Literary Terms

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Literary Terms A-G

1. allegory: a literary work that has a second meaning beneath the surface, often relating to a fixed, corresponding idea or moral principle.

2. alliteration: repetition of initial consonant sounds. It serves to please the ear and bind verses together, to make lines more memorable, and for humorous effect.

  • Already American vessels had been searched, seized, and sunk. -John F. Kennedy
  • I should like to hear him fly with the high fields/ And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land. -Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill”

3. allusion: A casual reference in literature to a person, place, event, or another passage of literature, often without explicit identification. Allusions can originate in mythology, biblical references, historical events, legends, geography, or earlier literary works. Authors often use allusion to establish a tone, create an implied association, contrast two objects or people, make an unusual juxtaposition of references, or bring the reader into a world of experience outside the limitations of the story itself. Authors assume that the readers will recognize the original sources and relate their meaning to the new context.

  • Brightness falls from the air/ Queens have died young and fair/Dust hath closed Helen’s eye.
    -from Thomas Nashe’s “Litany in Time of Plague;” refers to Helen of Troy.

4. alter ego: A literary character or narrator who is a thinly disguised representation of the author, poet, or playwright creating a work.

5. anaphora: repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginnings of successive clauses.

  • The Lord sits above the water floods. The Lord remains a King forever. The Lord shall give strength to his people. The lord shall give his people the blessings of peace. -Ps. 29
  • “Let us march to the realization of the American dream. Let us march on segregated housing. Let us march on segregated schools. Let us march on poverty. Let us march on ballot boxes....
    --Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Mad world ! Mad king! Mad composition !

6. antagonist: the character or force opposing the protagonist in a narrative; a rival of the hero

7. apostrophe: addressing an absent or dead person or a personified abstraction

  • “Eloquent, just, and mighty Death ! whom none could advise....”
  • O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!

8. approximate rhyme: also known as imperfect rhyme, near rhyme, slant rhyme, or oblique rhyme. A term used for words in a rhyming pattern that have some kind of sound correspondence but are not perfect rhymes. Often words at the end of lines at first LOOK like they will rhyme but are not pronounced in perfect rhyme. Emily Dickinson’s poems are famous for her use of approximate rhyme.

9. assonance: the repetition of vowel sounds

  • The child of mine was lying on her side. [i]
  • "Over the mountains / Of the moon, / Down the valley of the shadow, / Ride, boldly ride,/The shade replied,-- / "If you seek for Eldorado!" [o sound]

10. asyndeton: deliberate omission of conjunctions between series of related clauses.

  • I came, I saw, I conquered. -- Julius Caesar
  • The infantry plodded forward, the tanks rattled into position, the big guns swung their snouts toward the rim of the hills, the planes raked the underbrush with gunfire.
  • ..and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
    -Abraham Lincoln

11. aubade: a poem about dawn; a morning love-song; or a poem about the parting of lovers at dawn

12. ballad: a song, transmitted orally, which tells a story. Usually narrator begins with a climactic or traumatic episode, tells the story tersely by means of action and dialogue and tells it without self-reference or the expression of personal attitudes or feelings. Many ballads employ (1) stock repetitive phrases such as “blood-red wine” and “milk white steed,” (2) a refrain in each stanza, and (3) incremental repetition, in which a line or stanza is repeated, but with an additional verse that advances the story, 4) dialogue between at least 2 characters, 5) quatrains or ballad stanzas that rhyme of on lines 2 and 4. A literary ballad was a favorite form of the Romantic period. Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” is a good example, and “The Ballad of Birmingham” is an American example.

“It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
'By thy long gray beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?'"

13. blank verse: poetry written in meter but containing no ending rhyme. Lines of verse contain forms closest to that of natural speaking, yet are flexible and adaptive.

14. characterization principles: characters should be 1) consistent in their behaviors, 2)their words and actions should spring from motivations the reader can understand, and 3) plausible and lifelike

15. cinquain: a five line stanza

16. conceit: in literature, fanciful or unusual image in which apparently dissimilar things are shown to have a relationship. The device was often used by the metaphysical poets, who fashioned conceits that were witty, complex, intellectual, and often startling, e.g., John Donne's comparison of two souls with two bullets in “The Dissolution.”

17. conflict: a struggle between two opposing forces in a short story, novel, play, or narrative poem.

18. connotation: all the emotions and associations that a word or phrase may arouse; what a word suggests beyond its basic definitions; a word’s overtones of meaning.

19. consonance: repetition of consonant sounds in the middle or at the end of words

20. continuous form: the form of a poem in which the lines follow each other without formal grouping, the only breaks being dictated by units of meaning.

21. couplet: two successive lines of poetry in which the ending words rhyme

22. denotation: the literal or "dictionary" meaning of a word or phrase.

23. doppelganger: in German, this word means “double-goer,” the ghostly shadow that haunts and follows its earthly counterpart; the negative or evil manifestation of what is actually on the “inside” of the haunted character. The Creature is Victor Frankenstein’s doppelganger.

24. dramatic monologue: a kind of lyric poem which has the following elements: 1) a single person, a speaker (patently not the poet) utters the entire poem in a specific situation at a critical moment; and 2) this person addresses and interacts with one or more other people, but we know of the auditor’s presence and what they say and do only from clues in the discourse of the single speaker. Examples include Tennyson’s “Ulysses” and Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.”

25. dramatic poem: a narrative poem in which one or more characters speak. The dramatic poem consists of the thoughts or spoken statements (or both) of one or more characters other than the poet himself in a particular life situation. It is dramatic rather than narrative since the character is not "written about" by the poet; rather, the poem consists of the character's own thoughts or spoken statements. He may be thinking (or talking) to himself; a poem recording his thoughts or speech to himself is called a soliloquy. Or a character may be speaking to one or more other characters in a given situation; a poem recording his speech is called a dramatic monologue.

26. elegy: a poem of mourning, usually over the death of an individual, usually ending in a consolation. Originally it included mournful love poems, such as John Donne’s elegies.

27. ellipsis: deliberate omission of a word or of words which are readily implied by the context.

  • And he to England shall along with you. from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3
  • Red light means stop; a green light, go.

28. end rhyme: rhymes that occur at the ends of lines

29. end-stopped line: a line that ends with a natural speech pause, usually marked by punctuation.

30. fixed form: a poem in which the length and pattern are prescribed by previous usage or tradition, such as sonnet, limerick, and villanelle.

31. flashback: a scene in a short story, novel, play, or narrative poem that interrupts the chronological action and provides information about the past. Often a character’s recollections of the past

32. foil: a foil is a character who provides a contrast to another character. In Frankenstein, Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein are foils.

33. foot: basic unit used in measurement of a line of verse. A foot usually contains one accented syllable and one or two unaccented syllables.

34. foreshadowing: clues in a literary work that suggest events that have yet to occur.

35. form: external pattern or shape of a poem, describable without reference to its content, such as: continuous form, fixed form, and free verse.

36. frame narrative: The result of inserting one or more small stories within the body of a larger story that encompasses the smaller ones. Often this term is used interchangeably with both the literary technique and the larger story itself that contains the smaller ones, which are called "framed narratives" or "embedded narratives." The most famous example is Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, in which the overarching frame narrative is the story of a band of pilgrims traveling to the shrine of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury. The band passes the time in a storytelling contest. The framed narratives are the individual stories told by the pilgrims who participate. Frankenstein is a frame narrative.

37. framing method: Using same features, wording, setting, situation, or topic at both the beginning and end of a literary work so as to "frame" it or "enclose it." This technique often provides a sense of cyclical completeness or closure. This is also called an envelope structure or circular structure.

38. free verse: poetry not written in a regular rhythmical pattern; non-metrical poetry in which the basic rhythmic unit is the line and in which pauses, line breaks, and formal patterns develop organically from the requirements of the individual poem rather than from established poetic forms.

39. heptastich: a seven line stanza

Literary Terms H-Z

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Force is the overtones of feeling that a word arouses, as something above and beyond the word's literal meaning.

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Force is the overtones of feeling that a word arouses, as something above and beyond the word's literal meaning.

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Force is the overtones of feeling that a word arouses, as something above and beyond the word's literal meaning.

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