|Course Homepage||Class Policies|
aleatory: not exactly a "literary" term, somethiing depending on chance; something whose arrival cannot be predicted; something that, because unpredictable, has the potential to simultaneously inspire and/or disrupt.
allegory: a form of symbolism in which ideas or abstract qualities are represented as characters or events in a story, novel, or play. It is often said that allegory "both conceals and reveals." In political allegory, the author may disguise his criticism or satire for fear of reprisal, but perception of the analogy between the narrative and contemporary events reveals the intended meaning. In George Orwell's Animal Farm , on the other hand, the political allegory of the Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent Stalinist excesses is little concealed by the surface; discovery of the allegorical design is [supposedly] one of the delight of the fable.
alliteration: repetition of the same consonant sounds, usually at the beginning of words. example: "To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock" (Gilbert, The Mikado)
allusion: a reference, usually indirect and brief, to a presumably familiar person or thing -- more usually a character or event in literature, history or mythology -- that enriches the "meaning" of a passage. For Star Trek fans, for instance, any no-win situation can be referred to as a "Kobayashi Maru," the no-win test of character for cadets in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
ambiguity: Something that may be validly interpreted in more than one way (one version is "double meaning"). Puns are good examples; "unfinished" endings to stories are another one. Can be either "intentional" on the author's part, or purely (and happily for us) accidental. This is one of the places where reading and interpreting open up. Can involve elements of a story, or even the narrator (can you always trust a narrator? are you meant to always trust the narrator?)
ambivalence: simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward characters or events in a story, expressed either by readers or by other characters. Also, uncertainty within a story. The coexistence in one person of contradictory emotions or attitudes (as love and hatred) toward a person or thing.
analogy: a resemblance between two different things, sometimes expressed as a simile (using "like" or "as"): for instance, explaining the human digestive system in terms of car engines (both need fuel, create "exhaust," etc.).
assonance: close repetition of similar vowel sounds, usually in unstressed syllables. Follow the vowel sounds in this familiar poem: "Twinkle twinkle little star/ how I wonder what you are."
atmosphere: (similar to mood) the emotional content of a scene or setting, which can be described in terms of feeling: somber, gloomy, joyful, anxious, etc. climax: just what it sounds like -- what everything is rushing toward; the point toward which the action of the plot builds as conflicts become increasingly intense or complex.
author: the individual who writes a piece of literature; for Barthes, a position of authority which readers need ignore or kill off to open the possibilities for reading; for Foucault, a "function" served as a node of discourse
conceit: a fanciful image, especially an elaborate or startling analogy. Shakespeare poked fun at these in his sonnet "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun."
concrete: that which can be touched, seen, or tasted; not abstract. Concrete illustrations make abstractions easier to understand.
connotation: (opposite of denotation) implications or suggestions evoked by a word; what we currently accept a word to mean, even if that's not the "dictionary definition" (denotation) of the word. Connotations can be either highly individual, based on associations with pleasant or unpleasant things in someone's life; or general, culturally conditioned, as in the word anarchist, which commonly evokes a picture of a lunatic tossing bombs.
consonance: close repetition of the same consonant sounds preceded by different vowel sounds: flesh/flash, breed/bread.
denotation: (opposite of connotation) the literal "dictionary" meaning of a word, without the emotional baggage of connotation. Think of the dictionary meaning of "bastard," and then how most people use the word.
denouement: literally the "untying" or resolution of conflict following the climax of a plot.
explication or explication de texte: detailed analysis of a passage of prose or poetry; analysis of a work or piece of a work in terms of its components, style, and content. Basically, any detailed explanation of a text.
flashback: scene inserted into a story relating events that happened at an earlier time, breaking the chronological flow of the narrative. (Remember Eco's discussion of story and plot.)
foreshadowing: early clues about what will happen later in a narrative or play; we may recognize them immediately on a first reading, or only later, on subsequent readings, after we see the outcome of events.
genre: a literary type, class, or category (fiction/nonfiction; verse, prose; novel, short story, novella; etc.)
hero: (see protagonist) image/imagery: use of descriptive (usually visual) language to represent things, actions, or abstract ideas; passages or words that stir feelings or memories through an appeal to the senses.
irony: incongruity between expectation and actuality. Verbal irony involves a discrepancy between spoken words and their intended meaning, as in sarcasm. Dramatic irony involves the difference between what a character believes true and what we the audience know to be true. Situational irony involves the contrast between characters' hopes and fears and their eventual fate.
litotes: form of meiosis where an idea is expressed in denial of its opposite. Telling someone that you're fine by saying "I am not unwell" is a litotes.
meiosis: understatement, presenting something as less significant than it really is. Calling the Empire State Building a "building of some height" is using meiosis.
metaphor: imaginative comparison of two unlike things; unlike objects compared by identification or by the substitution of one for the other. Calling someone a "dead duck" does not mean that person is a deceased waterfowl, but rather that the dire nature of that person's situation is comparable to a dead duck's.
metonymy: "change of name"; the name of one thing is substituted for that of else closely associated with it; for example, "the White House" for the President and all her helpers, or "the pen is mightier than the sword" for the supremacy of written words over military force. We do this all the time -- see "synecdoche."
motif: theme, character, or verbal/imagery pattern which recurs through a work or works.
narration: the telling of a story, usually described in terms of "person": a "first-person" narrative is told from the perspective of an "I"; a "third-person" narrative is told in terms of what characters do, but without a specifically named (or unnamed) "teller." (Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that each "third-person narration" is intended to come straight from the author's pen -- often authors deliberately assume a different "disguise" even in writing third-person narration. See narrator below and ambiguity above.) narrative: the story that someone tells (to you); means also a specific kind of story and storytelling, where there is a particular voice (sometimes unidentifiable) which "tells" us as readers/listeners a story. Almost any "story" can be considered, in some way or another, a "narrative."
narrator: "person" (not necessarily the author) who tells ("narrates") the story. For example, Ishmael is clearly the narrator of Melville's novel Moby Dick (which begins with the line "Call me Ishmael"), while Morrison's The Bluest Eye is told by several narrators (Claudia, Soaphead, and an unnamed "third-person" narrator).
oxymoron: two apparently contradictory terms that express a startling paradox when thrown together: "conspicuous absence," "absent presence," "cold fire," etc.
paradox: an apparently contradictory statement that, upon examination, actually makes sense. For example: "freed by the chains of love."
persona: (similar to narrator) "person" deliberately created by an author to be the speaker of a poem or story. Similar to "voice," the persona presents a specific point-of-view for a story, and the personality of the persona/voice is often revealed by how s/he says what s/he says, and also often influences what we're told, what we're not told, and how.
personification: giving human qualities to nonhuman things ( a jar that refuses to open "laughing at" or "mocking" you).
plot: series of causally related events in a story or play. (Remember Eco's addition: the order in which we're told things a story).
point-of-view: the perspective from which a story or event is reported or interpreted.
protagonist: the character who used to be called the "heroine" or "hero" but now is simply the "main character"; literally, "pro(t)-agon-ist" means something like "character of principal concern" (since in the post-epic age, few characters can be considered "hero-ic" anymore).
simile: comparison that directly shows similarity by using the words "like" or "as."
story: (at least in Eco's terms) the order in which events in a story would transpire would occur if they happened in "real time" (as opposed to the plot).
synecdoche: figure of speech where a part of something represents the whole thing, or vice versa: "rhyme" for "poem," "call the law" for "call the police." (Compare to metonymy.) We do this all the time, too.
unpack: to "open up" an image or idea, to see what kind of and how many meanings can be ascribed to an image, idea, or scene -- another word for "analyze and interpret."
verisimilitude: appearance of truth or believability in a literary work.
*compiled in part from McMahan, Day, and Funk's Literature and the Writing Process and Beckson and Ganz's Literary Terms:A Dictionary
|Course Homepage||Class Policies|