Stylistic Elements of Literature

Topics: ArtSymbolism


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Last updated: April 26, 2019

in the specific sense is the language an author chooses for expression, characterized by patterns in the choice of words, their arrangement on the page and their grammar and syntax within sentences, employed to achieve the author’s purpose. Style refers to HOW a writer writes, not what his/her story is like (not “difficult” or “boring” or “exciting”) or what genre it fits (not “science fiction” nor “tragic”). Style is frustratingly ill-defined by literature specialists. Some use the terms “genres” and “sub-genres” in a way that includes both categories of writing (fantasy, mystery) as well as styles writing can follow (Southern Gothic, Absurdist). Others limit style to idiosyncratic wording and/or organization of text. AP exams often refer to style obliquely by using terms like “techniques,” “strategies” and “devices,” which, if they are language-based will be style, tone and/or literary devices. It is possible to talk about narration, especially, and other structural elements as stylistic techniques, strategies and devices as well—so be sure that you are using “style” for the hows of communicating, while other techniques might represent the whats communicated.

Like theme, it is probably counterproductive to try to categorize an author’s style with a one-word adjective (although you will hear Hemingway’s style referred to as “journalistic;” Faulkner’s as “ponderous,” etc). Instead, dissect a work to find its most significant, specific patterns of language use. Be sure to consider the style of each character’s dialogue as well as the style of the narration in general; then analyze/compare/contrast these against each other and the purpose to determine how and why the style is used by the author. Then, there’s style beyond the particular author or work.

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..Style is used more broadly as a term that classifies a work/author as part of a “school” or trend in literature or philosophy (like Romantic, transcendentalist, postmodernist, etc—don’t mix these up with genres!). In these cases, style might encompass subject matter and structural elements that are shared by a number of authors/works in addition to the way in which works are written (see motif in literary devices). In order to recognize how an author’s style might be analyzed this way, you need to be familiar with the characteristics and time-periods of schools of literature and able to show that the work/author you’re analyzing fits/departs from their criteria.

General timelines that lay out trends and schools of creative literature are a good place to start your study of styles, see: and for British onlyhttp://www.socsdteachers.

org/tzenglish/literature_timeline.htm for American and Britishfor American novels: schools are often tied to historical events as well as creative and expository literature—see this one for a great, interactive way to see this:’s an example of analysis of style for a poet you may have heard of (through Proquest):http://proquest. in the past, students have simply used timeline labels as default styles, telling me, for example, that something written in a certain time period is “contemporary” because it is written in that time span. This is usually weak at best, and just inaccurate at worst. Works’ styles can be “retro” (fitting a previous time period’s style), fit any philosophical school of any time period (except a future one—warrants!), or even be individually-created styles/trends (like Faulkner’s or other iconic authors’). Bringing in evidence from outside research and literary analyses of the author/work is the best and probably only way to truly argue a work’s style.Style is linked closely to 2 other elements (tone and literary devices) and, in my opinion, these often overlap as the vehicle for the content of the work—so you’ll probably have to analyze them as interconnected elements.

is the author’s implicit attitude (feeling/emotion) toward the reader and/or the people, places, things and events in the story conveyed through the style. It can—and often is—described by one “feeling” word, like angry, playful, ironic, nostalgic or bitter (but it shouldn’t be adjectives that describe the genre—like tragic or dramatic—see style). A big mistake often made with tone is to mix up YOUR feelings with the author’s. Just because YOU think something in a story is disgusting, humorous or negative doesn’t mean the author does (in fact, you may be reacting strongly BECAUSE the author’s tone is the opposite of your personal attitude).

The default formula for checking what you say for tone is to fill in this sentence: The author feels _________ toward what happens in /the characters/the audience of this story. For “ironic” it goes like this: “The apparent feeling toward the story/audience in the story is actually the opposite for the author because…”One component of tone, mood, is sometimes confused with tone overall, especially by high school level study guides (and students. here!). Mood is limited to describing the feeling/impression of the characters for the atmosphere enveloping the action (dark, foreboding, brutal, seemingly-ordinary, celebratory, etc) and is closely tied to, but not the same as, setting’s effect as environment [example: a story with a “backdrop” of the brutality (mood) of an endless urban war (setting) may infect the characters with similar brutality, or, conversely, provoke an opposite reaction in them]. Be careful to discriminate between descriptors for setting-as-environment (what the character of setting is like) and descriptors for mood (how the setting feels to its inhabitants).

Separate both of these from the overall tone descriptor (how the AUTHOR likely feels about his/her subject matter and audience if he/she writes this way)NB: If you only analyze mood (of the atmosphere) rather than reaching as far as tone (overall attitude of the story), you are describing the feeling about the action created by the author rather than identifying the attitude (stance) the author is taking—thus you are not showing the full complexity, richness and depth of the author’s intentions. Be careful also to discern and analyze difference(s) between the narrator’s and/or characters’ tones, feelings/attitudes and the author’s tone! An author using untrustworthy or antipathetic narrator, mood and characters may in fact be communicating a tone OPPOSITE to them. However, the converse applies: if there are no clues that you should NOT trust the narrator’s point of view, it is likely convergent with the author’s.

For either case, explain why it is reasonable that the author would see the situation a similar or opposite way, and you’ve got tone.Author’s tone can be pinpointed by readers through examining the implications of the author’s use of language: how do the style(s) selected by the author “treat” his/her subjects and audience and why? Tone requires well-selected evidence and strong analysis to determine. Tone may vary within a work for effect or emphasis.

Literary Devices
are an existing set of particular patterns for word use and the expression of logic in a work that give literal text enhanced meaning or effect. This element includes different categories of strategies identified by me as modes, figurative language, rhetorical devices and poetic devices, based on their different functions. These manipulations of language are explicitly presented, but their interpretation requires inference from the reader. See online devices list of these by clicking the course button.

One of the most influential and problematic devices is Symbolism (which is why some literary analysts categorize symbolism alone as the eighth element, letting the rest of the devices fall under style—we find this overemphasizes one type of figure over the myriad that a well-informed literary analyst should know). That said, when symbolism is a significant component of a work, it is best defined as follows:Symbolism is the use of objects or ideas within a work to perform a role or carry a meaning that replaces their literal definition to reinforce structural element(s) of the story (contrast this with other figurative language—in the literary devices handout–that extends meaning but doesn’t fully replace it). Symbols can be names, actions and things within a story, but they are almost never characters outside of allegory (or else the character is replaced in meaning, not enhanced; thus it is no longer a full persona). NB: The ability to recognize and interpret symbols requires experience in literary readings (again, published literary analyses will help here), perceptive reading and tact. It is easy to “run wild” with symbols—to find symbols everywhere, making them banal. Yet, the ability to accurately and comprehensively interpret symbolism within a work and its effect on a work’s meaning(s) is essential.

Given below are suggestions for identifying potential literary symbols: The work itself must furnish sufficient clues that a detail is to be taken symbolically—symbols nearly always signal their existence by emphasis, repetition and/or position in the plot. Your analysis should point to these clues in order to justify your claims about symbolism and its relationship to the work’s meaning(s).The interpretation of a literary symbol must be established and supported by the context of the entire story—that is your analysis must be able to link its intended interpretation to several structural elements as validation. A symbol has its meaning inside not outside a story (the opposite of theme, which generalizes outside).As a general rule any symbol should represent a cluster of meanings, not just one “stand in” idea. Be careful not to make claims about symbolism that oversimplify (any light equals knowledge, travel is always a journey of discovery, black is bad, white is good, etc); these claims often miss the fact that these figures are operating as images or motifs, not full-blown symbolism. Cool Symbolic reading of Jay-Z? http://www. the more common use of symbol as a device within a work, rather than a major component of its meaning, see the online devices list.Author’s Purpose..

.answers the question:Why did this author write this workthis way at this time for this audience?…by researching and then laying out an argument that explains the answers to these questions (which are the backing and grounds):a.

Who is the author personally and professionally?b. What is the origin and context of the work (historically, artistically, philosophically, etc)?c. What subjects* does the work address?d. Who is the intended audience for the work?e. How are the subjects and audience treated by the author (the implications of the particular use of structural and stylistic elements in this work for its meaning)?f. HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE RIGHT for A-E?*subject is meant broadly: topic, issue, idea, event, person, situation, scenario, problem (as in social commentary), etc.

…so you can ultimately evaluate the work by determining:• What criteria are applicable for judging the success of this work? • How/Where does this treatment compare/contrast with other treatments by other works of the same subject and audience, based on those criteria?• How do you know you’re right?• Why does it matter?To analyze texts this way is to combine the reading and writing processes—you must closely examine texts, then respond, analyze and reflect on what you’ve taken in so that you can then construct an argument about them.

It is not enough to just explain what you found, you must ARGUE that what you analyzed in the writing is significant because it fits a relevant but not obvious DEFINITION, can be EVALUATED by scholarly criteria, CAUSES/is AFFECTED by something outside the work that matters or should be considered as a different or new way to enhance understanding–PROPOSAL. The reason we analyze literature is to gain this insight into how authors affect audiences by manipulating basic elements and devices of literature. To comprehensively analyze author’s purpose a literary analyst must do outside research on the author’s personal and professional background, and the artistic, cultural and historical milieux of the work. Then he/she must determine the relationship between these factors and the meaning, theme and/or purpose of the work for the intended audience. Doing this is called Historical Criticism, which is one of many ways of examining how a work interacts with its purpose (others, which focus on ways works connect with existing philosophies, are cultural criticism, feminist criticism, Marxist criticism, etc.).

Be careful however not to confuse historical criticism of literature with treating literature as a historical artifact—look at the very problematic warrants of a claim like “Things Fall Apart represents African folk culture of the early colonial period.”

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