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English I (JAV)

A Glossary Of 39 Literary Terms

(in eight groups; as you memorize each group, be sure you know all the previous words)


Alliteration: the repetition of a sound at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of words. Although it is mainly a poetic device, alliteration is sometimes used in prose. For example: ". . . boys with their eyes still squinted against the shifting winds and the shiny brass of the waves, awkward and heavy-footed as ducks on dry land." Allusion: a reference to a person, a place, an event, or an artistic work that the author expects the reader to recognize. An allusion may be drawn from literature, history, geography, scripture, or mythology. A statement is enriched by an allusion because in a few words an author can evoke a particular atmosphere, story, or historical setting. For example, the title of Borden Deal's story "Antaeus" alludes to the Antaeus of Greek mythology, a giant who drew his strength from contact with the earth and who was defeated when Hercules held him aloft. This allusion foreshadows the fate of T. J., who also needs contact with the earth--with growing things--in order to survive. Ambiguity: the possibility of more than one meaning. In literature, an author may deliberately use ambiguity to produce subtle or multiple variations in meaning. For example, the word game in the title of the story "The Most Dangerous Game" is deliberately ambiguous. Analogy: a form of comparison that points out the likeness between two basically dissimilar things; it attempts to use a familiar object or idea to illustrate or to introduce a subject that is unfamiliar or complex. Anecdote: a brief account, sometimes biographical, of an interesting or entertaining incident. A writer may use an anecdote to introduce or illustrate a topic.


Antagonist: the force or character opposing the main character or protagonist. Atmosphere: the prevailing mental and emotional climate of a story; something the reader senses or feels. Setting and tone help to create and heighten atmosphere. Edgar Allan Poe is noted for creating stories of atmosphere. In "The Masque of the Red Death," for example, an atmosphere of death and terror prevails. Characterization: the techniques an author uses to develop the personalities of fictional characters so that they seem believable. These methods include: a. direct analysis by the author of a character's thoughts, feelings, and actions; b. physical description of a character; c. description of a character's surroundings, such as the place in which he or she lives or works; d. the speech or conversations of a character; e. the behavior or actions of a character; f. a character's reactions to events, situations, and other people; g. the responses or reactions of other people in the story to a character's behavior, and in some cases, their remarks and conversations about the character. Climax: the high point or turning point of a story. The author builds up to the climax through a series of complications.



English I (JAV)

Literature Vocabulary

Comparison and Contrast: a comparison shows the similarities between two things, while a contrast details the differences between things. In writing, this is a method used to clarify and illustrate a subject. Comparison and contrast are often used together. (See also Contrast.)


Complication: a series of difficulties forming the central action of a narrative. Complications in a story, for example, make a conflict difficult to resolve and add interest or suspense. In Frank R. Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" complications include the princess's discovery of "the secret of the doors" and her knowledge of the identity of the young woman. Conflict: a struggle between opposing forces, people, or ideas in a story, novel, play, or narrative poem. Conflict can be external or internal, and it can take one of these forms: a. a person against another person, b. a person against society, c. a person against nature, d. two elements or ideas struggling for mastery within a person, or e. a combination of two or more of these types. For example, in "Top Man," there is a conflict between two people, Nace and Osborn, as well as a conflict between people and nature. Connotation: the emotion or association that a word or phrase may arouse. Connotation is distinct from denotation, which is the literal meaning of the word. The word snowstorm, for example, may arouse emotions such as fear or excitement. Denotation: the literal or "dictionary" meaning of a word. (See also Connotation.) Dénouement (day-noo-män'): that part of the plot that reveals the final outcome of the conflicts.


Flashback: a device by which an author interrupts the logical time sequence of a story or play to relate an episode that occurred prior to the opening situation. Foil: a character who serves by contrast to emphasize the qualities of another character. For example, the appearance of a particularly lazy, shiftless, and unenterprising character will strengthen the reader's impression of an active, ambitious, and aggressive character. Foreshadowing: hints or clues; a shadow of things to come. The use of foreshadowing in a story stimulates interest and suspense and helps prepare the reader for the outcome. For example, in "Flowers for Algernon," Daniel Keyes foreshadows Charlie's fate in the descriptions Charlie gives of Algernon's increasingly odd behavior and eventual death. Hyperbole (hi-pur'ba-le): a deliberate exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis or humor; overstatement. "I'm dying to hear what happened" is an example of hyperbole. Imagery: language that appeals to one or more senses and creates pictures and impressions in the reader's mind. Although imagery most often creates visual pictures, some imagery appeals to the senses of touch, taste, smell, and hearing as well. Imagery often involves the use of figurative language and vivid description. In the following passage from "A Worn Path," Eudora Welty uses vivid images that appeal to the senses of sight, hearing, and touch. "On she went. The woods were deep and still. The sun made the pine needles almost too bright to look at, up where the wind rocked. The cones dropped as light as feathers. Down in the hollow was the mourning dove--it was not too late for him."


English I (JAV)

Literature Vocabulary


Irony: a contrast or an incongruity between what is stated and what is really meant, or between what is expected to happen and what actually does happen. There are three kinds of irony. With verbal irony, a writer or speaker says one thing and means something entirely different. For example, a writer might say of a character who has just taken several clumsy falls on the ice, "What a fine skater he turned out to be!" With dramatic irony, a reader or an audience perceives something that a character in the story or play does not know. Irony of situation involves a discrepancy between the expected result of an action or situation and its actual result. Irony of situation occurs in O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief' when Red Chief's kidnappers pay ransom to get rid of the boy. Metaphor: a comparison between two unlike things with the intent of giving additional meaning to one of them. Unlike a simile, a metaphor does not use a connective word such as like or as to state a comparison. For example, in James Ramsey Ullman's story "Top Man," the mountain is described as "a white-hooded giant." An implied metaphor does not directly compare two things but suggests or implies the comparison: "the white untrodden pinnacle of K3 stabbed the sky." Mood: the prevailing feeling that a literary work communicates to the reader. Mood is often developed, at least in part, through descriptions of setting and by the author's tone. Edgar Allan Poe often establishes a mood of gloom and foreboding at the very opening of a story, as in "The Masque of the Red Death." Motif: an image or phrase that recurs and thus provides a pattern within a work of literature. Novel: a fictional narrative in prose, usually longer than a short story. A novel is similar to a short story in its use of characterization, plot, setting, mood, theme, and other literary elements. Because of its greater length, a novel may introduce several different groups of characters, a complicated plot or various subplots, multiple settings, or more than one mood or theme, while a short story usually focuses on one predominant effect.


Onomatopoeia: the use of words that imitate the sound, action, or idea they represent. Sometimes a single word sounds like the thing it describes, such as cuckoo or twitter. Sometimes several words are grouped together to imitate a sound, as in "murmuring of innumerable bees." Personification: a figure of speech in which a nonhuman or inanimate object, quality, or idea is given lifelike characteristics or powers. For example: ". . . the wind hunkered down in the hollow flinging the leaves, drumbeating the panes with fingers of rain . . ." Plot: the arrangement of incidents, details, and elements of conflict in a story. Plot usually includes the following elements: a. the exposition or introduction, or problem(s), usually introduced at the beginning of a narrative; b. the complications, or entanglements, produced by new or complex events and involvements; c. the development (rising action), or advancing movement, toward an event or moment when something decisive has to happen;


English I (JAV)

Literature Vocabulary

d. the climax, or most intense moment or event, usually occurring near a narrative's major turning point, or crisis, the moment when the main character turns toward a (good or bad) solution of the problem; e. the dénouement, the final outcome in which the resolution of the conflict(s) is made known. Point of View: the vantage point from which the story is told. Each viewpoint allows the author a particular range or scope. There are two basic points of view: a. first-person point of view, in which the narrative is told by a major or minor character in his or her own words. The author is limited to the narrator's scope of knowledge, degree of involvement, and powers of observation and expression. Daniel Keyes's "Flowers for Algernon" is an example of a story that uses first-person narration. b. third-person point of view, in which the narrator serves as an observer who describes and comments upon the characters and action in a narrative. In the omniscient third-person point of view, the narrator knows everything there is to know about the characters--their thoughts, motives, actions, and reactions. Jack London's "To Build a Fire" is told by an omniscient third-person narrator. Writers can also adopt a limited third-person point of view. An author using this point of view tells the inner thoughts and feelings of one character only, usually the main character. We are never told what other characters are thinking; we must infer this from their external acts. Toni Cade Bambara uses the limited third-person point of view in "Blues Ain't No Mockin Bird."


Protagonist: the main character in a story or a drama. The word, which comes from the Greek protos meaning "first" and agonistes meaning "contestant" or "actor," was originally used to designate the actor who played the chief role in a Greek drama. (See also Antagonist.) Rhythm: in poetry, the regular rise and fall of strong and weak syllables. In prose, although rhythm is often present, it is irregular and approximate; prose rhythm is the effective and pleasing arrangement of meaningful sounds in a sentence. Rising Action (Development): the part of the plot that leads to a turning point in the action that will affect the fortunes of the main character. Setting: the time and place of the events in a story; the physical background. The importance of setting as a story element depends on the extent of its contribution to characterization, plot, theme, and atmosphere. For example, in "To Build a Fire," the setting forms the basis for the plot, which focuses on a man's struggle to survive in the remote, deadly cold Klondike. Simile: a stated comparison or likeness expressed in figurative language and introduced by terms such as like, as, so, as i%, resembles, and as though. For example, Helen Norris uses the following simile in "The Singing Well": "The summer days . . . ran away like a rabbit flushed out of a blackberry bush."


Style: a writer's distinctive or characteristic form of expression. Style is determined by a writer's choice and arrangement of words, sentence structure, tone, rhythm, and the use of figurative language, and rhythm.


English I (JAV)

Literature Vocabulary

Suspense: the feeling of curiosity, uncertainty, or anxiety that is created in the reader by events or complications in a literary work. Suspense makes readers ask "What will happen next?" or "How will this work out?" and impels them to read on. Symbol: a person, place, event, or object that has meaning in itself and also represents or suggests something larger than itself, such as a quality, an attitude, a belief, or a value. For example, a heart symbolizes affection and love; a horseshoe, good luck; a lily, purity; a skull, death; and a dove, peace. In fiction, some symbols have universal meaning, such as the association of spring with youth and winter with old age. Some symbols have a special meaning within the context of a story. A character's name, for instance, may suggest his or her personality. "Prince Prospero" may be a name associated with a wealthy, royal, and "prosperous" character. The action of a story may also be symbolic. A long trip might, during the course of a story, come to symbolize a person's journey through life. Theme: the main idea of a literary work; the general truth behind the story of a particular individual in a particular situation. The theme of a story is usually implied rather than stated. Tone: the attitude of the writer toward his or her subject, characters, and readers. An author may be sympathetic and sorrowful, may wish to provoke, shock, or anger, or may write in a humorous way and intend simply to entertain the reader. Tone is created through the writer's choice of words and details.



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