Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing

Topics: ArtSymbolism

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Last updated: December 11, 2019

accent
an emphasis or stress placed on a syllable in speech. Clear pronunciation of polysyllabic words almost always depends on correct placement of their accents (e.g. des-ert and de-sert are two different words and parts of speech, depending on their accent.

) Accent or speech stress is the basis of most meters in English.

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accentual meter
a meter that uses a consistent number of strong speech stresses per line. The number of unstressed syllables may vary, as long as the accented syllables do not. Much popular poetry, such as rap and nursery rhymes, is written in accentual meter.

acrostic
a poem in which the initial letters of each line, when read downward, spell out a hidden word or words (often the name of a beloved person.) Acrostics date back as far as the Hebrew Bible and classical Greek poetry.

Allegory
A narrative in verse or prose in which the literal events (persons, places, and things consistently point to a parallel sequence of symbolic ideas. This narrative strategy is often used to dramatize the abstract ideas, historical events, religious systems, or political issues.

An allegory has two levels of meaning: a literal level that tells a surface story and a symbolic level in which the abstract ideas unfold. The names of allegorical characters often hnt at their symbolic roles. For example, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” Faith is not only the name of the protagonist’s wife, but also a symbol of the protagonist’s religious faith.

Alliteration
the repetition of two or more consonant sounds in successive words in a line of verse or prose. Alliteration can be used at the beginning of words (initial alliteration) or internally on stressed syllables (internal alliteration.) Alliteration was a central feature of Anglo-Saxon poetry and is still used by contemporary writers.

All-knowing narrator
narrator who sees in the mind of all or some of the characters

allusion
a brief (and sometimes indirect) reference in a text to a person, place, or thing – fictitious or actual. An allusion may appear in a literary work as an initial quotation, a passing mention of a name, or a s a phrase borrowed from another writer – often carrying the meanings and implications of the original. Allusions imply a common set of knowledge between reader and writer and operate as a literary shorthand to enrich the meaning of the text.

Analysis
The examination of a piece of literature as a means of understanding its subject or structure. An effective analysis often clarifies a word by focusing on a single element such as tone, irony, symbolism, imagery, or rhythm in a way that enhances the reader’s understanding of the whole.

Anapest
a metrical foot in verse in which two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable, as in “on a boat” or “in a slump.”

anecdote
a short narrative usually consisting of a single incident or episode. Often humorous, anecdotes can be real or fictional. When they appear within a larger narrative as a brief story told by one character to another, the author usually employs them to reveal something significant to the larger narrative.

Antagonist
the most significant character or force that opposes the protagonist in a narrative or drama. The antagonist may be another character, society itself, a force of nature, or even – in modern literature – conflicting impulses in the protagonist.

anticlimax
an unsatisfying and trivial turn of event in a literary work that occurs in place of a genuine climax.

An anticlimax often involves a surprising shift in tone from lofty or serious into the petty or ridiculous. The term is often used negatively to denote a feeble moment in a plot in which an author fails to create an intended effect. Anticlimax, however can also be a strong dramatic device when a writer uses it for humorous or ironic effect.

antihero
A protagonist who lacks one or more of the conventional qualities attributed to a hero. Instead of being dignified, brave, idealistic, or purposeful, the antihero may be cowardly, self-interested, alienated, or weak.

antithesis
words, phrases, clauses, or sentences set in deliberate contrast to one another.

Antithesis balances opposing ideas, tones, or structures, usually to heighten the effect of a statement.

apostrophe
direct address, usually to someone or something. In poetry an apostrophe often addresses something not ordinarily spoken to. An an apostrophe, a speaker may address an inanimate object, a dead or absent person, an abstract thing, or a spirit. Apostrophe is often used to provide a speaker with means to articulate thought aloud.

archetype
A recurring symbol, character, landscape, or event found in myth and literature across different cultures and eras.The idea of the archetype came into literary criticism from the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung who believed that all individuals share a “collective conscious,” a set of primal memories common to the human race that exists in our subconscious.

arena theater
a modern, non traditional performance space in which the audience surrounds the stage on four sides.

The stage can be circular, square rectangular, or ellipsoidal. In contrast to the picture-frame stage, with its privileged single point of view from the center of the orchestra seats, arena staging favors no one portion of the audience.

Aside
In drama a few words or a short passage spoken in an undertone or to the audience. By convention, other characters onstage are deaf to the aside.

assonance
the repetition of two or more vowel sounds in successive words, which creates a kind of rhyme. Like alliteration, the assonance may occur initially or internally.

Assonance may be used to focus attention on key words or concepts. Assonance also helps make a phrase or line more memorable.

atmosphere
The dominant mood or feeling that pervades all or part of a literary work. Atmosphere is the total effect conveyed by the author’s use of language, images, and physical setting.

auditory imagery
a word or sequence of words that refer to the sense of hearing

augustan age
This term has two related meaning. First, it originally referred to the greatest period of Roman literature under the Emperor Augustus (27 B.C.

– 14 A.D.) in which Virgil, Horace, and Ovid wrote. Second, it refers to the early eighteenth century in English literature, a neoclassical period dominated by Alexander Pope, Thomas Gray, and Jonathan Swift.

authorial intrusion
the effect that occurs when a third-person narrator adds his or her own comments (which presumably represent the ideas and opinions of the author) into the narrative.

ballad
traditionally, a song that tells a story. The ballad was originally an oral verse form – sung or recited and transmitted from performer to performer without being written down.

Ballads are characteristically compressed, dramatic, and objective in their narrative style. There are many variations to the ballad form, most consisting of quatrains in a simple rhyme scheme.

ballad stanza
the most common pattern of ballad makers consists of four lines rhymed abcd, in which the first and third lines have four metrical feet and the second and fourth lines have three feet (3,4,3,4)

Bathos
in poetry, an unintentional lapse from the sublime to the ridiculous or trivial.

Bathos differs from anticlimax, in that the latter is a deliberate effect, often for the purpose of humor or contrast, whereas bathos occurs through failure.

bildungsroman
german for “novel of growth and development.” Sometimes called an apprenticeship novel, this genre depicts a youth who struggles toward maturity forming a worldview or philosophy of life.

biographical criticism
the practice of analyzing a literary work by using knowledge of the author’s life to gain insight

biography
a factual account of a person’s life, examining all available information or texts relevant to the subject

blank verse
the most common and well-known meter or unrhymed poetry in English. Blank verse contains five iambic feet per line and is never rhymed (blank means unrhymed.)

Blues
a type of folk music originally developed by African Americans in the South, often about some pain or loss.

Blues lyrics traditionally consist of three-line stanzas in which the first two identical lines are followed by a third concluding, rhyming line. Te influence of the blues is fundamental in virtually all styles of contemporary pop – jazz, rap, rock, gospel, country, and rhythm and blues.

Box set
the illusion of scenic realsim for interior rooms was achieved in the early nine-teenth century with the develoment of this; consisting of three walls that joined in two corners and a ceiling that tilted as if seen in perspective.

broadside ballads
poems printed on a single sheet of paper, often set to traditional tunes.

Most broadside ballads, which originated in the late sixteenth century, were an early form of verse journalism, cheap to print, and widely circulated. Often they were humorous or pathetic accounts of sensational news events.

Burlesque
Incongruous imitation of either the style or subject matter of a serious genre, humorous die to the disparity between the treatment and the subject. On the nineteenth-century English stage, the buresque was a broad caricature, parody, travesty, or take-off of popular plays, opera, or current events.

cacophony
a harsh discordant sound often mirroring the meaning of the context in which it is used. the opposite of cacophony is euphony.

Caesura, cesura
a pause within a line of verse. traditionally, caesuras appear near the middle of a line, but their placement may be varied to create expressive rhythmic effects. A caesura will usually occur at a mark of punctuation, but there can be a caesura even if no punctuation is present.

carpe diem
latin for “seize the day.” Originally said in Horace’s famous “Odes 1 (11)” this phrase has been applied to characterize much lyric poetry concerned with human morality and the passing of time.

central intelligence
the character through whose sensibility and mind a story is told. Henry James developed this term to describe a narrator – not the author – whose perceptions shape the way a story is presented.

character
an imagined figure inhabiting a narrative or drama. by convention, the reader or spectator endows the fictional character with moral, dispositional, and emotional qualities expressed in what the character says – the dialogue – and by what he or she does – the action. What a character says and does in any particular situation is motivated by his or her desires, temperament, and moral nature.

character development
The process in which a character is introduced, advanced, and possibly transformed in a story. This development can prove to be either static or dynamic.

characterization
the techniques a writer uses to create, revel, or develop the characters in a narrative.

child ballads
American scholar Francis J. Child compiled a collection of over three hundred authentic ballads in his book “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.” De demonstrated that these ballads were the creations of oral folk culture. These works have come to be called child ballads.

Clerihew
a comic verse form named for its inventor, Edmund Clerihew Bentley.

A clerihew begins with the name of a person and consists of two metrically awkward, rhymed couplets. Humorous and often insulting, clerihews serve as ridiculous biographies, usually of famous people.

Climax
the moment of greatest intensity ina story, which almost inevitably occurs towards the end of the work.

the climax often takes the form of a decisive confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist. in a conventional story, the climax is followed by the resolution or denouement in which the effects and results of the climactic action are presented.

closed couplet
Two rhymed lines that contain an independent and complete thought or statement.

closed denouement
One of the two types of conventional resolution in a narrative. In this, the author ties everything up at the end of the story so that little is left unresolved.

closed form
a generic term that describes poetry written in some preexisting pattern of meter, ryhme, line, or stanza; it produces a prescribed structure as in the triolet, with a set rhyme scheme and line length; examples include the sonnet, setina, villanelle, ballade, and rondeau

closed reading
A method of analysis involving careful step-by-step explication of a poem in order to understand how various elements work together. Close reading is a common practice of formalist critics in the study of a text.

closet drama
play or dramatic poem designed to be read aloud rather than performed.

colloquial english
The casual or informal but correct language of ordinary native speakers, which may include contractions, slang, and shifts in grammar, vocabulary, and diction.

comedy
a literary work aimed at amusing an audience.

comedy is one of the basic modes of storytelling and can be adapted to most literary forms – from poetry to film. intraditional comic plotting, the action often involves the adventures of young lovers, who face obstacles and complications that threaten disaster by are overturned at the last moment to produce a happy ending. comic situations or comic characters can provide humor in tragicomedy and even in tragedies.

comedy of manners
a realistic form of comic drama that flourished with seventeenth-century playwrights such as Moliere and English Restoration dramatists. It deals with the social relations and sexual intrigues of sophisticated, intelligent, upper-class men and women, whose verbal fencing and witty repartee produce the principal comic effects

comic relief
the appearance of a comic situation, character, or clownish humor in the midst of a serious action that introduces a sharp contrast in mood.

commedia dell’arte
A form of comic drama developed by guilds of professional Italian actors in the mid-16th century. Playing stock characters, masked players improvised diaologue around a given scenarios (with a brief outlinejmakring entrances and main course of action). In a typical play a pair of young lovers (played without masks), aided by a clever servant (Harlequin), outwit older masked characters.

common meter
regular form of ballad meter with 2 sets of rhymes – ABAB

comparison
In the analysis or criticism of literature, one may place two works side-by-side to point out their similarities.

complication
the introduction of a significant development in the central conflict in a drama or narrative between characters (or between a character and his or her situation.) Traditionally, a complication begins the rising action of a story’s plot.

Dramatic conflict (motivation versus obstacle) during the complication is the force that drives a literary work from action to action. Complications may be external or internal or a combination of the two. A fateful blow such as illness or an accident that affects a character is a typical example of an external complication. An internal complication, in contrast, might not be immediately apparent, such as the result of some important aspect of a character’s values or personality.

conceit
a poetic device using elaborate comparisons, such as equating a loved one with the graces and beauties of the world. Most notably used by the Italian poet, Petrarch in praise of his beloved Laura, conceit comes from the Italian concetto, “concept” or “idea.”

conclusion
in plotting, the logical end or outcome of a unified plot, shortly following the climax. Also called resolution or denouement (“the untying of the knot”,) as in resolving or untying the knots created by plot complications during the rising action.

The action or intrigue ends in success or failure for the protagonist, the mystery is solved, or misunderstandings are dispelled. sometimes, a conclusion is ambiguous; at the climax of the story the characters are changed but the conclusion suggest different possibilities for what the change is or means.

concrete poetry
a visual poetry composed exclusively for the page in which a picture or image is made of printed letters and words. concrete poetry attempts to blur the line between language and visual art. concrete poetry was especially popular as an experimental movement in the 1960s

confessional poetry
a poetic genre emerging in the 1950s and 1960s primarily concerned with autobiography and the unexpurgated exposure of the poet’s personal life

conflict
In Greek, agon, or contest. The central struggle between two or more forces in a story. Conflict generally occurs when some person or thing prevents the protagonist from achieving his or her intended goal.

opposition can arise from another character, external events, preexisting situations, fate, or even some aspect of the main character’s own personality. conflict if the basic material out of which most plots are made.

connotation
an association or additional meaning that a word, image, or phrase may carry, apart from its literal denotation or dictionary definition. a word picks up connotations from all of the uses to which it has been put in the past.

consonance
Also called slant rhyme.

A kind of rhyme in which the linked words share similar consonant sounds but different vowel sounds, as in reason and raisin. sometimes only the final consonant sound is identical, as in fame and room. Used mostly by modern poets, consonance often registers more subtly than exact rhyme, lending itself to special poetic effects.

contrast
a contrast of two works of literature is developed by placing them side-by-side to point out their differences.

this method of analysis works well with its opposite, a comparison, which focuses on likenesses.

convention
any established feature or technique in literature that is commonly understood by both authors and readers. a convention is something generally agreed on to be appropriate for its customary uses, such as the sonnet form for a love poem or the opening “once upon a time” for a fairy tale.

conventional symbols
literary symbols that have a conventional or customary effect on most readers. We would respond similarly to a black cat crossing our path or a young bride in a white dress

cosmic irony
the irony that exists between a character’s aspiration and the treatment he or she receives at the hands of fate; AKA irony of fate

cothurni
high thick-soled boots worn by Greek and Roman tragic actors in late classical times to make them appear taller than ordinary men

couplet
a two-line stanza in poetry, usually rhymed, which tends to have lines of equal length.

cowboy poetry
a contemporary genre of folk poetry written by people with firsthand experience in the life of horse, trail, and ranch

crisis
the point in a drama when the crucial action, decision, or realization must be made, marking the turning point or reversal of the protagonist’s fortunes.

From the Greek word “krisis” meaning “decision.”

cultural studies
A contemporary interdisciplinary field of academic study that focuses on understanding the social power encoded in “texts.”

Dactyl
a metrical foot of verse in which one stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables. The dactylic meter is less common to English than it was to classical Greek and Latin verse.

deconstructionist criticism
A school of criticism that rejects the traditional assumption that language can accurately represent reality. they believe that literary texts can have no single meaning; therefore, they concentrate their attention on how language is being used in a text, rather than what is being said

decorum
propriety or appropriateness.

in poetry, decorum usually refers to a level of diction that is proper to use in a certain occasion. decorum can also apply to character, setting, and the harmony that exists between the elements in a poem.

denotation
the literal, dictionary meaning of a word

denouement
the resolution or conclusion of a literary work, as plot complications are unraveled after the climax. In french means “unknotting.”

deus ex machina
Latin for “a god from a machine.” The phrase refers to the Greek playwright’s frequent use of a god, mechanically lowered to the stage from the skene roof, to resolve human conflict with judgements and commands.

Conventionally, the phrase now refers to any forced or improbable device in plot resolution.

dialect
a particular variety of language spoken by an identifiable regional group or social class of person. dialects are often used in literature in an attempt to present a character more realistically and to express significant differences in class or background.

dialogue
the direct representation of the conversation between two or more characters

diction
word choice or vocabulary

didactic fiction
narrative that intends to teach specific moral lesson or provide model for proper behavior. now used pejoratively to describe story in which events seem manipulated in order to convey uplifting idea

didactic poetry
a kind of poetry intended to teach the reader a moral lesson or impart a body of knowledge. Poetry that aims for education over art

dimeter
a verse meter consisting of two metrical feet, or two primary stresses, per line

doggerel
verse that is full of irregularities due not to skill but to incompetence on the part of the poet. doggerel is crude verse that brims with cliches, obvious rhyme, and inept rhythm.

double plot
also called “subplot”. A second story of plotline that is complete and interesting in its own right, often doubling or inverting the main plot

drama
derived from the Greek “dran,” “to do,” drama means action or deed. drama is the form of literary composition designed for performance in the theater, in which actors take the roles of the characters, perform the indicated action, and speak the written dialogue.

dramatic irony
a special kind of suspenseful expectation, when the audience or reader understands the implication and meaning of a situation onstage and foresees the oncoming disaster (in tragedy) or triumph (in comedy) but the character does not.

dramatic monologue
a poem written as a speech made by a character at some decisive moment. the speaker is usually addressing a silent listener.

dramatic poetry
any verse written for the stage. Also a kind of poetry that presents the voice of an imaginary character (or characters) speaking directly, without any additional narration by the author.

dramatic point of view
a point of view in which the narrator merely reports dialogue and action with minimal interpretation or access to the characters’ minds.

dramatic question
primary unresolved issue in a drama as it unfolds. the dramatic question is the result of artful plotting, raising suspense and expectation in play’s action as it moves towards its outcome.

dramatic situation
the basic conflict that initiates a work or establishes a scene. it is usually describes both a protagonists’ motivation and the forces that appose its realization.

dumb show
In Renaissance theater, performed at the beginning of a performance, a mimed dramatic performance whose purpose is to prepare the audience for the main actin of the play to follow.

dynamic character
a character who develops and grows during the course of the story

echo verse
a poetic form in which the final syllables of the lines are repeated back as a reply or commentary, often using puns

editing
the act of rereading a draft in order to correct mistakes, cut excess words, and make improvements

editorial omniscience
when an omniscient narrator goes beyond reporting the thoughts of his or her characters to make a critical jugment or commentary, making explicit the narrator’s own thoughts or philosophies.

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