Norton Anthology of American Literature, 8th Edition

action
any event or series of events depicted in a literary work; an event may be verbal as well as physical, so that saying something or telling a story within the story may be an event. See also climax, complication, falling action, inciting incident, and rising action.

alexandrine
a line of verse in iambic hexameter, often with a caesura after the third iambic foot.

allegory
a literary work, whether in verse or prose, in which characters, action, and even aspects of setting signify (or serve as symbols for) a second, correlated order of concepts, persons, and actions. One of the most famous English-language allegories is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, in which a character named Christian has to make his way through obstacles such as the Slough of Despond to get to the Celestial City.

alliteration
the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds through a sequence of words—for example, “While I nodded, nearly napping” in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

allusion
a brief, often implicit and indirect reference within a literary text to something outside the text, whether another text (e.g., the Bible, a myth, another literary work, a painting, or a piece of music) or any imaginary or historical person, place, or thing. Many of the footnotes in this book explain allusions found in literary selections.

amphitheater
a theater consisting of a stage area surrounded by a semicircle of tiered seats.

anapestic
referring to a metrical form in which each foot consists of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one—for example, “There are mán- | y who sáy | that a dóg | has his dáy” (Dylan Thomas, “The Song of the Mischievous Dog”). A single foot of this type is called an anapest.

antagonist
a character or a nonhuman force that opposes or is in conflict with the protagonist.

antihero
a protagonist who is in one way or another the very opposite of a traditional hero. Instead of being courageous and determined, for instance, an antihero might be timid, hypersensitive, and indecisive to the point of paralysis. Antiheroes are especially common in modern literary works; examples might include the speaker of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” or the protagonist of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

archetype
a character, ritual, symbol, or plot pattern that recurs in the myth and literature of many cultures; examples include the scapegoat or trickster (character type), the rite of passage (ritual), and the quest or descent into the underworld (plot pattern). The term and our contemporary understanding of it derive from the work of psychologist Carl Jung (1875- 1961), who argued that archetypes emerge from—and give us a clue to the workings of—the “collective unconscious,” a reservoir of memories and impulses that all humans share but aren’t consciously aware of.

arena stage
a stage design in which the audience is seated all the way around the acting area; actors make their entrances and exits through the auditorium.

assonance
the repetition of vowel sounds in a sequence of words with different endings—for example, “The death of the poet was kept from his poems” in W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats.”

aubade
a poem in which the coming of dawn is either celebrated, as in Billy Collins’s “Morning,” or denounced as a nuisance, as in John Donne’s “The Sun Rising.”

auditor
an imaginary listener within a literary work, as opposed to the reader or audience outside the work.

author
the actual or real author of a work is the historical person who actually wrote it and the focus of biographical criticism, which interprets a work by drawing on facts about the author’s life and career. The implied author, or authorial persona, is the vision of the author’s personality and outlook implied by the work as a whole. Thus when we make a claim about the author that relies solely on evidence from the work rather than from other sources, our subject is the implied author; for example, “In Dubliners, James Joyce heavily criticizes the Catholic church.”

author time
see time.

autobiography
see biography. A work of nonfiction that recounts the life of a real person. If the person depicted in a biography is also its author, then we instead use the term autobiography. An autobiography that focuses only on a specific aspect of, or episode in, its author’s life is a memoir.

ballad
a verse narrative that is, or originally was, meant to be sung. Characterized by repetition and often by a refrain (a recurrent phrase or series of phrases), ballads were originally a folk creation, transmitted orally from person to person and age to age. An example is “Sir Patrick Spens.”

ballad stanza
a common stanza form, consisting of a quatrain that alternates four-foot and three-foot lines; lines 1 and 3 are unrhymed iambic tetrameter (four feet), and lines 2 and 4 are rhymed iambic trimester (three feet), as in “Sir Patrick Spens.”

bildungsroman
literally, “education novel” (German), a novel that depicts the intellectual, emotional, and moral development of its protagonist from childhood into adulthood; also sometimes called an apprenticeship novel. This type of novel tends to envision character as the product of environment, experience, nurture, and education (in the widest sense) rather than of nature, fate, and so on. Charlotte Bront”s Jane Eyre is a famous example.

biography
a work of nonfiction that recounts the life of a real person. If the person depicted in a biography is also its author, then we instead use the term autobiography. An autobiography that focuses only on a specific aspect of, or episode in, its author’s life is a memoir.

blank verse
the metrical verse form most like everyday human speech; blank verse consists of unrhymed lines in iambic pentameter. Many of Shakespeare’s plays are in blank verse, as is William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.”

caesura
a short pause within a line of poetry; often but not always signaled by punctuation. Note the two caesuras in this line from Poe’s “The Raven”: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary.”

canon
the range of works that a consensus of scholars, teachers, and readers of a particular time and culture consider “great” or “major.”

carpe diem
literally, “seize the day” in Latin, a common theme of literary works that emphasize the brevity of life and the need to make the most of the present. Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” is a well-known example.

central consciousness
a character whose inner thoughts, perceptions, and feelings are revealed by a third-person limited narrator who does not reveal the thoughts, perceptions, or feelings of other characters.

character
an imaginary personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a literary work. Major or main characters are those that receive most attention, minor characters least. Flat characters are relatively simple, have a few dominant traits, and tend to be predictable. Conversely, round characters are complex and multifaceted and act in a way that readers might not expect but accept as possible. Static characters do not change; dynamic characters do. Stock characters represent familiar types that recur frequently in literary works, especially of a particular genre (e.g., the “mad scientist” of horror fiction and film or the fool in Renaissance, especially Shakespearean, drama).

characterization
the presentation of a fictional personage. A term like “a good character” can, then, be ambiguous—it may mean that the personage is virtuous or that he or she is well presented regardless of his or her characteristics or moral qualities. In fiction, direct characterization occurs when a narrator explicitly tells us what a character is like. Indirect characterization occurs when a character’s traits are revealed implicitly, through his or her speech, behavior, thoughts, appearance, and so on.

chorus
a group of actors in a drama who comment on and describe the action. In classical Greek theater, members of the chorus often wore masks and relied on song, dance, and recitation to make their commentary.

classical unities
as derived from Aristotle’s Poetics, the three principles of structure that require a play to have one plot (unity of action) that occurs in one place (unity of place) and within one day (unity of time); also called the dramatic unities. Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Sophocles’ Antigone observe the classical unities.

climax
the third part of plot, the point at which the action stops rising and begins falling or reversing; also called turning point or (following Aristotle) peripeteia. See also crisis.

closet drama
see drama. A literary genre consisting of works in which action is performed and all words are spoken before an audience by an actor or actors impersonating the characters. (Drama typically lacks the narrators and narration found in fiction.) Closet drama, however, is a subgenre of drama that has most of these features yet is intended to be read, either silently by a single reader or out loud in a group setting. As its name suggests, verse drama is drama written in verse rather than prose.

colloquial diction
see diction. Choice of words. Diction is often described as either informal or colloquial if it resembles everyday speech, or as formal if it is instead lofty, impersonal, and dignified. Tone is determined largely through diction.

comedy
a broad category of literary, especially dramatic, works intended primarily to entertain and amuse an audience. Comedies take many different forms, but they share three basic characteristics: (1) the values that are expressed and that typically cause conflict are determined by the general opinion of society (as opposed to being universal and beyond the control of humankind, as in tragedy); (2) characters in comedies are often defined primarily in terms of their social identities and roles and tend to be flat or stock characters rather than highly individualized or round ones; (3) comedies conventionally end happily with an act of social reintegration and celebration such as marriage. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a famous example. The term high or verbal comedy may refer either to a particular type of comedy or to a sort of humor found within any literary work that employs subtlety and wit and usually represents high society. Conversely, low or physical comedy is a type of either comedy or humor that involves burlesque, horse play, and the representation of unrefined life. See also farce.

coming-of-age story
see initation story. A kind of short story in which a character—often a child or young person—first learns a significant, usually life-changing truth about the universe, society, people, or himself or herself; also called a coming-of-age story. James Joyce’s “Araby” is a notable example.

complication
in plot, an action or event that introduces a new conflict or intensifies the existing one, especially during the rising action phase of plot.

conclusion
also called resolution, the fifth and last phase or part of plot, the point at which the situation that was destabilized at the beginning becomes stable once more and the conflict is resolved.

concrete poetry
poetry in which the words on the page are arranged to look like an object; also called shaped verse. George Herbert’s “Easter Wings,” for example, is arranged to look like two pairs of wings.

conflict
a struggle between opposing forces. A conflict is external when it pits a character against something or someone outside himself or herself—another character or characters or something in nature or society. A conflict is internal when the opposing forces are two drives, impulses, or parts of a single character.

connotation
what is suggested by a word, apart from what it literally means or how it is defined in the dictionary. See also denotation.

controlling metaphor
see metaphor. Sometimes, a general term for almost any figure of speech involving comparison; more commonly, a particular figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared implicitly—that is, without the use of a signal such as the word like or as—as in “Love is a rose, but you better not pick it.” See also simile. An extended metaphor is a detailed and complex metaphor that stretches across a long section of a work. If such a metaphor is so extensive that it dominates or organizes an entire literary work, especially a poem, it is called a controlling metaphor. In Linda Pastan’s “Marks,” for example, the controlling metaphor involves the use of “marks” or grades to talk about the speaker’s performance of her familial roles. A mixed metaphor occurs when two or more usually incompatible metaphors are entangled together so as to become unclear and often unintentionally humorous, as in “Her blazing words dripped all over him.”

convention
in literature, a standard or traditional way of presenting or expressing something, or a traditional or characteristic feature of a particular literary genre or subgenre. Division into lines and stanzas is a convention of poetry. Conventions of the type of poem known as the epic include a plot that begins in medias res and frequent use of epithets and extended similes.

cosmic irony
see irony. A situation or statement characterized by a significant difference between what is expected or understood and what actually happens or is meant. Verbal irony occurs when a word or expression in context means something different from, and usually the opposite of, what it appears to mean; when the intended meaning is harshly critical or satiric, verbal irony becomes sarcasm. Situational irony occurs when a character holds a position or has an expectation that is reversed or fulfilled in an unexpected way. When there is instead a gap between what an audience knows and what a character believes or expects, we have dramatic irony; when this occurs in a tragedy, dramatic irony is sometimes called tragic irony. Finally, the terms cosmic irony and irony of fate are sometimes used to refer to situations in which situational irony is the result of fate, chance, the gods, or some other superhuman force or entity.

couplet
two consecutive lines of verse linked by rhyme and meter; the meter of a heroic couplet is iambic pentameter.

crisis
in plot, the moment when the conflict comes to a head, often requiring the character to make a decision; sometimes the crisis is equated with the climax or turning point and sometimes it is treated as a distinct moment that precedes and prepares for the climax.

criticism
see literary criticism. The mainly interpretive (versus evaluative) work written by readers of literary texts, especially professional ones (who are thus known as literary critics). It is “criticism” not because it is negative or corrective but rather because those who write criticism ask probing, analytical, “critical” questions about the works they read.

cycle
see sequence. (1) The ordering of action in a fictional plot; (2) a closely linked series or cycle of individual literary works, especially short stories or poems, designed to be read or performed together, as in the sonnet sequences of William Shakespeare and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

dactylic
referring to the metrical pattern in which each foot consists of a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones—for example, “Fláshed all their / sábres bare” (Tennyson, “Charge of the Light Brigade”). A single foot of this type is called a dactyl.

denotation
a word’s direct and literal meaning, as opposed to its connotation.

dénouement
literally, “untying” (as of a knot) in French; a plot-related term used in three ways: (1) as a synonym for falling action, (2) as a synonym for conclusion or resolution, and (3) as the label for a phase following the conclusion in which any loose ends are tied up.

descriptive poem/structure
a poem organized as a description of someone or something.

destabilizing event
see inciting incident. An action that sets a plot in motion by creating conflict; also called destabilizing event.

deus ex machina
literally, “god out of the machine” (Latin); any improbable, unprepared-for plot contrivance introduced late in a literary work to resolve the conflict. The term derives from the ancient Greek theatrical practice of using a mechanical device to lower a god or gods onto the stage to resolve the conflicts of the human characters.

dialogue
(1) usually, words spoken by characters in a literary work, especially as opposed to words that come directly from the narrator in a work of fiction; (2) more rarely, a literary work that consists mainly or entirely of the speech of two or more characters; examples include Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Ruined Maid” and Plato’s treatise Republic.

diction
choice of words. Diction is often described as either informal or colloquial if it resembles everyday speech, or as formal if it is instead lofty, impersonal, and dignified. Tone is determined largely through diction.

discriminated occasion
a specific, discrete moment portrayed in a fictional work, often signaled by phrases such as “At 5:05 in the morning . . . ,” “It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season . . . ,” or “the day before Maggie fell down. . . .”

discursive poem/structure
a poem structured like a treatise, argument, or essay.

drama
a literary genre consisting of works in which action is performed and all words are spoken before an audience by an actor or actors impersonating the characters. (Drama typically lacks the narrators and narration found in fiction.) Closet drama, however, is a subgenre of drama that has most of these features yet is intended to be read, either silently by a single reader or out loud in a group setting. As its name suggests, verse drama is drama written in verse rather than prose.

dramatic irony
see irony. A situation or statement characterized by a significant difference between what is expected or understood and what actually happens or is meant. Verbal irony occurs when a word or expression in context means something different from, and usually the opposite of, what it appears to mean; when the intended meaning is harshly critical or satiric, verbal irony becomes sarcasm. Situational irony occurs when a character holds a position or has an expectation that is reversed or fulfilled in an unexpected way. When there is instead a gap between what an audience knows and what a character believes or expects, we have dramatic irony; when this occurs in a tragedy, dramatic irony is sometimes called tragic irony. Finally, the terms cosmic irony and irony of fate are sometimes used to refer to situations in which situational irony is the result of fate, chance, the gods, or some other superhuman force or entity.

dramatic monologue
a type or subgenre of poetry in which a speaker addresses a silent auditor or auditors in a specific situation and setting that is revealed entirely through the speaker’s words; this kind of poem’s primary aim is the revelation of the speaker’s personality, views, and values. For example, T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” consists of a middle-aged man’s words to the unidentified person who is about to accompany him to an evening social event; most of Robert Browning’s best-known poems, such as “My Last Duchess,” are dramatic monologues.

dramatic poem/structure
a poem structured so as to present a scene or series of scenes, as in a work of drama, though the term dramatic poem is usually not applied to verse drama. See also dramatic monologue.

dramatic unities
see classical unities. As derived from Aristotle’s Poetics, the three principles of structure that require a play to have one plot (unity of action) that occurs in one place (unity of place) and within one day (unity of time); also called the dramatic unities. Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Sophocles’ Antigone observe the classical unities.

dramatis personae
literally, “persons of the drama” (Latin); the list of characters that appears either in a play’s program or at the top of the first page of the written play.

dynamic character
see character. An imaginary personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a literary work. Major or main characters are those that receive most attention, minor characters least. Flat characters are relatively simple, have a few dominant traits, and tend to be predictable. Conversely, round characters are complex and multifaceted and act in a way that readers might not expect but accept as possible. Static characters do not change; dynamic characters do. Stock characters represent familiar types that recur frequently in literary works, especially of a particular genre (e.g., the “mad scientist” of horror fiction and film or the fool in Renaissance, especially Shakespearean, drama).

elegy
(1) since the Renaissance, usually a formal lament on the death of a particular person, but focusing mainly on the speaker’s efforts to come to terms with his or her grief; (2) more broadly, any lyric in sorrowful mood that takes death as its primary subject. An example is W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats.”

end-stopped line
a line of verse that contains or concludes a complete clause and usually ends with a punctuation mark. See also enjambment.

English sonnet
see sonnet. A fixed verse form consisting of fourteen lines usually in iambic pentameter. An Italian sonnet consists of eight rhyme-linked lines (an octave) plus six rhyme-linked lines (a sestet), often with either an abbaabba cdecde or abbacddc defdef rhyme scheme. This type of sonnet is also called the Petrarchan sonnet in honor of the Italian poet Petrarch (1304- 74). An English or Shakespearean sonnet instead consists of three quatrains (four- line units) and a couplet and often rhymes abab cdcd efef gg.

enjambment
in poetry, the technique of running over from one line to the next without stop, as in the following lines by William Wordsworth: “My heart leaps up when I behold / A rainbow in the sky.” The lines themselves would be described as enjambed.

epic
a long poem that celebrates, in a continuous narrative, the achievements of mighty heroes and heroines, usually in founding a nation or developing a culture, and uses elevated language and a grand, high style. Other epic conventions include a beginning in medias res, an invocation of the muse, a journey to the underworld, battle scenes, and a scene in which the hero arms himself for battle. Examples include Beowulf and Homer’s Iliad. A mock epic is a form of satire in which epic language and conventions are used to depict characters, actions, and settings utterly unlike those in conventional epics, usually (though not always) with the purpose of ridiculing the social milieu or types of people portrayed in the poem. A famous example is Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.

epigram
a very short, usually witty verse with a quick turn at the end.

epigraph
a quotation appearing at the beginning of a literary work or of one section of such a work; not to be confused with epigram.

epilogue
(1) in fiction, a short section or chapter that comes after the conclusion, tying up loose ends and often describing what happens to the characters after the resolution of the conflict; (2) in drama, a short speech, often addressed directly to the audience, delivered by a character at the end of a play.

epiphany
a sudden revelation of truth, often inspired by a seemingly simple or commonplace event. The term, originally from Christian theology, was first popularized by the Irish fiction writer James Joyce, though Joyce also used the term to describe the individual short stories collected in his book Dubliners.

episode
a distinct action or series of actions within a plot.

epistolary novel
see novel. A long work of fiction (approximately 40,000+ words), typically published (or at least publishable) as a standalone book; though most novels are written in prose, those written as poetry are called verse novels. A novel (as opposed to a short story) conventionally has a complex plot and, often, at least one subplot, as well as a fully realized setting and a relatively large number of characters. One important novelistic subgenre is the epistolary novel—a novel composed entirely of letters written by its characters. Another is the bildungsroman.

epithet
a characterizing word or phrase that precedes, follows, or substitutes for the name of a person or thing, such as slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., or Zeus, the god of trophies (Sophocles, Antigone); not to be confused with epitaph.

epitaph
an inscription on a tombstone or grave marker; not to be confused with epigram, epigraph, or epithet.

eponymous
having a name used in the title of a literary work. For example, Lemuel Gulliver is the eponymous protagonist of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

exposition
the first phase or part of plot, which sets the scene, introduces and identifies characters, and establishes the situation at the beginning of a story or play. Additional exposition is often scattered throughout the work.

extended metaphor
see metaphor. Sometimes, a general term for almost any figure of speech involving comparison; more commonly, a particular figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared implicitly—that is, without the use of a signal such as the word like or as—as in “Love is a rose, but you better not pick it.” See also simile. An extended metaphor is a detailed and complex metaphor that stretches across a long section of a work. If such a metaphor is so extensive that it dominates or organizes an entire literary work, especially a poem, it is called a controlling metaphor. In Linda Pastan’s “Marks,” for example, the controlling metaphor involves the use of “marks” or grades to talk about the speaker’s performance of her familial roles. A mixed metaphor occurs when two or more usually incompatible metaphors are entangled together so as to become unclear and often unintentionally humorous, as in “Her blazing words dripped all over him.”

external conflict
see conflict. A struggle between opposing forces. A conflict is external when it pits a character against something or someone outside himself or herself—another character or characters or something in nature or society. A conflict is internal when the opposing forces are two drives, impulses, or parts of a single character.

external narration or narrator
see narrator. Someone who recounts a narrative or tells a story. Though we usually instead use the term speaker when referring to poetry as opposed to prose fiction, narrative poems include at least one speaker who functions as a narrator. See also narrative. A narrator or narration is said to be internal when the narrator is a character within the work, telling the story to an equally fictional auditor or listener; internal narrators are usually first- or second-person narrators (see below). A narrator or narration is instead said to be external when the narrator is not a character. A first-person narrator is an internal narrator who consistently refers to himself or herself using the first-person pronoun I (or, infrequently, we). A second-person narrator consistently uses the second-person pronoun you (a very uncommon technique). A third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as she, he, they, it, and so on; third-person narrators are almost always external narrators. Third-person narrators are said to be omniscient (literally, “all-knowing”) when they describe the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; they are said to be limited when they relate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of only one character (the central consciousness). If a work encourages us to view a narrator’s account of events with suspicion, the narrator (usually first-person) is called unreliable. An intrusive narrator is a third-person narrator who occasionally disrupts his or her narrative to speak directly to the reader or audience in what is sometimes called direct address.

fable
an ancient type of short fiction, in verse or prose, illustrating a moral or satirizing human beings. The characters in a fable are often animals that talk and act like human beings. The fable is sometimes treated as a specific type of folktale and sometimes as a fictional subgenre in its own right. An example is Aesop’s “The Two Crabs.”

fairy tale
see tale. A brief narrative with a simple plot and characters, an ancient and originally oral form of storytelling. Unlike fables, tales typically don’t convey or state a simple or single moral. An especially common type of tale is the folktale, the conventions of which include a formulaic beginning and ending (“Once upon a time . . . ,” “. . . And so they lived happily ever after.”); a setting that is not highly particularized in terms of time or place; flat and often stock characters, animal or human; and fairly simple plots. Though the term fairy tale is often and broadly used as a synonym for folktale, it more narrowly and properly designates a specific type of folktale featuring fairies or other fantastic creatures such as pixies or ogres.

falling action
the fourth of the five phases or parts of plot, in which the conflict or conflicts move toward resolution.

fantasy
a genre of literary work featuring strange settings and characters and often involving magic or the supernatural; though closely related to horror and science fiction, fantasy is typically less concerned with the macabre or with science and technology. J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a well-known example.

farce
a literary work, especially drama, characterized by broad humor, wild antics, and often slapstick, pratfalls, or other physical humor. See also comedy.

fiction
any narrative, especially in prose, about invented or imagined characters and action. Today, we tend to divide fiction into three major subgenres based on length—the short story, novella, and novel. Older, originally oral forms of short fiction include the fable, legend, parable, and tale. Fictional works may also be categorized not by their length but by their handling of particular elements such as plot and character. Detective and science fiction, for example, are subgenres that include both novels and novellas such as Frank Herbert’s Dune and short stories such as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders at the Rue Morgue” or Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot.” See also gothic fiction, historical fiction, nonfiction, and romance.

figurative language
language that uses figures of speech.

figure of speech
any word or phrase that creates a “figure” in the mind of the reader by effecting an obvious change in the usual meaning or order of words, by comparing or identifying one thing with another; also called tropes. Metaphor, simile, metonymy, overstatement, oxymoron, and understatement are common figures of speech.

first-person narrator
see narrator. Someone who recounts a narrative or tells a story. Though we usually instead use the term speaker when referring to poetry as opposed to prose fiction, narrative poems include at least one speaker who functions as a narrator. See also narrative. A narrator or narration is said to be internal when the narrator is a character within the work, telling the story to an equally fictional auditor or listener; internal narrators are usually first- or second-person narrators (see below). A narrator or narration is instead said to be external when the narrator is not a character. A first-person narrator is an internal narrator who consistently refers to himself or herself using the first-person pronoun I (or, infrequently, we). A second-person narrator consistently uses the second-person pronoun you (a very uncommon technique). A third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as she, he, they, it, and so on; third-person narrators are almost always external narrators. Third-person narrators are said to be omniscient (literally, “all-knowing”) when they describe the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; they are said to be limited when they relate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of only one character (the central consciousness). If a work encourages us to view a narrator’s account of events with suspicion, the narrator (usually first-person) is called unreliable. An intrusive narrator is a third-person narrator who occasionally disrupts his or her narrative to speak directly to the reader or audience in what is sometimes called direct address.

flashback
a plot-structuring device whereby a scene from the fictional past is inserted into the fictional present or is dramatized out of order.

flashforward
a plot-structuring device whereby a scene from the fictional future is inserted into the fictional present or is dramatized out of order.

flat character
see character. An imaginary personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a literary work. Major or main characters are those that receive most attention, minor characters least. Flat characters are relatively simple, have a few dominant traits, and tend to be predictable. Conversely, round characters are complex and multifaceted and act in a way that readers might not expect but accept as possible. Static characters do not change; dynamic characters do. Stock characters represent familiar types that recur frequently in literary works, especially of a particular genre (e.g., the “mad scientist” of horror fiction and film or the fool in Renaissance, especially Shakespearean, drama).

focus
the visual component of point of view, the point from which people, events, and other details in a story are viewed; also called focalization. See also voice.

foil
a character that serves as a contrast to another.

folktale
see tale. A brief narrative with a simple plot and characters, an ancient and originally oral form of storytelling. Unlike fables, tales typically don’t convey or state a simple or single moral. An especially common type of tale is the folktale, the conventions of which include a formulaic beginning and ending (“Once upon a time . . . ,” “. . . And so they lived happily ever after.”); a setting that is not highly particularized in terms of time or place; flat and often stock characters, animal or human; and fairly simple plots. Though the term fairy tale is often and broadly used as a synonym for folktale, it more narrowly and properly designates a specific type of folktale featuring fairies or other fantastic creatures such as pixies or ogres.

foot
the basic unit of poetic meter, consisting of any of various fixed patterns of one to three stressed and unstressed syllables. A foot may contain more than one word or just one syllable of a multisyllabic word. In scansion, breaks between feet are usually indicated with a vertical line or slash mark, as in the following example (which contains five feet): “One com- | mon note | on ei- | ther lyre | did strike” (Dryden, “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham”). For specific examples of metrical feet, see anapestic, dactylic, iambic, spondee, and trochaic.

foreshadowing
a hint or clue about what will happen at a later moment in the plot.

formal diction
see diction. Choice of words. Diction is often described as either informal or colloquial if it resembles everyday speech, or as formal if it is instead lofty, impersonal, and dignified. Tone is determined largely through diction.

frame narrative
see narrative. A story, whether fictional or true and in prose or verse, related by a narrator or narrators (rather than acted out onstage, as in drama). A frame narrative is a narrative that recounts the telling of another narrative or story that thus “frames” the inner or framed narrative. An example is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” in which an anonymous third-person narrator recounts how an old sailor comes to tell a young wedding guest the story of his adventures at sea.

free verse
poetry characterized by varying line lengths, lack of traditional meter, and nonrhyming lines.

Freytag’s pyramid
a diagram of plot structure first created by the German novelist and critic Gustav Freytag (1816-1895).

general setting
see setting. The time and place of the action in a work of fiction, poetry, or drama. The spatial setting is the place or places in which action unfolds, the temporal setting is the time. (Temporal setting is thus the same as plot time.) It is sometimes also helpful to distinguish between general setting—the general time and place in which all the action unfolds—and particular settings—the times and places in which individual episodes or scenes take place. The film version of Gone with the Wind, for example, is generally set in Civil War- era Georgia, while its opening scene takes place on the porch of Tara, Scarlett O’Hara’s family home, before the war begins.

genre
a type or category of works sharing particular formal or textual features and conventions; especially used to refer to the largest categories for classifying literature—fiction, poetry, drama, and nonfiction. A smaller division within a genre is usually known as a subgenre, such as gothic fiction or epic poetry.

gothic fiction
a subgenre of fiction conventionally featuring plots that involve secrets, mystery, and the supernatural (or the seemingly supernatural) and large, gloomy, and usually antiquated (especially medieval) houses as settings. Examples include Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

haiku
a poetic form, Japanese in origin, that consists of seventeen syllables arranged in three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, respectively.

hero/heroine
a character in a literary work, especially the leading male/female character, who is especially virtuous, usually larger than life, sometimes almost godlike. See also antihero, protagonist, and villain.

heroic couplet
see couplet. Two consecutive lines of verse linked by rhyme and meter; the meter of a heroic couplet is iambic pentameter.

hexameter
a line of poetry with six feet: “She comes, | she comes | again, | like ring | dove frayed | and fl ed” (Keats, The Eve of St. Agnes). See alexandrine

high (verbal) comedy
see comedy. A broad category of literary, especially dramatic, works intended primarily to entertain and amuse an audience. Comedies take many different forms, but they share three basic characteristics: (1) the values that are expressed and that typically cause conflict are determined by the general opinion of society (as opposed to being universal and beyond the control of humankind, as in tragedy); (2) characters in comedies are often defined primarily in terms of their social identities and roles and tend to be flat or stock characters rather than highly individualized or round ones; (3) comedies conventionally end happily with an act of social reintegration and celebration such as marriage. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a famous example. The term high or verbal comedy may refer either to a particular type of comedy or to a sort of humor found within any literary work that employs subtlety and wit and usually represents high society. Conversely, low or physical comedy is a type of either comedy or humor that involves burlesque, horse play, and the representation of unrefined life. See also farce.

historical fiction
a subgenre of fiction, of what ever length, in which the temporal setting, or plot time, is significantly earlier than the time in which the work was written (typically, a period before the birth of the author). Conventionally, such works describe the atmosphere and mores of the setting in vivid detail and explore the influence of historical factors on the characters and action; though focusing mainly on invented or imaginary characters and events, historical fiction sometimes includes some characters and action based on actual historical personages and events. The historical novel is a type of historical fiction of which nineteenth-century Scottish writer Walter Scott pioneered in works such as Rob Roy and Ivanhoe.

hyperbole
see overstatement. Exaggerated language; also called hyperbole. (See also understatement.)

iambic
referring to a metrical form in which each foot consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one; this type of foot is an iamb. The most common poetic meter in English is iambic pentameter—a metrical form in which most lines consist of five iambs: “One cóm- | mon nóte | on éi- | ther lýre | did stríke” (Dryden, “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham”).

image/imagery
broadly defined, imagery is any sensory detail or evocation in a work; more narrowly, the use of figurative language to evoke a feeling, to call to mind an idea, or to describe an object. Imagery may be described as auditory, tactile, visual, or olfactory depending on which sense it primarily appeals to—hearing, touch, vision, or smell. An image is a particular instance of imagery.

imitative poem/structure
a poem structured so as to mirror as exactly as possible the structure of something that already exists as an object and can be seen.

implied author
see author. The actual or real author of a work is the historical person who actually wrote it and the focus of biographical criticism, which interprets a work by drawing on facts about the author’s life and career. The implied author, or authorial persona, is the vision of the author’s personality and outlook implied by the work as a whole. Thus when we make a claim about the author that relies solely on evidence from the work rather than from other sources, our subject is the implied author; for example, “In Dubliners, James Joyce heavily criticizes the Catholic church.”

inciting incident
an action that sets a plot in motion by creating conflict; also called destabilizing event.

informal diction
see diction. Choice of words. Diction is often described as either informal or colloquial if it resembles everyday speech, or as formal if it is instead lofty, impersonal, and dignified. Tone is determined largely through diction.

initiation story
a kind of short story in which a character—often a child or young person—first learns a significant, usually life-changing truth about the universe, society, people, or himself or herself; also called a coming-of-age story. James Joyce’s “Araby” is a notable example.

in medias res
“in the midst of things” (Latin); refers to opening a plot in the middle of the action, and then filling in past details by means of exposition or flashback.

interior monologue
see monologue. (1) A speech of more than a few sentences, usually in a play but also in other genres, spoken by one person and uninterrupted by the speech of anyone else, or (2) an entire work consisting of this sort of speech. In fiction, an interior monologue takes place entirely within the mind of a character rather than being spoken aloud. A soliloquy is a particular type of monologue occurring in drama, while a dramatic monologue is a type of poem.

internal conflict
see conflict. A struggle between opposing forces. A conflict is external when it pits a character against something or someone outside himself or herself—another character or characters or something in nature or society. A conflict is internal when the opposing forces are two drives, impulses, or parts of a single character.

internal narration or narrator
see narrator. Someone who recounts a narrative or tells a story. Though we usually instead use the term speaker when referring to poetry as opposed to prose fiction, narrative poems include at least one speaker who functions as a narrator. See also narrative. A narrator or narration is said to be internal when the narrator is a character within the work, telling the story to an equally fictional auditor or listener; internal narrators are usually first- or second-person narrators (see below). A narrator or narration is instead said to be external when the narrator is not a character. A first-person narrator is an internal narrator who consistently refers to himself or herself using the first-person pronoun I (or, infrequently, we). A second-person narrator consistently uses the second-person pronoun you (a very uncommon technique). A third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as she, he, they, it, and so on; third-person narrators are almost always external narrators. Third-person narrators are said to be omniscient (literally, “all-knowing”) when they describe the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; they are said to be limited when they relate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of only one character (the central consciousness). If a work encourages us to view a narrator’s account of events with suspicion, the narrator (usually first-person) is called unreliable. An intrusive narrator is a third-person narrator who occasionally disrupts his or her narrative to speak directly to the reader or audience in what is sometimes called direct address.

intrusive narration or narrator
see narrator. Someone who recounts a narrative or tells a story. Though we usually instead use the term speaker when referring to poetry as opposed to prose fiction, narrative poems include at least one speaker who functions as a narrator. See also narrative. A narrator or narration is said to be internal when the narrator is a character within the work, telling the story to an equally fictional auditor or listener; internal narrators are usually first- or second-person narrators (see below). A narrator or narration is instead said to be external when the narrator is not a character. A first-person narrator is an internal narrator who consistently refers to himself or herself using the first-person pronoun I (or, infrequently, we). A second-person narrator consistently uses the second-person pronoun you (a very uncommon technique). A third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as she, he, they, it, and so on; third-person narrators are almost always external narrators. Third-person narrators are said to be omniscient (literally, “all-knowing”) when they describe the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; they are said to be limited when they relate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of only one character (the central consciousness). If a work encourages us to view a narrator’s account of events with suspicion, the narrator (usually first-person) is called unreliable. An intrusive narrator is a third-person narrator who occasionally disrupts his or her narrative to speak directly to the reader or audience in what is sometimes called direct address.

irony
a situation or statement characterized by a significant difference between what is expected or understood and what actually happens or is meant. Verbal irony occurs when a word or expression in context means something different from, and usually the opposite of, what it appears to mean; when the intended meaning is harshly critical or satiric, verbal irony becomes sarcasm. Situational irony occurs when a character holds a position or has an expectation that is reversed or fulfilled in an unexpected way. When there is instead a gap between what an audience knows and what a character believes or expects, we have dramatic irony; when this occurs in a tragedy, dramatic irony is sometimes called tragic irony. Finally, the terms cosmic irony and irony of fate are sometimes used to refer to situations in which situational irony is the result of fate, chance, the gods, or some other superhuman force or entity.

Italian sonnet
see sonnet. A fixed verse form consisting of fourteen lines usually in iambic pentameter. An Italian sonnet consists of eight rhyme-linked lines (an octave) plus six rhyme-linked lines (a sestet), often with either an abbaabba cdecde or abbacddc defdef rhyme scheme. This type of sonnet is also called the Petrarchan sonnet in honor of the Italian poet Petrarch (1304- 74). An English or Shakespearean sonnet instead consists of three quatrains (four- line units) and a couplet and often rhymes abab cdcd efef gg.

legend
a type of tale conventionally set in the real world and in either the present or historical past, based on actual historical people and events, and offering an exaggerated or distorted version of the truth about those people and events. American examples might include stories featuring Davy Crockett or Johnny Appleseed or the story about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. British examples are the legends of King Arthur or Robin Hood.

limerick
a light or humorous verse form consisting of mainly anapestic lines of which the first, second, and fifth are of three feet; the third and fourth lines are of two feet; and the rhyme scheme is a-a-b-b-a.

limited narrator
see narrator. Someone who recounts a narrative or tells a story. Though we usually instead use the term speaker when referring to poetry as opposed to prose fiction, narrative poems include at least one speaker who functions as a narrator. See also narrative. A narrator or narration is said to be internal when the narrator is a character within the work, telling the story to an equally fictional auditor or listener; internal narrators are usually first- or second-person narrators (see below). A narrator or narration is instead said to be external when the narrator is not a character. A first-person narrator is an internal narrator who consistently refers to himself or herself using the first-person pronoun I (or, infrequently, we). A second-person narrator consistently uses the second-person pronoun you (a very uncommon technique). A third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as she, he, they, it, and so on; third-person narrators are almost always external narrators. Third-person narrators are said to be omniscient (literally, “all-knowing”) when they describe the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; they are said to be limited when they relate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of only one character (the central consciousness). If a work encourages us to view a narrator’s account of events with suspicion, the narrator (usually first-person) is called unreliable. An intrusive narrator is a third-person narrator who occasionally disrupts his or her narrative to speak directly to the reader or audience in what is sometimes called direct address.

limited point of view
see point of view. The perspective from which people, events, and other details in a work of fiction are viewed; also called focus, though the term point of view is sometimes used to include both focus and voice. The point of view is said to be limited when we see things only from one character’s perspective; it is said to be omniscient or unlimited when we get the perspective of multiple characters.

literary criticism
the mainly interpretive (versus evaluative) work written by readers of literary texts, especially professional ones (who are thus known as literary critics). It is “criticism” not because it is negative or corrective but rather because those who write criticism ask probing, analytical, “critical” questions about the works they read.

litotes
a form of understatement in which one negates the contrary of what one means. Examples from common speech include “Not bad” (meaning “good”) and “a novelist of no small repute” (meaning “a novelist with a big reputation”), and so on.

low (physical) comedy
see comedy. A broad category of literary, especially dramatic, works intended primarily to entertain and amuse an audience. Comedies take many different forms, but they share three basic characteristics: (1) the values that are expressed and that typically cause conflict are determined by the general opinion of society (as opposed to being universal and beyond the control of humankind, as in tragedy); (2) characters in comedies are often defined primarily in terms of their social identities and roles and tend to be flat or stock characters rather than highly individualized or round ones; (3) comedies conventionally end happily with an act of social reintegration and celebration such as marriage. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a famous example. The term high or verbal comedy may refer either to a particular type of comedy or to a sort of humor found within any literary work that employs subtlety and wit and usually represents high society. Conversely, low or physical comedy is a type of either comedy or humor that involves burlesque, horse play, and the representation of unrefined life. See also farce.

lyric
originally, a poem meant to be sung to the accompaniment of a lyre; now, any relatively short poem in which the speaker expresses his or her thoughts and feelings in the first person rather than recounting a narrative or portraying a dramatic situation.

magic realism
a type of fiction that involves the creation of a fictional world in which the kind of familiar, plausible action and characters one might find in more straightforwardly realist fiction coexist with utterly fantastic ones straight out of myths or dreams. This style of realism is associated especially with modern Latin American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges. But the label is also sometimes applied to works by other contemporary writers from around the world, including Italo Calvino and Salman Rushdie.

major (main) character
see character. An imaginary personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a literary work. Major or main characters are those that receive most attention, minor characters least. Flat characters are relatively simple, have a few dominant traits, and tend to be predictable. Conversely, round characters are complex and multifaceted and act in a way that readers might not expect but accept as possible. Static characters do not change; dynamic characters do. Stock characters represent familiar types that recur frequently in literary works, especially of a particular genre (e.g., the “mad scientist” of horror fiction and film or the fool in Renaissance, especially Shakespearean, drama).

memoir
see biography. A work of nonfiction that recounts the life of a real person. If the person depicted in a biography is also its author, then we instead use the term autobiography. An autobiography that focuses only on a specific aspect of, or episode in, its author’s life is a memoir.

metafiction
a subgenre of works that playfully draw attention to their status as fiction in order to explore the nature of fiction and the role of authors and readers. Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings” is an example.

metaphor
sometimes, a general term for almost any figure of speech involving comparison; more commonly, a particular figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared implicitly—that is, without the use of a signal such as the word like or as—as in “Love is a rose, but you better not pick it.” See also simile. An extended metaphor is a detailed and complex metaphor that stretches across a long section of a work. If such a metaphor is so extensive that it dominates or organizes an entire literary work, especially a poem, it is called a controlling metaphor. In Linda Pastan’s “Marks,” for example, the controlling metaphor involves the use of “marks” or grades to talk about the speaker’s performance of her familial roles. A mixed metaphor occurs when two or more usually incompatible metaphors are entangled together so as to become unclear and often unintentionally humorous, as in “Her blazing words dripped all over him.”

meter
the more or less regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. This is determined by the kind of foot (iambic or dactylic, for example) and by the number of feet per line (e.g., five feet = pentameter, six feet = hexameter).

metonymy
a figure of speech in which the name of one thing is used to refer to another thing associated with it. When we say, “The White House has promised to veto the bill,” for example, we use the White House as a metonym for the president and his administration. Synecdoche is a specific type of metonymy.

minor character
see character. An imaginary personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a literary work. Major or main characters are those that receive most attention, minor characters least. Flat characters are relatively simple, have a few dominant traits, and tend to be predictable. Conversely, round characters are complex and multifaceted and act in a way that readers might not expect but accept as possible. Static characters do not change; dynamic characters do. Stock characters represent familiar types that recur frequently in literary works, especially of a particular genre (e.g., the “mad scientist” of horror fiction and film or the fool in Renaissance, especially Shakespearean, drama).

mock epic
see epic. A long poem that celebrates, in a continuous narrative, the achievements of mighty heroes and heroines, usually in founding a nation or developing a culture, and uses elevated language and a grand, high style. Other epic conventions include a beginning in medias res, an invocation of the muse, a journey to the underworld, battle scenes, and a scene in which the hero arms himself for battle. Examples include Beowulf and Homer’s Iliad. A mock epic is a form of satire in which epic language and conventions are used to depict characters, actions, and settings utterly unlike those in conventional epics, usually (though not always) with the purpose of ridiculing the social milieu or types of people portrayed in the poem. A famous example is Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.

monologue
(1) a speech of more than a few sentences, usually in a play but also in other genres, spoken by one person and uninterrupted by the speech of anyone else, or (2) an entire work consisting of this sort of speech. In fiction, an interior monologue takes place entirely within the mind of a character rather than being spoken aloud. A soliloquy is a particular type of monologue occurring in drama, while a dramatic monologue is a type of poem.

moral
a rule of conduct or a maxim for living (that is, a statement about how one should live or behave) communicated in a literary work. Though fables often have morals such as “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” more modern literary works instead tend to have themes.

motif
a recurrent device, formula, or situation within a literary work. For example, the sound of the breaking harp string is a motif of Anton Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard.

myth
(1) originally and narrowly, a narrative explaining how the world and humanity developed into their present form and, unlike a folktale, generally considered to be true by the people who develop it. Many, though not all, myths feature supernatural beings and have a religious significance or function within their culture of origin. Two especially common types of myth are the creation myth, which explains how the world, human beings, a god or gods, or good and evil came to be (e.g., the myth of Adam and Eve), and the explanatory myth, which explains features of the natural landscape or natural processes or events (e.g., “How the Leopard Got His Spots”); (2) more broadly and especially in its adjectival form (mythic), any narrative that obviously seeks to work like a myth in the first and more narrow sense, especially by portraying experiences or conveying truth that it implies are universally valid regardless of culture or time.

narration
(1) broadly, the act of telling a story or recounting a narrative; (2) more narrowly, the portions of a narrative attributable to the narrator rather than words spoken by characters (that is, dialogue).

narrative
a story, whether fictional or true and in prose or verse, related by a narrator or narrators (rather than acted out onstage, as in drama). A frame narrative is a narrative that recounts the telling of another narrative or story that thus “frames” the inner or framed narrative. An example is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” in which an anonymous third-person narrator recounts how an old sailor comes to tell a young wedding guest the story of his adventures at sea.

narrative poem/structure
a poem that tells a story.

narrator
someone who recounts a narrative or tells a story. Though we usually instead use the term speaker when referring to poetry as opposed to prose fiction, narrative poems include at least one speaker who functions as a narrator. See also narrative. A narrator or narration is said to be internal when the narrator is a character within the work, telling the story to an equally fictional auditor or listener; internal narrators are usually first- or second-person narrators (see below). A narrator or narration is instead said to be external when the narrator is not a character. A first-person narrator is an internal narrator who consistently refers to himself or herself using the first-person pronoun I (or, infrequently, we). A second-person narrator consistently uses the second-person pronoun you (a very uncommon technique). A third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as she, he, they, it, and so on; third-person narrators are almost always external narrators. Third-person narrators are said to be omniscient (literally, “all-knowing”) when they describe the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; they are said to be limited when they relate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of only one character (the central consciousness). If a work encourages us to view a narrator’s account of events with suspicion, the narrator (usually first-person) is called unreliable. An intrusive narrator is a third-person narrator who occasionally disrupts his or her narrative to speak directly to the reader or audience in what is sometimes called direct address.

narrator time
see time. In literature, at least four potentially quite different time frames are at issue: (1) author time, when the author originally created or published a literary text; (2) narrator time, when the narrator in a work of fiction supposedly narrated the story; (3) plot time, when the action depicted in the work supposedly took place (in other words, the work’s temporal setting); and (4) reader (or audience) time, when an actual reader reads the work or an actual audience sees it performed. In some cases, author, narrator, plot, and reader time will be roughly the same—as when, for example, in 2008 we read Sherman Alexie’s “Flight Patterns,” a story published in 2003; set some time after September 11, 2001; and presumably narrated not long after the action ends. But in some cases, some or all of these time frames might differ. Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, for example, was written and published in the early nineteenth century (1817); this is its author time. But the novel (a work of historical fiction) is set one hundred years earlier (1715); this is its plot time. The novel’s narrator is a character supposedly writing down the story of his youthful adventures in his old age and long after the deaths of many of the principal characters; this is the narrator time. Were you to read the novel today, reader time would be almost two hundred years later than author time and almost three hundred years later than plot time.

nonfiction
a work or genre of prose works that describe actual, as opposed to imaginary or fictional, characters and events. Subgenres of nonfiction include biography, memoir, and the essay. See also fiction.

novel
a long work of fiction (approximately 40,000+ words), typically published (or at least publishable) as a standalone book; though most novels are written in prose, those written as poetry are called verse novels. A novel (as opposed to a short story) conventionally has a complex plot and, often, at least one subplot, as well as a fully realized setting and a relatively large number of characters. One important novelistic subgenre is the epistolary novel—a novel composed entirely of letters written by its characters. Another is the bildungsroman.

novella
a work of prose fiction that falls somewhere in between a short story and a novel in terms of length, scope, and complexity. Novellas can be, and have been, published either as books in their own right or as parts of books that include other works. Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is an example.

octameter
a line of poetry with eight feet: “Once u- | pon a | midnight | dreary | while I | pondered | weak and | weary.”

octave
eight lines of verse linked by a pattern of end rhymes, especially the first eight lines of an Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet. See also sestet.

ode
a lyric poem characterized by a serious topic and formal tone but without a prescribed formal pattern. Examples include Keats’s odes and Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.”

oeuvre
all of the works verifiably written by one author.

omniscient narrator
see narrator. Someone who recounts a narrative or tells a story. Though we usually instead use the term speaker when referring to poetry as opposed to prose fiction, narrative poems include at least one speaker who functions as a narrator. See also narrative. A narrator or narration is said to be internal when the narrator is a character within the work, telling the story to an equally fictional auditor or listener; internal narrators are usually first- or second-person narrators (see below). A narrator or narration is instead said to be external when the narrator is not a character. A first-person narrator is an internal narrator who consistently refers to himself or herself using the first-person pronoun I (or, infrequently, we). A second-person narrator consistently uses the second-person pronoun you (a very uncommon technique). A third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as she, he, they, it, and so on; third-person narrators are almost always external narrators. Third-person narrators are said to be omniscient (literally, “all-knowing”) when they describe the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; they are said to be limited when they relate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of only one character (the central consciousness). If a work encourages us to view a narrator’s account of events with suspicion, the narrator (usually first-person) is called unreliable. An intrusive narrator is a third-person narrator who occasionally disrupts his or her narrative to speak directly to the reader or audience in what is sometimes called direct address.

omniscient point of view
see point of view. The perspective from which people, events, and other details in a work of fiction are viewed; also called focus, though the term point of view is sometimes used to include both focus and voice. The point of view is said to be limited when we see things only from one character’s perspective; it is said to be omniscient or unlimited when we get the perspective of multiple characters.

onomatopoeia
a word capturing or approximating the sound of what it describes; buzz is a good example.

orchestra
in classical Greek theater, a semicircular area used mostly for dancing by the chorus.

ottava rima
literally, “octave (eighth) rhyme” (Italian); a verse form consisting of eight-line stanzas with an abababcc rhyme scheme and iambic meter (usually pentameter). W. B. Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” is written in ottava rima.

overplot
especially in Shakespearean drama, a subplot that resembles the main plot but stresses the political implications of the depicted action and situation.

overstatement
exaggerated language; also called hyperbole.

oxymoron
a figure of speech that combines two apparently contradictory elements, as in wise fool.

parable
a short work of fiction that illustrates an explicit moral but that, unlike a fable, lacks fantastic or anthropomorphic characters. Especially familiar examples are the stories attributed to Jesus in the Bible—about the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, and so on.

parody
any work that imitates or spoofs another work or genre for comic effect by exaggerating the style and changing the content of the original; parody is a subgenre of satire. Examples include Scary Movie, which parodies horror films; The Colbert Report, which spoofs conservative talk shows; and Tom Stoppard’s Real Inspector Hound, a parody of both detective fiction and drama.

particular setting
see setting. The time and place of the action in a work of fiction, poetry, or drama. The spatial setting is the place or places in which action unfolds, the temporal setting is the time. (Temporal setting is thus the same as plot time.) It is sometimes also helpful to distinguish between general setting—the general time and place in which all the action unfolds—and particular settings—the times and places in which individual episodes or scenes take place. The film version of Gone with the Wind, for example, is generally set in Civil War- era Georgia, while its opening scene takes place on the porch of Tara, Scarlett O’Hara’s family home, before the war begins.

pastoral literature
a work or category of works—whether fiction, poetry, drama, or nonfiction—describing and idealizing the simple life of country folk, usually shepherds who live a painless life in a world full of beauty, music, and love. An example is Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.”

pentameter
a line of poetry with five feet: “Nuns fret | not at | their con- | vent’s nar- | row room.”

persona
the voice or figure of the author who tells and structures the story and who may or may not share the values of the actual author; also called implied author.

personification
a figure of speech that involves treating something nonhuman, such as an abstraction, as if it were a person by endowing it with humanlike qualities, as in “Death entered the room.”

Petrarchan sonnet
see sonnet. A fixed verse form consisting of fourteen lines usually in iambic pentameter. An Italian sonnet consists of eight rhyme-linked lines (an octave) plus six rhyme-linked lines (a sestet), often with either an abbaabba cdecde or abbacddc defdef rhyme scheme. This type of sonnet is also called the Petrarchan sonnet in honor of the Italian poet Petrarch (1304- 74). An English or Shakespearean sonnet instead consists of three quatrains (four- line units) and a couplet and often rhymes abab cdcd efef gg.

plot
the arrangement of the action. The five main parts or phases of plot are exposition, rising action, climax or turning point, falling action, and conclusion or resolution. See also subplot, overplot.

plot summary
a brief recounting of the principal action of a work of fiction, drama, or narrative poetry, usually in the same order in which the action is recounted in the original work rather than in chronological order.

plot time
see time. In literature, at least four potentially quite different time frames are at issue: (1) author time, when the author originally created or published a literary text; (2) narrator time, when the narrator in a work of fiction supposedly narrated the story; (3) plot time, when the action depicted in the work supposedly took place (in other words, the work’s temporal setting); and (4) reader (or audience) time, when an actual reader reads the work or an actual audience sees it performed. In some cases, author, narrator, plot, and reader time will be roughly the same—as when, for example, in 2008 we read Sherman Alexie’s “Flight Patterns,” a story published in 2003; set some time after September 11, 2001; and presumably narrated not long after the action ends. But in some cases, some or all of these time frames might differ. Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, for example, was written and published in the early nineteenth century (1817); this is its author time. But the novel (a work of historical fiction) is set one hundred years earlier (1715); this is its plot time. The novel’s narrator is a character supposedly writing down the story of his youthful adventures in his old age and long after the deaths of many of the principal characters; this is the narrator time. Were you to read the novel today, reader time would be almost two hundred years later than author time and almost three hundred years later than plot time.

poetry
one of the three major genres of imaginative literature, which has its origins in music and oral performance and is characterized by controlled patterns of rhythm and syntax (often using meter and rhyme); compression and compactness and an allowance for ambiguity; a particularly concentrated emphasis on the sensual, especially visual and aural, qualities and effects of words and word order; and especially vivid, often figurative language.

point of view
the perspective from which people, events, and other details in a work of fiction are viewed; also called focus, though the term point of view is sometimes used to include both focus and voice. The point of view is said to be limited when we see things only from one character’s perspective; it is said to be omniscient or unlimited when we get the perspective of multiple characters.

prop
in drama, an object used on the stage.

proscenium arch
an arch over the front of a stage; the proscenium serves as a “frame” for the action onstage.

prose
the regular form of spoken and written language, measured in sentences rather than lines, as in poetry.

protagonist
the most neutral and broadly applicable term for the main character in a work, whether male or female, heroic or not heroic. See also antagonist, antihero, and hero/heroine.

psychological realism
see realism. (1) Generally, the practice in literature, especially fiction and drama, of attempting to describe nature and life as they are without idealization and with attention to detail, especially the everyday life of ordinary people. See also verisimilitude. Just as notions of how life and nature differ widely across cultures and time periods, however, so do notions of what is “realistic.” Thus, there are many different kinds of realism. Psychological realism refers, broadly, to any literary attempt to accurately represent the workings of the human mind and, more specifically, to the practice of a particular group of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century writers including Joseph Conrad, Henry James, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf, who developed the stream of consciousness technique of depicting the flow of thought. See also magic realism. (2) more narrowly and especially when capitalized, a mid- to late-nineteenth-century literary and artistic movement, mainly in the U.S. and Europe, that championed realism in the first, more general sense, rejected what its proponents saw as the elitism and idealism of earlier literature and art, and emphasized settings, situations, action, and (especially middle- and working-class) characters ignored or belittled in earlier literature and art. Writers associated with the movement include Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola (in France), George Eliot and Thomas Hardy (in Britain), and Theodore Dreiser (in the United States).

quatrain
a four-line unit of verse, whether an entire poem, a stanza, or a group of four lines linked by a pattern of rhyme (as in an English or Shakespearean sonnet).

reader time
see time. In literature, at least four potentially quite different time frames are at issue: (1) author time, when the author originally created or published a literary text; (2) narrator time, when the narrator in a work of fiction supposedly narrated the story; (3) plot time, when the action depicted in the work supposedly took place (in other words, the work’s temporal setting); and (4) reader (or audience) time, when an actual reader reads the work or an actual audience sees it performed. In some cases, author, narrator, plot, and reader time will be roughly the same—as when, for example, in 2008 we read Sherman Alexie’s “Flight Patterns,” a story published in 2003; set some time after September 11, 2001; and presumably narrated not long after the action ends. But in some cases, some or all of these time frames might differ. Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, for example, was written and published in the early nineteenth century (1817); this is its author time. But the novel (a work of historical fiction) is set one hundred years earlier (1715); this is its plot time. The novel’s narrator is a character supposedly writing down the story of his youthful adventures in his old age and long after the deaths of many of the principal characters; this is the narrator time. Were you to read the novel today, reader time would be almost two hundred years later than author time and almost three hundred years later than plot time.

realism
(1) generally, the practice in literature, especially fiction and drama, of attempting to describe nature and life as they are without idealization and with attention to detail, especially the everyday life of ordinary people. See also verisimilitude. Just as notions of how life and nature differ widely across cultures and time periods, however, so do notions of what is “realistic.” Thus, there are many different kinds of realism. Psychological realism refers, broadly, to any literary attempt to accurately represent the workings of the human mind and, more specifically, to the practice of a particular group of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century writers including Joseph Conrad, Henry James, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf, who developed the stream of consciousness technique of depicting the flow of thought. See also magic realism. (2) more narrowly and especially when capitalized, a mid- to late-nineteenth-century literary and artistic movement, mainly in the U.S. and Europe, that championed realism in the first, more general sense, rejected what its proponents saw as the elitism and idealism of earlier literature and art, and emphasized settings, situations, action, and (especially middle- and working-class) characters ignored or belittled in earlier literature and art. Writers associated with the movement include Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola (in France), George Eliot and Thomas Hardy (in Britain), and Theodore Dreiser (in the United States).

reflective (meditative) poem/structure
a poem organized primarily around reflection on a subject or event and letting the mind play with it, skipping from one thought or object to another as the mind receives them.

resolution
see conclusion. Also called resolution, the fifth and last phase or part of plot, the point at which the situation that was destabilized at the beginning becomes stable once more and the conflict is resolved.

rhetoric
the art and scholarly study of effective communication, whether in writing or speech. Many literary terms, especially those for figures of speech, derive from classical and Renaissance rhetoric.

rhyme
repetition or correspondence of the terminal sounds of words (“How now, brown cow?”). The most common type, end rhyme, occurs when the last words in two or more lines of a poem rhyme with each other. Internal rhyme occurs when a word within a line of poetry rhymes with another word in the same or adjacent lines, as in “The Dew drew quivering and chill” (Dickinson). An eye rhyme or sight rhyme involves words that don’t actually rhyme but look like they do because of their similar spelling (“cough” and “bough”). Off, half, near, or slant rhyme is rhyme that is slightly “off” or only approximate, usually because words’ final consonant sounds correspond, but not the vowels that proceed them (“phases” and “houses”). When two syllables rhyme and the last is unstressed or unaccented, they create a feminine rhyme (“ocean” and “motion”); masculine rhyme involves only a single stressed or accented syllable (“cat” and “hat”). See also rhyme scheme.

rhyme scheme
the pattern of end rhymes in a poem, often noted by small letters, such as abab or abba.

rhythm
the modulation of weak and strong (or stressed and unstressed) elements in the flow of speech. In most poetry written before the twentieth century, rhythm was often expressed in meter; in prose and in free verse, rhythm is present but in a much less predictable and regular manner.

rising action
the second of the five phases or parts of plot, in which events complicate the situation that existed at the beginning of a work, intensifying the initial conflict or introducing a new one.

romance
(1) originally, a long medieval narrative in verse or prose written in one of the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.) and depicting the quests of knights and other chivalric heroes and the vicissitudes of courtly love; also known as chivalric romance; (2) later and more broadly, any literary work, especially a long work of prose fiction, characterized by a nonrealistic and idealizing use of the imagination; (3) commonly today, works of prose fiction aimed at a mass, primarily female, audience and focusing on love affairs (as in Harlequin Romance).

round character
see character. An imaginary personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a literary work. Major or main characters are those that receive most attention, minor characters least. Flat characters are relatively simple, have a few dominant traits, and tend to be predictable. Conversely, round characters are complex and multifaceted and act in a way that readers might not expect but accept as possible. Static characters do not change; dynamic characters do. Stock characters represent familiar types that recur frequently in literary works, especially of a particular genre (e.g., the “mad scientist” of horror fiction and film or the fool in Renaissance, especially Shakespearean, drama).

sarcasm
see irony. A situation or statement characterized by a significant difference between what is expected or understood and what actually happens or is meant. Verbal irony occurs when a word or expression in context means something different from, and usually the opposite of, what it appears to mean; when the intended meaning is harshly critical or satiric, verbal irony becomes sarcasm. Situational irony occurs when a character holds a position or has an expectation that is reversed or fulfilled in an unexpected way. When there is instead a gap between what an audience knows and what a character believes or expects, we have dramatic irony; when this occurs in a tragedy, dramatic irony is sometimes called tragic irony. Finally, the terms cosmic irony and irony of fate are sometimes used to refer to situations in which situational irony is the result of fate, chance, the gods, or some other superhuman force or entity.

satire
a literary work—whether fiction, poetry, or drama—that holds up human failings to ridicule and censure. Examples include Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels and Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.

scansion
the process of analyzing (and sometimes also marking) verse to determine its meter, line by line.

scene
a section or subdivision of a play or narrative that presents continuous action in one specific setting.

second-person narrator
see narrator. Someone who recounts a narrative or tells a story. Though we usually instead use the term speaker when referring to poetry as opposed to prose fiction, narrative poems include at least one speaker who functions as a narrator. See also narrative. A narrator or narration is said to be internal when the narrator is a character within the work, telling the story to an equally fictional auditor or listener; internal narrators are usually first- or second-person narrators (see below). A narrator or narration is instead said to be external when the narrator is not a character. A first-person narrator is an internal narrator who consistently refers to himself or herself using the first-person pronoun I (or, infrequently, we). A second-person narrator consistently uses the second-person pronoun you (a very uncommon technique). A third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as she, he, they, it, and so on; third-person narrators are almost always external narrators. Third-person narrators are said to be omniscient (literally, “all-knowing”) when they describe the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; they are said to be limited when they relate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of only one character (the central consciousness). If a work encourages us to view a narrator’s account of events with suspicion, the narrator (usually first-person) is called unreliable. An intrusive narrator is a third-person narrator who occasionally disrupts his or her narrative to speak directly to the reader or audience in what is sometimes called direct address.

sequence
(1) the ordering of action in a fictional plot; (2) a closely linked series or cycle of individual literary works, especially short stories or poems, designed to be read or performed together, as in the sonnet sequences of William Shakespeare and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

sestet
six lines of verse linked by a pattern of rhyme, as in the last six lines of the Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet. See also octave.

sestina
an elaborate verse structure written in blank verse that consists of six stanzas of six lines each followed by a three- line stanza. The final words of each line in the first stanza appear in variable order in the next five stanzas and are repeated in the middle and at the end of the three lines in the final stanza. Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sestina” is an example.

set
the design, decoration, and scenery of the stage during a play; not to be confused with setting.

setting
the time and place of the action in a work of fiction, poetry, or drama. The spatial setting is the place or places in which action unfolds, the temporal setting is the time. (Temporal setting is thus the same as plot time.) It is sometimes also helpful to distinguish between general setting—the general time and place in which all the action unfolds—and particular settings—the times and places in which individual episodes or scenes take place. The film version of Gone with the Wind, for example, is generally set in Civil War- era Georgia, while its opening scene takes place on the porch of Tara, Scarlett O’Hara’s family home, before the war begins.

Shakespearean sonnet
see sonnet. A fixed verse form consisting of fourteen lines usually in iambic pentameter. An Italian sonnet consists of eight rhyme-linked lines (an octave) plus six rhyme-linked lines (a sestet), often with either an abbaabba cdecde or abbacddc defdef rhyme scheme. This type of sonnet is also called the Petrarchan sonnet in honor of the Italian poet Petrarch (1304- 74). An English or Shakespearean sonnet instead consists of three quatrains (four- line units) and a couplet and often rhymes abab cdcd efef gg.

shaped verse
see concrete poetry. Poetry in which the words on the page are arranged to look like an object; also called shaped verse. George Herbert’s “Easter Wings,” for example, is arranged to look like two pairs of wings.

short story
a relatively short work of prose fiction (approximately 500 to 10,000 words) that, according to Edgar Allan Poe, can be read in a single sitting of two hours or less and works to create “a single effect.” Two types of short story are the initiation story and the short short story. (Also sometimes called microfiction, a short short story is, as its name suggests, a short story that is especially brief; examples include Linda Brewer’s “20/20” and Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.”)

simile
a figure of speech involving a direct, explicit comparison of one thing to another, usually using the words like or as to draw the connection, as in “My love is like a red, red rose.” An analogy is an extended simile. See also metaphor.

situation
the basic circumstances depicted in a literary work, especially when the story, play, or poem begins or at a specific later moment in the action. In John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale,” for example, the situation involves a man (the speaker) sitting under a tree as he listens to a nightingale’s song.

situational irony
see irony. A situation or statement characterized by a significant difference between what is expected or understood and what actually happens or is meant. Verbal irony occurs when a word or expression in context means something different from, and usually the opposite of, what it appears to mean; when the intended meaning is harshly critical or satiric, verbal irony becomes sarcasm. Situational irony occurs when a character holds a position or has an expectation that is reversed or fulfilled in an unexpected way. When there is instead a gap between what an audience knows and what a character believes or expects, we have dramatic irony; when this occurs in a tragedy, dramatic irony is sometimes called tragic irony. Finally, the terms cosmic irony and irony of fate are sometimes used to refer to situations in which situational irony is the result of fate, chance, the gods, or some other superhuman force or entity.

skene
a low building in the back of the stage area in classical Greek theaters. It represented the palace or temple in front of which the action took place.

soliloquy
a monologue in which the character in a play is alone onstage and thinking out loud, as in the famous Hamlet speech that begins “To be or not to be.”

sonnet
a fixed verse form consisting of fourteen lines usually in iambic pentameter. An Italian sonnet consists of eight rhyme-linked lines (an octave) plus six rhyme-linked lines (a sestet), often with either an abbaabba cdecde or abbacddc defdef rhyme scheme. This type of sonnet is also called the Petrarchan sonnet in honor of the Italian poet Petrarch (1304- 74). An English or Shakespearean sonnet instead consists of three quatrains (four- line units) and a couplet and often rhymes abab cdcd efef gg.

spatial setting
see setting. The time and place of the action in a work of fiction, poetry, or drama. The spatial setting is the place or places in which action unfolds, the temporal setting is the time. (Temporal setting is thus the same as plot time.) It is sometimes also helpful to distinguish between general setting—the general time and place in which all the action unfolds—and particular settings—the times and places in which individual episodes or scenes take place. The film version of Gone with the Wind, for example, is generally set in Civil War- era Georgia, while its opening scene takes place on the porch of Tara, Scarlett O’Hara’s family home, before the war begins.

speaker
(1) the person, not necessarily the author, who is the voice of a poem; (2) anyone who speaks dialogue in a work of fiction, poetry, or drama.

Spenserian stanza
a stanza consisting of eight lines of iambic pentameter (five feet) followed by a ninth line of iambic hexameter (six feet). The rhyme scheme is ababbcbcc. The stanza form takes its name from Edmund Spenser (ca. 1552- 99), who used it in The Faerie Queene.

spondee
a metrical foot consisting of a pair of stressed syllables (“Déad sét”).

stage directions
the words in the printed text of a play that inform the director, crew, actors, and readers how to stage, perform, or imagine the play. Stage directions are not spoken aloud and may appear at the beginning of a play, before any scene, or attached to a line of dialogue; they are often set in italics. The place and time of the action, the design of the set itself, and at times the characters’ actions or tone of voice are given through stage directions and interpreted by the group of people who put on a performance.

stanza
a section of a poem, marked by extra line spacing before and after, that often has a single pattern of meter and/or rhyme. Conventional stanza types include ballad stanza, Spenserian stanza, ottava rima, and terza rima. See also verse paragraph.

static character
see character. An imaginary personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a literary work. Major or main characters are those that receive most attention, minor characters least. Flat characters are relatively simple, have a few dominant traits, and tend to be predictable. Conversely, round characters are complex and multifaceted and act in a way that readers might not expect but accept as possible. Static characters do not change; dynamic characters do. Stock characters represent familiar types that recur frequently in literary works, especially of a particular genre (e.g., the “mad scientist” of horror fiction and film or the fool in Renaissance, especially Shakespearean, drama).

stock character
see character. An imaginary personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a literary work. Major or main characters are those that receive most attention, minor characters least. Flat characters are relatively simple, have a few dominant traits, and tend to be predictable. Conversely, round characters are complex and multifaceted and act in a way that readers might not expect but accept as possible. Static characters do not change; dynamic characters do. Stock characters represent familiar types that recur frequently in literary works, especially of a particular genre (e.g., the “mad scientist” of horror fiction and film or the fool in Renaissance, especially Shakespearean, drama).

stream of consciousness
a type of third-person narration that replicates the thought processes of a character without much or any intervention by a narrator. The term was originally coined by the nineteenth-century American psychologist William James (brother of novelist Henry James) to describe the workings of the human mind and only later adopted to describe the type of narration that seeks to replicate this process. The technique is closely associated with twentieth- century fiction writers of psychological realism such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and William Faulkner, who were all heavily influenced by early psychologists such as William James and Sigmund Freud.

style
a distinctive manner of expression; each author’s style is expressed through his or her diction, rhythm, imagery, and so on.

subgenre
see genre. A type or category of works sharing particular formal or textual features and conventions; especially used to refer to the largest categories for classifying literature—fiction, poetry, drama, and nonfiction. A smaller division within a genre is usually known as a subgenre, such as gothic fiction or epic poetry.

subplot
a secondary plot in a work of fiction or drama. See also overplot and underplot.

symbol
a person, place, thing, or event that figuratively represents or stands for something else. Often the thing or idea represented is more abstract and general, and the symbol is more concrete and particular. A traditional symbol is one that recurs frequently in (and beyond) literature and is thus immediately recognizable to those who belong to a given culture. In Western literature and culture, for example, the rose and snake traditionally symbolize love and evil, respectively. Other symbols such as the scarlet letter in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter instead accrue their complex meanings only within a particular literary work; these are sometimes called invented symbols.

symbolic poem
a poem in which the use of symbols is so pervasive and internally consistent that the reference to the outside world being symbolized becomes secondary. William Blake’s “The Sick Rose” is an example.

synecdoche
a type of metonymy in which the part is used to name or stand in for the whole, as when we refer to manual laborers as hands or say wheels to mean a car.

syntax
word order; the way words are put together to form phrases, clauses, and sentences.

tale
a brief narrative with a simple plot and characters, an ancient and originally oral form of storytelling. Unlike fables, tales typically don’t convey or state a simple or single moral. An especially common type of tale is the folktale, the conventions of which include a formulaic beginning and ending (“Once upon a time . . . ,” “. . . And so they lived happily ever after.”); a setting that is not highly particularized in terms of time or place; flat and often stock characters, animal or human; and fairly simple plots. Though the term fairy tale is often and broadly used as a synonym for folktale, it more narrowly and properly designates a specific type of folktale featuring fairies or other fantastic creatures such as pixies or ogres.

temporal setting
see setting. The time and place of the action in a work of fiction, poetry, or drama. The spatial setting is the place or places in which action unfolds, the temporal setting is the time. (Temporal setting is thus the same as plot time.) It is sometimes also helpful to distinguish between general setting—the general time and place in which all the action unfolds—and particular settings—the times and places in which individual episodes or scenes take place. The film version of Gone with the Wind, for example, is generally set in Civil War- era Georgia, while its opening scene takes place on the porch of Tara, Scarlett O’Hara’s family home, before the war begins.

terza rima
literally, “third rhyme” (Italian); a verse form consisting of three-line stanzas in which the second line of each stanza rhymes with the first and third of the next. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” is written in terza rima.

tetrameter
a line of poetry with four feet: “The Grass | divides | as with | a comb” (Dickinson).

theme
(1) broadly and commonly, a topic explored in a literary work (e.g., “the value of all life”); (2) more narrowly, the insight about a topic communicated in a work (e.g., “All living things are equally precious”). Most literary works have multiple themes, though some people reserve the term theme for the central or main insight and refer to others as subthemes. Usually, a theme is implicitly communicated by the work as a whole rather than explicitly stated in it, though fables are an exception. See also moral.

thesis
the central debatable claim articulated, supported, and developed in an essay or other work of expository prose.

third-person narrator
see narrator. Someone who recounts a narrative or tells a story. Though we usually instead use the term speaker when referring to poetry as opposed to prose fiction, narrative poems include at least one speaker who functions as a narrator. See also narrative. A narrator or narration is said to be internal when the narrator is a character within the work, telling the story to an equally fictional auditor or listener; internal narrators are usually first- or second-person narrators (see below). A narrator or narration is instead said to be external when the narrator is not a character. A first-person narrator is an internal narrator who consistently refers to himself or herself using the first-person pronoun I (or, infrequently, we). A second-person narrator consistently uses the second-person pronoun you (a very uncommon technique). A third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as she, he, they, it, and so on; third-person narrators are almost always external narrators. Third-person narrators are said to be omniscient (literally, “all-knowing”) when they describe the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; they are said to be limited when they relate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of only one character (the central consciousness). If a work encourages us to view a narrator’s account of events with suspicion, the narrator (usually first-person) is called unreliable. An intrusive narrator is a third-person narrator who occasionally disrupts his or her narrative to speak directly to the reader or audience in what is sometimes called direct address.

thrust stage
a stage design that allows the audience to sit around three sides of the major acting area.

time
in literature, at least four potentially quite different time frames are at issue: (1) author time, when the author originally created or published a literary text; (2) narrator time, when the narrator in a work of fiction supposedly narrated the story; (3) plot time, when the action depicted in the work supposedly took place (in other words, the work’s temporal setting); and (4) reader (or audience) time, when an actual reader reads the work or an actual audience sees it performed. In some cases, author, narrator, plot, and reader time will be roughly the same—as when, for example, in 2008 we read Sherman Alexie’s “Flight Patterns,” a story published in 2003; set some time after September 11, 2001; and presumably narrated not long after the action ends. But in some cases, some or all of these time frames might differ. Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, for example, was written and published in the early nineteenth century (1817); this is its author time. But the novel (a work of historical fiction) is set one hundred years earlier (1715); this is its plot time. The novel’s narrator is a character supposedly writing down the story of his youthful adventures in his old age and long after the deaths of many of the principal characters; this is the narrator time. Were you to read the novel today, reader time would be almost two hundred years later than author time and almost three hundred years later than plot time.

tone
the attitude a literary work takes toward its subject, especially the way this attitude is revealed through diction.

traditional symbol
see symbol. A person, place, thing, or event that figuratively represents or stands for something else. Often the thing or idea represented is more abstract and general, and the symbol is more concrete and particular. A traditional symbol is one that recurs frequently in (and beyond) literature and is thus immediately recognizable to those who belong to a given culture. In Western literature and culture, for example, the rose and snake traditionally symbolize love and evil, respectively. Other symbols such as the scarlet letter in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter instead accrue their complex meanings only within a particular literary work; these are sometimes called invented symbols.

tragedy
a work, especially of drama, in which a character (traditionally a good and noble person of high rank) is brought to a disastrous end in his or her confrontation with a superior force (fortune, the gods, human nature, universal values), but also comes to understand the meaning of his or her deeds and to accept an appropriate punishment. Often the protagonist’s downfall is a direct result of a fatal fl aw in his or her character. Examples include Sophocles’ Antigone, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman.

trimeter
a line of poetry with three feet: “Little | lamb, who | made thee?” (Blake).

trochaic
referring to a metrical form in which the basic foot is a trochee—a metrical foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one (“Hómer”).

trope
see figure of speech. Any word or phrase that creates a “figure” in the mind of the reader by effecting an obvious change in the usual meaning or order of words, by comparing or identifying one thing with another; also called tropes. Metaphor, simile, metonymy, overstatement, oxymoron, and understatement are common figures of speech.

turning point
see climax. The third part of plot, the point at which the action stops rising and begins falling or reversing; also called turning point or (following Aristotle) peripeteia. See also crisis.

underplot
a particular type of subplot, especially in Shakespeare’s plays, that is a parodic or highly romantic version of the main plot. A good example would be the subplot in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that centers on the character Bottom. See also overplot.

understatement
language that makes it point by self-consciously downplaying its real emphasis, as in “Final exams aren’t exactly a walk in the park”; litotes is one form of understatement. See also overstatement.

unity of action
see classical unities. As derived from Aristotle’s Poetics, the three principles of structure that require a play to have one plot (unity of action) that occurs in one place (unity of place) and within one day (unity of time); also called the dramatic unities. Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Sophocles’ Antigone observe the classical unities.

unity of place
see classical unities. As derived from Aristotle’s Poetics, the three principles of structure that require a play to have one plot (unity of action) that occurs in one place (unity of place) and within one day (unity of time); also called the dramatic unities. Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Sophocles’ Antigone observe the classical unities.

unity of time
see classical unities. As derived from Aristotle’s Poetics, the three principles of structure that require a play to have one plot (unity of action) that occurs in one place (unity of place) and within one day (unity of time); also called the dramatic unities. Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Sophocles’ Antigone observe the classical unities.

unlimited point of view
see point of view. The perspective from which people, events, and other details in a work of fiction are viewed; also called focus, though the term point of view is sometimes used to include both focus and voice. The point of view is said to be limited when we see things only from one character’s perspective; it is said to be omniscient or unlimited when we get the perspective of multiple characters.

unreliable narrator
see narrator. Someone who recounts a narrative or tells a story. Though we usually instead use the term speaker when referring to poetry as opposed to prose fiction, narrative poems include at least one speaker who functions as a narrator. See also narrative. A narrator or narration is said to be internal when the narrator is a character within the work, telling the story to an equally fictional auditor or listener; internal narrators are usually first- or second-person narrators (see below). A narrator or narration is instead said to be external when the narrator is not a character. A first-person narrator is an internal narrator who consistently refers to himself or herself using the first-person pronoun I (or, infrequently, we). A second-person narrator consistently uses the second-person pronoun you (a very uncommon technique). A third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as she, he, they, it, and so on; third-person narrators are almost always external narrators. Third-person narrators are said to be omniscient (literally, “all-knowing”) when they describe the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; they are said to be limited when they relate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of only one character (the central consciousness). If a work encourages us to view a narrator’s account of events with suspicion, the narrator (usually first-person) is called unreliable. An intrusive narrator is a third-person narrator who occasionally disrupts his or her narrative to speak directly to the reader or audience in what is sometimes called direct address.

verbal irony
see irony. A situation or statement characterized by a significant difference between what is expected or understood and what actually happens or is meant. Verbal irony occurs when a word or expression in context means something different from, and usually the opposite of, what it appears to mean; when the intended meaning is harshly critical or satiric, verbal irony becomes sarcasm. Situational irony occurs when a character holds a position or has an expectation that is reversed or fulfilled in an unexpected way. When there is instead a gap between what an audience knows and what a character believes or expects, we have dramatic irony; when this occurs in a tragedy, dramatic irony is sometimes called tragic irony. Finally, the terms cosmic irony and irony of fate are sometimes used to refer to situations in which situational irony is the result of fate, chance, the gods, or some other superhuman force or entity.

verisimilitude
from the Latin phrase verisimiles (“like the truth”); the internal truthfulness, lifelikeness, and consistency of the world created within any literary work when we judge that world on its own terms rather than in terms of its correspondence to the real world. Thus, even a work that contains utterly fantastic or supernatural characters or actions (and doesn’t aim at realism) may very well achieve a high degree of verisimilitude.

verse drama
see drama. A literary genre consisting of works in which action is performed and all words are spoken before an audience by an actor or actors impersonating the characters. (Drama typically lacks the narrators and narration found in fiction.) Closet drama, however, is a subgenre of drama that has most of these features yet is intended to be read, either silently by a single reader or out loud in a group setting. As its name suggests, verse drama is drama written in verse rather than prose.

verse novel
see novel. A long work of fiction (approximately 40,000+ words), typically published (or at least publishable) as a standalone book; though most novels are written in prose, those written as poetry are called verse novels. A novel (as opposed to a short story) conventionally has a complex plot and, often, at least one subplot, as well as a fully realized setting and a relatively large number of characters. One important novelistic subgenre is the epistolary novel—a novel composed entirely of letters written by its characters. Another is the bildungsroman.

verse paragraph
though sometimes used as a synonym for stanza, this term technically designates passages of verse, often beginning with an indented line, that are unified by topic (as in a prose paragraph) rather than by rhyme or meter.

villain
a character who not only opposes the hero or heroine (and is thus an antagonist) but also is characterized as an especially evil person or “bad guy.”

villanelle
a verse form consisting of nineteen lines divided into six stanzas—five tercets (three-line stanzas) and one quatrain (four- line stanza). The first and third lines of the first tercet rhyme with each other, and this rhyme is repeated through each of the next four tercets and in the last two lines of the concluding quatrain. The villanelle is also known for its repetition of select lines. An example is Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”

voice
the verbal aspect of point of view, the acknowledged or unacknowledged source of a story’s words; the speaker; the “person” telling the story and that person’s particular qualities of insight, attitude, and verbal style. See also focus.