Literary Terms

Literary Terms

English 11 Semester 1

1. allegory: story or poem in which the characters, setting, and events stand for other people or events or for abstract ideas or qualities. Can be read for a literal meaning and on a second, symbolic meaning.

ANIMAL FARM is a tale of animals who take over a farm and an allegory of the Russian Revolution. MOBY DICK is an allegory for America in an imperialistic mode

2. alliteration: repetition of the same sound in a sequence of words, usually at the beginning of a word

  • descending dew drops
  • luscious lemons

3. allusion: a brief reference to a person,place, thing, event, or idea in history or literature

Wondering if a woman was beautiful enough to “launch a thousand ships” would be an allusion to Helen of Troy in the Odyssey. Also, “Old Scratch” in American literature refers to the Devil.

4. climax: The point in the plot that creates the greatest intensity, suspense, or interest. After this point, nothing can remain the same; greatest turning point in the story.

The climax in THE SCARLET LETTER is when Dimmesdale finally confesses his sins to the crowd

5. connotation: Associations and implications that go beyond the written word

“Eagle” connotes liberty and freedom that have little to do with the word’s literal meaning of describing a bird. In PUDD’NHEAD WILSON, David Wilson is called a “pudd’nhead to connote his foolishness..

6. denotation: dictionary definition of a word

“buying a ranch” denotes purchasing land on which to raise crops and livestock

7. flashback: scene that interrupts the normal chronological flow of events in a story to depict something that happened at an earlier time

When Hester remembers her early life with her family and her honeymoon with Chillingworth, it is a flashback.

8. foreshadowing: use of hints and clues to suggest what will happen later in the story, often used to build suspense or tension in a story

Pudd’nhead’s repeated fingerprinting of Tom and Chambers foreshadows its later importance in the book.

9. gothic: use of primitive, medieval, or mysterious elements in literature. Gothic writing often features dark and gloomy places and horrifying, supernatural events

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher” is a gothic story featuring a large, dark, gothic mansion.

10. hero: a character whose actions are inspiring or noble. Tragic heroes are noble and inspiring but have a fault or make a mistake which leads to their downfall.

Some critics claim that Dimmesdale in TSL is a tragic hero who falls is society due to poor decisions.

11. hyperbole: boldy exaggerated statement that adds emphasis without intending to be literally true.

He ate everything in the house.

12. lyric poem: a melodic poem which describe an object or emotion.

“Heart, we will forget him” describes a woman trying to recover from heartbreak

13. metaphor: a lterary device in which a direct comparison is made between two things essentially unlike

“You are the sunshine of my life.” Here, “sunshine” is being compared to a person. “Death is a long sleep.” Here “death” is being compared to “sleeping.”

14. narrative poem: a narrative poem tells a story in verse.

“Upon the burning of my house” by Bradstreet tells the story of a family coping with a burned home

15. onomatopoeia: use of words that imitate sounds.

“buzz,” “hiss,” “rustle”

16. personification: a literary device in which human attributes are given to a non-human such as an animal, object, or concept

The wind cried through the night as it moved through the trees.

17. plot: sequence of events in a story, usually involves characters and a conflict

Think of the storyline of THE SCARLET LETTER or another book, and name 5 things that occurred in the story in order.

18. point of view: the perspective or vantage point from which a story or poem is told. Three common points of view include: first-person, omniscient, and third person limited.

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was told from a third person limited point of view. The narrator of the story told what happened in Peyton Farquhar’s mind, but no one else’s thoughts.

19. setting: the time and place of the story or poem’s action, it helps to create the mood of the story

Poe’s use of dark, mysterious settings helped readers to feel the anxiety he wanted to create when people read his stories.

20. simile: a literary device in which a direct comparison is made between two things essentially unlike usiing the words “like” or “as.”

The dusty road twisted like a snake around the lake. Here, a road is being compared to a snake.

21. soliloquy: A long speech made by a character who is onstage alone and who reveals his/her private thoughts and feelings to the audience.

Romeo, as he is about to kill himself in ROMEO AND JULIET speaks to the audience.

22. stanza: a group of lines in a poem that are considered to be a unit. They function like paragraphs do in prose writing.

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy

23. symbol: something that means more than what it is; an object, person, situation, or action that in addition to its literal meaning suggests other meanings as well.

The Liberty Bell is not only a bell but a symbol of freedom in the United States. Hester’s scarlet letter symbolized her sin of adultery.

24. theme: an insight about human life that is revealed in a literary work

One of the themes if PUDD’NHEAD WILSON is that everyone suffers in some way in a society that condones slavery.

25. thesis: the organizing thought of an entire essay or piece of writing and which contains a subject and an opinion

“Of the three scaffold scenes in TSL, the third one best encapsulates the theme that self-punishment is the harshest outcome of sin.”

26. tone: the writer’s attitude toward the story, poem, characters, or audience. A writer’s tone may be formal or informal, friendly or anxious, personal, or arrogant, for example

“Hooray! I’m going to get married today!” (ecstatic tone)

27. understatement/litote: literary device that says less than intended. Oppositive of hyperbole. Usually has an ironic effect, and sometimes may be used for comic purposes.

Steinbeck gives Lennie the last name of “Small.” Lennie is a huge, tall man. Lennie is physically oppositive of “small,” yet he is called by this name to draw attention to his real size, and perhaps to his small amount of intelligence.


English 11 Semester 2

Act: A major division in the action of a play. The ends of acts are typically indicated by lowering the curtain or turning up the houselights. Playwrights frequently employ acts to accommodate changes in time, setting, characters onstage, or mood

Allegory: A narration or description usually restricted to a single meaning because its events, actions, characters, settings, and objects represent specific abstractions or ideas. Although the elements in an allegory may be interesting in themselves, the emphasis tends to be on what they ultimately mean.

Alliteration: The repetition of the same consonant sounds in a sequence of words, usually at the beginning of a word or stressed syllable: "descending dew drops"; "luscious lemons." Alliteration is based on the sounds of letters, rather than the spelling of words; for example, "keen" and "car" alliterate, but "car" and "cite" do not. Used sparingly, alliteration can intensify ideas by emphasizing key words, but when used too self-consciously, it can be distracting, even ridiculous, rather than effective.

Allusion: A brief reference to a person, place, thing, event, or idea in history or literature. Allusions conjure up biblical authority, scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, historic figures, wars, great love stories, and anything else that might enrich an author’s work. Allusions imply reading and cultural experiences shared by the writer and reader, functioning as a kind of shorthand whereby the recalling of something outside the work supplies an emotional or intellectual context.

Antagonist: The character, force, or collection of forces in fiction or drama that opposes the protagonist and gives rise to the conflict of the story; an opponent of the protagonist.

Apostrophe: An address, either to someone who is absent and therefore cannot hear the speaker or to something nonhuman that cannot comprehend. Apostrophe often provides a speaker the opportunity to think aloud.

Archetype: A term used to describe universal symbols that evoke deep and sometimes unconscious responses in a reader. In literature, characters, images, and themes that symbolically embody universal meanings and basic human experiences, regardless of when or where they live, are considered archetypes. Common literary archetypes include stories of quests, initiations, scapegoats, descents to the underworld, and ascents to heaven.

Catharsis: Meaning "purgation," catharsis describes the release of the emotions of pity and fear by the audience at the end of a tragedy. In his Poetics, Aristotle discusses the importance of catharsis. The audience faces the misfortunes of the protagonist, which elicit pity and compassion. Simultaneously, the audience also confronts the failure of the protagonist, thus receiving a frightening reminder of human limitations and frailties. Ultimately, however, both these negative emotions are purged, because the tragic protagonist’s suffering is an affirmation of human values rather than a despairing denial of them.

Conflict: The struggle within the plot between opposing forces. The protagonist engages in the conflict with the antagonist, which may take the form of a character, society, nature, or an aspect of the protagonist’s personality.

Couplet: Two consecutive lines of poetry that usually rhyme and have the same meter. A heroic couplet is a couplet written in rhymed iambic pentameter.

Enjambment: In poetry, when one line ends without a pause and continues into the next line for its meaning. This is also called a run-on line.

Epigram: A brief, pointed, and witty poem that usually makes a satiric or humorous point. Epigrams are most often written in couplets, but take no prescribed form

Flashback: A narrated scene that marks a break in the narrative in order to inform the reader or audience member about events that took place before the opening scene of a work.

Foreshadowing: The introduction early in a story of verbal and dramatic hints that suggest what is to come later

Lyric: A type of brief poem that expresses the personal emotions and thoughts of a single speaker or describes something. It is important to realize, however, that although the lyric is uttered in the first person, the speaker is not necessarily the poet. There are many varieties of lyric poetry, including the dramatic monologue, elegy, haiku, ode, and sonnet forms

Metaphor: A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things, without using the word like or as. Metaphors assert the identity of dissimilar things, as when Macbeth asserts that life is a "brief candle."

Narrative poem: A poem that tells a story. A narrative poem may be short or long, and the story it relates may be simple or complex.

Oxymoron: A condensed form of paradox in which two contradictory words are used together, as in "sweet sorrow" or "original copy."

Paraphrase: A prose restatement of the central ideas of a poem, in your own language.

Protagonist: The main character of a narrative; its central character who engages the reader’s interest and empathy

Pun: A play on words that relies on a word’s having more than one meaning or sounding like another word. Shakespeare and other writers use puns extensively, for serious and comic purposes; in Romeo and Juliet (III.i.101), the dying Mercutio puns, "Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man."

Quatrain: A four-line stanza. Quatrains are the most common stanzaic form in the English language; they can have various meters and rhyme schemes.

Script: The written text of a play, which includes the dialogue between characters, stage directions, and often other expository information.

Simile: A common figure of speech that makes an explicit comparison between two things by using words such as like, as, than, appears, and seems: "A sip of Mrs. Cook’s coffee is like a punch in the stomach." The effectiveness of this simile is created by the differences between the two things compared.

Sonnet: A fixed form of lyric poetry that consists of fourteen lines, usually written in iambic pentameter. There are two basic types of sonnets, the Italian and the English.

The Italian sonnet, also known as the Petrarchan sonnet, is divided into an octave, which typically rhymes abbaabba, and a sestet, which may have varying rhyme schemes. Common rhyme patterns in the sestet are cdecde, cdcdcd, and cdccdc. Very often the octave presents a situation, attitude, or problem that the sestet comments upon or resolves, as in John Keats’s "On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer."

The English sonnet, also known as the Shakespearean sonnet, is organized into three quatrains and a couplet, which typically rhyme abab cdcd efef gg. This rhyme scheme is more suited to English poetry because English has fewer rhyming words than Italian. English sonnets, because of their four-part organization, also have more flexibility with respect to where thematic breaks can occur. Frequently, however, the most pronounced break or turn comes with the concluding couplet, as in Shakespeare’s "Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?"

Tercet: A three-line stanza.

Tragedy: A story that presents courageous individuals who confront powerful forces within or outside themselves with a dignity that reveals the breadth and depth of the human spirit in the face of failure, defeat, and even death. Tragedies recount an individual’s downfall; they usually begin high and end low.

Malapropism: a ludicrous misuse of words that sound alike

Neologism: a new word, usage, or expression

Verbal irony: Verbal irony is a figure of speech that occurs when a person says one thing but means the opposite. Sarcasm is a strong form of verbal irony that is calculated to hurt someone through, for example, false praise.

Dramatic irony: Dramatic irony creates a discrepancy between what a character believes or says and what the reader or audience member knows to be true. Tragic irony is a form of dramatic irony found in tragedies such as Oedipus the King, in which Oedipus searches for the person responsible for the plague that ravishes his city and ironically ends up hunting himself.

Situational irony: exists when there is an incongruity between what is expected to happen and what actually happens due to forces beyond human comprehension or control. The suicide of the seemingly successful main character in Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem "Richard Cory" is an example of situational irony.

Synecdoche: is a kind of metaphor in which a part of something is used to signify the whole, as when a gossip is called a "wagging tongue," or when ten ships are called "ten sails."

Metonymy: is a type of metaphor in which something closely associated with a subject is substituted for it. In this way, we speak of the "silver screen" to mean motion pictures, "the crown" to stand for the king, "the White House" to stand for the activities of the president.

Subplot: The secondary action of a story, complete and interesting in its own right, that reinforces or contrasts with the main plot. There may be more than one subplot, and sometimes as many as three, four, or even more, running through a piece of fiction. Subplots are generally either analogous to the main plot, thereby enhancing our understanding of it, or extraneous to the main plot, to provide relief from it.

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Other leterary architypes?:
golden age
flodd cycle (life cycle)
regaining innocence
the fall
rites of passage
learning from teachers

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