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12th grade literary terms Literary Term Definition Example/Reference



A narrative technique in which characters representing things or abstract ideas are used to convey a message or teach a lesson. Allegory is typically used to teach moral, ethical, or religious lessons but is sometimes used for satiric or political purposes. The presentation of animals or objects in human shape or with human characteristics. The term is derived from the Greek word for "human form." A central character in a work of literature who lacks traditional heroic qualities such as courage, physical prowess, and fortitude. Anti-heroes typically distrust conventional values and are unable to commit themselves to any ideals. They generally feel helpless in a world over which they have no control. Anti-heroes usually accept, and often celebrate, their positions as social outcasts.

Examples of allegorical works include Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene and John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. The Fables of Aesop, the animated films of Walt Disney, and Richard Adams's Watership Down feature anthropomorphic characters.


A well-known anti-hero is Yossarian in Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22 .


A statement, question, or request addressed to an inanimate object or concept or to a nonexistent or absent person.

Requests for inspiration from the muses in poetry are examples of apostrophe, as is Marc Antony's address to Caesar's corpse in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar : "O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!... Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!..." Notice the long "I" sound in the following : Thou still unravished bride of quietness, Thou foster child of silence and slow time --"Ode on a Grecian Urn" Keats Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland epitomizes the realm of belles-lettres.


The repetition of similar vowel sounds in Poetry. A French term meaning "fine letters" or "beautiful writing." It is often used as a synonym for literature, typically referring to imaginative and artistic rather than scientific or expository writing. Current usage sometimes restricts the meaning to light or humorous writing and appreciative essays about literature.


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12th grade literary terms


(Also known as Apprenticeship Novel, Coming of Age Novel, Erziehungsroman, or Kunstlerroman. ) A German word meaning "novel of development." The bildungsroman is a study of the maturation of a youthful character, typically brought about through a series of social or Well-known bildungsromane include J. D. Salinger's The sexual encounters that lead to self-awareness. Bildungsroman is used Catcher in the Rye , Robert Newton Peck's A Day No Pigs interchangeably with erziehungsroman, a novel of initiation and Would Die , and S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders . education. When a bildungsroman is concerned with the development of an artist (as in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ), it is often termed a kunstlerroman.

bon mot [bôN mo]

A French term meaning "good word." A bon mot is a witty remark or clever observation. Charles Lamb and Oscar Wilde are celebrated for their witty bon mots.

Two examples by Oscar Wilde stand out: (1) "All women become their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his." (2) "A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies."


A pause in a line of Poetry, usually occurring near the middle. It typically The opening line of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" contains a corresponds to a break in the natural rhythm or sense of the line but is caesura following "dreary": "Once upon a midnight dreary, sometimes shifted to create special meanings or rhythmic effects. while I pondered weak and weary...." The release or purging of unwanted emotions -- specifically fear and pity A famous example of catharsis is realized in Sophocles' -- brought about by exposure to art. The term was first used by the Greek Oedipus Rex ,when Oedipus discovers that his wife, Jacosta, is philosopher Aristotle in his Poetics to refer to the desired effect of his own mother and that the stranger he killed on the road was tragedy on spectators. his own father. A clever and fanciful metaphor, usually expressed through elaborate and The conceit figures prominently in the works of John Donne, extended comparison, that presents a striking parallel between two Emily Dickinson, and T. S. Eliot. seemingly dissimilar things (Also known as Half Rhyme or Slant Rhyme.) Consonance occurs in "The curfew tolls the knells of parting day" from Thomas Poetry when words appearing at the ends of two or more verses have similar final consonant sounds but have final vowel sounds that differ, as Grey's "An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." with "stuff" and "off." Poem narrated by an imaginary character (not the poet) in the manner of a Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess" is a famous literary speech in which the speaker's character and notably the speaker's example . character flaws are revealed.




dramatic monologue

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12th grade literary terms


(Also known as The Double.) A literary technique by which a character is duplicated (usually in the form of an alter ego, though sometimes as a A well-known story containing a doppelganger character is ghostly counterpart) or divided into two distinct, usually opposite Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which personalities. The use of this character device is widespread in nineteenthdramatizes an internal struggle between good and evil. and twentieth-century literature, and indicates a growing awareness among authors that the "self" is really a composite of many "selves." A corruption of a French phrase meaning "double meaning." The term is An example of a double entendre is the Elizabethan usage of the verb "die," which refers both to death and to physical used to indicate a word or phrase that is deliberately ambiguous, pleasure. especially when one of the meanings is risque or improper. Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" is structured as a The running over of the sense and structure of a line of verse or a couplet series of enjambments, as in lines 11-12: "My vegetable love into the following verse or couplet. should grow/Vaster than empires and more slow." A novel in the form of letters. The form was particularly popular in the eighteenth century. Samuel Richardson's Pamela is considered the first fully developed English epistolary novel. Alice Walker's The Color Purple is a contemporary example.

double entendre


epistolary novel


A tale with a moral message. This form of literary sermonizing flourished The works of Geoffrey Chaucer are full of exempla ("The during the Middle Ages, when exempla appeared in collections known as Pardoner's Tale"). "example-books." A French phrase with the literal translation "fatal woman." A femme A classic example of the femme fatale is the nameless fatale is a sensuous, alluring woman who often leads men into danger or character in Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch , portrayed by trouble. Marilyn Monroe in the film adaptation. In tragedy, the event or act that leads to the hero's or heroine's downfall. This term is often incorrectly used as a synonym for tragic flaw. In Richard Wright's Native Son , the act that seals Bigger Thomas's fate is his first impulsive murder.

femme fatale


in medias res

A Latin term meaning "in the middle of things." It refers to the technique In The Odyssey, the story begins with Odysseus near the end of beginning a story at its midpoint and then using various flashback of his journey. He then reveals his earlier adventures in a devices to reveal previous action. storytelling session. An example is recorded in the meeting of "Beau" Nash and John Wesley: Nash said, "I never make way for a fool," to which Wesley responded, "Don't you? I always do," and stepped aside.


Conversation featuring snappy retorts and witticisms.

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12th grade literary terms

roman à clef

A French phrase meaning "novel with a key." It refers to a narrative in which real persons are portrayed under fictitious names.

Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises is an example of Roman a clef where several of Hemingway's friends and acquaintances are models for his characters. As in that trance of wondrous thought I lay This was the tenour of my waking dream. Methought I sate beside a public way Thick strewn with summer dust, and a great stream Of people there was hurrying to and fro Numerous as gnats upon the evening gleam,... Percy Bysshe Shelley's "The Triumph of Love." A dainty thing's the Villanelle, Sly, musical, a jewel in rhyme. It serves its purpose passing well. A double-clappered silver bell, That must be made to clink in chime, A dainty thing's the Villanelle. And if you wish to flute a spell, Or ask a meeting 'neath the lime, It serves its purpose passing well. -- W. E. Henley

terza rima

A three-line stanza form in poetry in which the rhymes are made on the last word of each line in the following manner: the first and third lines of the first stanza, then the second line of the first stanza and the first and third lines of the second stanza, and so on with the middle line of any stanza rhyming with the first and third lines of the following stanza.



A genre of poetry consisting of nineteen lines--five tercets and a concluding quatrain. The form requires that whole lines be repeated in a specific order, and that only two rhyming sounds occur in the course of the poem

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