more meanings.ex: “I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.”

quatrain
a four-line stanza or four-line division of a sonnet marked off by its rhyme scheme.ex: “Roses are redthat part is true,but violets are violet,not f*cking blue.

refrain
A line or set of lines repeated several times over a course of a poem.ex: “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.'” is used multiple times in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, The Raven.

repetition
a sound, a word, a phrase, a sentence, or a verse that is repeatedex: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…

rhetorical question
a question that suggests an answer. In theory, the effect of this literary term is that it causes the listener to feel he/she has come up with the answer herself.ex: “What’s in a name? That which we call a roseBy any other name would smell as sweet…

” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

satire
this literary term exposes common character flaws to the cold light of humor. In general, __?__ attempts to improve things by pointing out people’s mistakes in hop that once exposed, such behavior will become less common. The great __?___ subjects used are hypocrisy, vanity, and greed, especially where those all too common characteristics have become institutionalized in society.ex: Candide by Voltaire

setting
the time and place of story

soliloquy
A speech spoken by a character alone on stage.

This is meant to convey the impression that the audience is listening to the character’s thoughts. Unlike an aside, this speech is not meant to imply that the actor acknowledges the audience’s presence. ex: “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks,It is the east and Juliet is the sun.” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

sonnet
a poem with the fixed form of 14 lines, normally iambic pentameter, with a rhyme scheme conforming to or approximating one of two main types –the Italian or the English.

symbolism
a device in literature where an object represents an ideaex: the green light in the Great Gatsby

synecdoche
a figure of speech in which a part stands for a whole, or vice versa.ex: “Lend me your ears.” In other words, give me your attention.

synesthesia
When two or more sensory details are combined.

ex: “Karen had a ‘prickly laugh’.” (touch, sound)

theme
the main idea of the overall work; the central idea. It is the topic of discourse or discussion.

tone
the writer’s attitude toward his/her audience and subject. A writer can be formal or informal, sarcastic or bitter or playful.

Often confused with mood.

understatement
a statement for dramatic or humorous effect of less importance than the occasion would warrant.ex: A soldier knowing that he is dying says, “I am hurt.”

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