AP Literature: Key Terminology

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1               Allegory: a prose or poetic narrative in which the characters, behavior, and even the setting demonstrates multiple levels of meaning and significance. Often allegory is a universal symbol or personified abstraction such as Death portrayed as a black-cloaked “grim reaper” with a scythe and hourglass. From the Old Testament we get the allegory of the “Prodigal Son,” which has come to represent anyone who leaves family and friends for an extended time and then returns to the fold.

2               Alliteration: the sequential repetition of a similar initial sound, usually applied to consonants, usually heard in close proximate stressed syllables. A common American children’s alliteration is “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “The Bells” talks about the clinging and clanging and tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells.

3               Allusion: a reference to a literary or historical event, person, or place. For example, in Jane Smiley’s novel, 1,000 Acres, the father figure is Larry who attempts to divide his land among three daughters a la Shakespeare’s King Lear. Someone who has a great burden may refer to it as an albatross – an allusion to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” wherin the narrator is punished for his crime against nature by having to wear a heavy albatross (sea bird) around his neck until he repents.

4               Anapestic: A metrical foot in poetry that consists of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed: uu/uu/uu/uu/. Anapestic meter can be found in “The Night before Christmas”: “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house/ Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

5               Anaphora: The regular repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases or clauses. A look at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech gives us good examples of anaphora. Another older example of anaphora follows:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house

Against the envy of less happier lands;

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England…

– John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II (2.1.40-50)

6               Anecdote: A brief story or tale told by a character in a piece of literature. For example, Chaucer’s entire Canterbury Tales is a collection of anecdotes related by the Pilgrims on their journey.

7               Antagonist: Any force that is in opposition to the main character, or protagonist. For example, Pap is antagonist to Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the environment is an antagonist in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.”

8               Antithesis: The juxtaposition of sharply contrasting ideas in balanced or parallel words, phrases, grammatical structure, or ideas. For example, Alexander Pope reminds us that “To err is human, to forgive devine.” Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s “Solitude” is a poem consisting entirely of opposites. Antithesis can best be seen in the first two lines of each stanza:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;

Weep, and you will weep alone,

Rejoice, and men will seek you;

Grieve, and they turn and go,

Feast, and your halls are crowded;

Fast, and the world goes by.

9               Apostrophe: An address or invocation to something that is inanimate, such as an angry lover who might scream at the ocean in his or her despair. Many are familiar with the title line of a famous Christmas carol, which exemplifies apostrophe: “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…” The poem, “To a Skylark” by Percy B. Shelly is a good example of apostrophe: “Hail to thee, blithe spirit!” He addresses the skylark. Shelly does the same in “Ode to the West Wind,” when he opens with O wild West Wind, though breath of Autumn’s being…”

10            Archetype: Recurrent designs, patterns of action, character types, themes, or images which are identifiable in a wide range of literature; for instance, the femme fatale, that female character who is found throughout literature as the one responsible for the downfall of a significant male character.

11            Assonance: A repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds, usually those found in stressed syllables of close proximity. Samuel T. Coleridge used assonance when he wrote, “In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn…”

12            Asyndeton: A style in which conjunctions are omitted, usually producing a fast-paced, more rapid prose. For example, Caesar’s famous lines, “I came, I saw, I conquered” are asyndeton.

13            Attitude: The sense expressed by the tone of voice and/or the mood of a piece of writing; the feelings the author holds towards his subject, the people in his narrative, the events, the setting, or even the theme. It might even be the feeling he holds for the reader. In AP English exams, students are often asked to respond to the attitude of the writer, speaker, or narrator towards some aspect within the piece of writing that is being presented.

14            Ballad: A narrative poem that is, or originally was, meant to be sung. Repetition and refrain (recurring phrase or phrases) characterize the ballad. “Scarborough Fair” is an example of a traditional ballad updated for a modern audience. The Scots poet, Robert Burns, used the ballad format in many of his poems, including “Bonnie Barbara Allen” and “Get Up and Bar the Door”

15            Ballad Stanza: A common stanza form, consisting of a quatrain (a stanza of four lines) that alternates four-beat and three-beat lines: one and three are unrhymed iambic tetrameter (four beats), and two and four are rhymed iambic trimester (three beats):

In Scarlet Town, where I was born

There lived a fair maid dwellin’;

Made many a youth cry well-a-day,

And her name was Barbara Allen.

16            Blank Verse: The verse form that most resembles common speech, blank verse consists of unrhymed lines in iambic pentameter. Many of Shakespeare’s plays are in blank verse, as is Milton’s Paradise Lost. Edwin Markham’s poem “Lincoln, the Man of the People” uses blank verse; here are the first four lines.

When the Norn Mother was the Whirlwind Hour

Greatening and darkening as it hurried on,

She left the Heaven of Heroes and came down

To make a man to meet the mortal need.

17            Caesura: A pause in a line of verse, indicated by natural speech patterns rather than due to specific metrical patterns. Pope was able to keep his heroic couplets interesting by varying the position of the caesurae, as here:

Alas how changed! II What sudden horrors rise!

A naked lover II bound and bleeding lies!

Where, where was Eloise? II Her voice, her hand,

Her poniard, II had opposed the dire command.

18            Caricature: A depiction in which a character’s characteristics or features are so deliberately exaggerated as to render them absurd. Political cartoons use visual caricature; writers, such as Charles Dickens, create verbal caricature – this can be found both in drawing and in print in The Pickwick Papers.

19            Chiasmus: A figure of speech by which the order of the terms in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second. This may involve a repetition of the same words: “Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure” – Byron.

20            Colloquial: Ordinary language, the vernacular. For example, depending upon where in the United States you live, a large sandwich might be a hero, a sub, or a hoagie.

21            Conceit: A comparison of two unlikely things that is drawn out within a piece of literature, in particular an extended metaphor within a poem. Conceits might be the idea of tracing a love affair as a flower growing, budding, coming to fruition, and dying, for example. Hair might be spun gold; teeth like stars or pearls, etc. The wall in Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” is a conceit upon which Frost focuses the messages in his poem.

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Henry W. Longfellow similarly extends the image of the ship in “The Building of the Ship.” It’s not just a ship he is talking about, but the nation.

22            Connotation: What is suggested by a word, apart from what it explicitly describes, often referred to as the implied meaning of a word. For example, the words awesome or sweet or gay have undergone a series of connotative alterations in the last couple of decades.

23            Consonance: the repetition of a sequence of two or more consonants, but with a change in the intervening vowels, such as pitter-patter, pish-posh, clinging and clanging. Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream includes the lines: “Or if there were a sympathy in choice/ War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it.”

24            Couplet: Two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter that together present a single idea or connection. The last two lines of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, such as XVIII, “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see/So long lives this and gives life to thee,” are couplets.

25            Dactylic: A metrical foot in poetry that consists of two stressed syllables followed by one unstressed syllable //u//u//u//u. This beat can be seen in Phillip Brooks’ poem “Christmas Everywhere”: “Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight./ Christmas in lands of the fir-tree and pines.”

26            Denotation: A direct and specific meaning, often referred to as the dictionary meaning of a word.

27            Dialect: The language and speech idiosyncrasies of a specific area, region, or group of people. For example, Minnesotans say “you betcha”; Southerners say “you all.” Perhaps one of the best-known writers of dialect is Mark Twain, who captured the speech of the ordinary people as Huck Finn traveled down the Mississippi. Jim comments on “investments”: “I put ten dollars in a cow. But I an’gwyne to resk no mo’ money in stock. De cow un’n’died on my han’s.”

28            Diction: The specific word choice an author uses to persuade or convey tone, purpose, or effect. For example, Edgar A. Poe said, “I hadn’t so much forgot as I couldn’t bring myself to remember.” This has far more impact on the reader than his just saying, “I chose not to remember.” This has far more impact on the reader than his just saying, “I chose not to remember.”

29            Dramatic Monologue: A monologue set in a specific situation and spoken to an imaginary audience. Another term for this could be soliloquy. To such speeches are the “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Hamlet and the “Is this dagger I see before me?” speech in Macbeth.

30            Elegy: A poetic lament upon the death of a particular person, usually ending in consolation. Perhaps the most famous elegy is Thomas Gray’s poem, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”

31            Enjambment: The continuation of a sentence from one line or couplet of a poem to the next. See poem, “The Sick Rose,” under symbolism. George Eliot’s poem, “The Choir Invisible” also demonstrates enjambment:

Oh, may I join the choir invisible   1

Of those immortal dead who live again   2

In minds made better by their presence; live    3

In pulses stirred to generosity,    4

32            Epic: A poem that celebrates, in a continuous narrative, the achievements of mighty heroes and heorines, often concerned with the rounding of a nation or developing of a culture; it uses elevated language and grand, high style. Prime examples of epic poetry include The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Paradise Lost. A more contemporary example could be George Lucas’s Star Wars.

33            Exposition: That part of the structure that sets the scene, introduces and identifies characters, and establishes the situation at the beginning of a story or play.

34            Extended Metaphor: A detailed and complex metaphor that extends over a long section of a work, also known as a conceit.

35            Fable: A legend or a short moral story often using animals as characters. Aesop is the best-known teller of fables. The “Uncle Remus Stories” by Joel Chandler Harris are cultural fables, and Animal Farm by George Orwell is a political fable.

36            Falling Action: That part of plot structure in which the complications of the rising action are untangled.

37            Farce: A play or scene in a play or book that is characterized by broad humor, wild antics, and often slapstick and physical humor. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is filled with farce. The more contemporary Catch-22 uses farce as did Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther or Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail.

38            Foreshadowing: To hint at or to present an indication of the future beforehand. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says, before meeting Juliet:

…my mind misgives

Some consequences yet hanging in the stars

Shall bitterly begin his fearful date

With this night’s revels and expire term

Of a despised life closed to by breast

By some vile forfeit of untimely death.

The widely read To Kill a Mockingbird opens with foreshadowing when the narrator predicts the drama at the end of the book by anticipating the happenings that took place the summer Jem broke his arm.

39            Formal Diction: Language that is lofty, dignified, and impersonal. Such diction is often used in narrative epic poetry. You can readily see this diction in John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.

40            Flashback: Retrospection, where an earlier event is inserted into the normal chronology of the narrative. Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, is written as a flashback to specific events that took place in the adult narrator’s childhood.

41            Free Verse: Poetry that is characterized by varying line lengths, lack of traditional meter, and nonrhyming lines. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass uses free verse. The “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet is an excellent example.

42            Genre: A type or class of literature such as epic or narrative or poetry or belles letters.

43            Hyperbole: A comparison of two unlike things using extreme exaggeration. The “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson presents a famous hyperbole in the last line of stanza one.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmer’s stood,

And fired the shot heard ‘round the world.

44            Iambic: A metrical foot in poetry that consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable: u/u/u/u/u/. Often iambs are used in sets of five called iambic pentameter. All of Shakespeare’s sonnets are written in iambic pentameter.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

45            Imagery: Broadly defined, any sensory detail or evocation in a work; more narrowly, the use of figurative language to evoke a feeling, to call to mind an idea, or to describe an object. Basically, imagery involves any or all of the five senses.

46            Informal Diction: Language that is not as lofty or impersonal as formal diction; similar to everyday speech. Such diction might include such words as OK, ‘bye, hey, huh?

47            In Media Res: “In the midst of things”; refers to opening a story in the middle of the action, necessitating filling in past details by exposition or flashback.

48            Irony: A situation or statement characterized by significant difference between what is expected or understood and what actually happens or is meant. Irony is often humorous, and sometimes sarcastic when it uses words to imply the opposite of what they normally mean. Classical sarcastic irony is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

A form of humor in which the outcome is the opposite of what was expected. “The Ransom of Red Chief” by James Thurber is an example of irony: a young boy is kidnapped, and his behavior is so atrocious that the kidnappers pay the parents to take the boy back.

49            Jargon: Specialized or technical language of a trade, profession, or similar group. The computer industry, for example, has introduced much jargon into our vocabulary. Words such as geek, crash, and interface are all examples of jargon.

50            Juxtaposition: The location of one thing as being adjacent or juxtaposed with another. This placing of two items side by side creates a certain effect, reveals an attitude or accomplishes some purpose of the writer. In The Loved One, Evelyn parlor is juxtaposed with a ritzy human funeral parlor, and the fun begins. Clever use of juxtaposition is also evident in “The Duel,” a children’s poem by Eugene Field. The first two lines set up the opposition:

The gingham dog and the calico cat

Side by side on the table sat

You can well imagine what happens

51            Limited Point of View: A perspective confined to a single character, whether a first person or a third person; the reader cannot know for sure what is going on in the minds of other characters.

52            Litote: A figure of speech that emphasizes its subject by conscious understatement. For example, the understated “not bad” as a comment about something especially well done. George Orwell wrote, “Last week I saw a woman flayed and you would hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.”

53            Loose Sentence: A sentence grammatically complete, and usually stating its main idea, before the end. For example, “The child ran as if being chased by demons.”

54            Lyric: Originally designated poems meant to be sung to the accompaniment of a lyre; now any short poem in which the speaker expresses intense personal emotion rather than describing a narrative or dramatic situation. The sonnet and the ode are two types of lyric poetry.

55            Message: A misleading term for theme; the central idea or statement of a story, or area of inquiry or explanation; misleading because it suggests a simple, packaged statement that pre-exists and for the simple communication of which the story is written.

56            Metaphor: One thing pictured as if it were something else, suggesting a lickness or analogy between them. It is an implicit comparison or identification of one thing with another unlike itself without a verbal signal such as like or as. Sometimes the term metaphor is used as a general term for figure of speech. Romeo exclaims over Juliet by using metaphor: “But soft what light through yonder window breaks. It is the east and Juliet is the sun.”

57            Meter: The more or less regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. This is determined by the kind of “foot” (iambic or dactylic, for example) and by the number of feet per line (five feet = pentameter, six feet = hexameter, for example).

58            Metonymy: A figure of speech in which an attribute or commonly associated feature is used to name or designate something as in “The White House announced today…” A famous metonymy is “The pen is mightier than the sword.” In this sentence the pen stands for publishing (and we can extend that to all media) and the sword for the military. Similar metonymy is used by W. M. Letts in the final stanza of the poem “The Spires of Oxford”:

God rest you, happy gentlemen,

Who laid your good lives down,

Who took the khaki and the gun

Instead of cap and gown.

God bring you to a fairer place

Than even Oxford town.

59            Mood: A feeling or ambiance resulting from the tone of a piece as well as the writer/narrator’s attitude and point of view. This effect is fabricated through descriptions of feelings or objects that establish a sense of fear, patriotism, sanctity, hope, etc. For example, many of Thomas Hardy’s novels, such as Jude the Obscure, have been accused of establishing moods of relentless gloom, depression, and despair.

60            Motif: A recurrent device, formula, or situation that often serves as a signal for the appearance of a character or event. For example, in The Great Gatsby, the recurring image, or motif, of the color green is found throughout the novel.

61            Narrative Structure: A textual organization based on sequences of connected events, usually presented in a straightforward, chronological framework.

62            Narrator: The “character” who “tells” the story, or in poetry, the persona or speaker.

63            Occasional Poem: A poem written about or for a specific occasion, public or private. An epithalamium is a wedding poem, for example.

64            Ode: A lyric poem that is somewhat serious in subject and treatment, is elevated in style, and sometimes uses elaborate stanza structure, which is often patterned in sets of three. Odes are written to praise and exalt a person, characteristic, quality, or object, or example Poe’s “To Helen” or Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.”

65            Omniscient Point of View: Also called unlimited focus: a perspective that can be seen from one character’s view, then another’s, then another’s, or can be moved in or out of the mind of any character at any time. The reader has access to the perceptions and thoughts of all the characters in a story.

66            Onomatopoeia: A word capturing or approximating the sound of what it describes; “buzz” is a good example. The purpose of these words is to make a passage more effective for the reader or listener. In Fahrenheit 451, for example, Ray Bradbury uses onomatopoeia when he says, “Mildred rose and began to move about the room. Bang! Smash! Wallop, bing, bong, boom.”

67            Overstatement: Exaggerated language; also called hyperbole.

68            Oxymoron: A figure of speech that combines two apparently contradictory elements, sometimes resulting in a humorous image or statement: tight slacks, jumbo shrimp, deafening silence, and baggy tights are just a few examples.

69            Parable: A short fiction that illustrates an explicit moral lesson through the use of analogy. Many parables can be found in the bible such as the stories of “The Prodigal Son” or “The Loaves and Fishes.”

70            Paradox: A statement that seems contradictory but may actually be true. A popular paradox from the 1960s was when war protesters would “fight for peace.”

71            Parallel Structure: The use of similar forms in writing for nouns, verbs, phrases, or thoughts; for example, “Jane likes reading, writing, and skiing.” Good writers rely on parallel structure to maintain balance and semmetry. For instance, if you say, “Martha takes notes quickly, accurately, and in a detailed manner,” the sentence doesn’t feel right. The parallel presentation would be, “Martha takes notes quickly, accurately, and thoroughly.”

72            Parody: A work that imitates another work for comic effect by exaggerating the style and changing the content of the original. In contemporary music, for example, Weird Al Yankovic has made his fortune writing parodies of popular songs. Many of you are probably familiar with Scary Movie 1, 2, and 3, which are parodies of scary movies in general.

73            Pastoral: A work (also called an ecologue, a bucolic, or an idyll) that describes the simple life of country folk, usually shepherds who live a timeless, painless (and sheepless) life in a world full of beauty, music, and love. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are examples of pastoral literature.

74            Periodic Sentence: A sentence which is not grammatically complete until the end. For example, “The child, who looked as if she were being chased by demons, ran.”

75            Persona: The voice or figure of the author who tells and structures the story and who may or may not share the values of the actual author. Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby is such a persona.

76            Personification: Treating an abstraction or nonhuman object as if it were a person by endowing it with human qualities. William Wordsworth speaks of the stars as “Tossing their heads in sprightly dance” and Robert Browning describes “leaping waves” in his poem “Meeting at Night.” In Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees,” the tree displays some very human characteristics:

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

77            Petrarchan Sonnet: Also called an Italian Sonnet, a sonnet form that divides the poem into one section of eight lines (octave) and a second section of six lines (sestet), usually following the abba abba cde cde rhyme scheme, though the sestet’s rhyme varies.

O Earth, lie heavily upon her eyes;

Seal her sweet eyes weary of watching. Earth;

Lie close around her; leave no room for mirth

With its harsh laughter, nor for sounds of sighs.

She hath no questions, she hath no replies,

Hushed in and curtained with a blessed dearth

Of all that irked her from hour of birth;

With stillness that is almost Paradise.

Darkness more clear than noonday holdeth her,

Silence more musical than any song;

Even her very heart has ceased to stir;

Until the morning of Eternity

Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be;

And when she wakes she will not think it long.

– Rossetti

78            Plot: The arrangement of the narration based on the cause-effect relationship of the events.

79            Protagonist: The main character in a work, who may or may not be heroic. For example, Guy Montag is the protagonist in Fahrenheit 451, Oedipus is the protagonist in Oedipus Rex, and Ralph is the protagonist in Lord of the Flies.

80            Quatrain: A poetic stanza of four lines:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

– From William Blake’s “The Tyger”

81            Realism: The practice in literature of attempting to describe nature and life without idealization and with attention to detail. Henry James and Mark Twain are examples of authors in this school of literary criticism.

82            Refrain: A repeated stanza or line(s) in a poem or song. In the rousing song The Battle Hymn of the Republic, the refrain (chorus) repeats, “Glory, glory halleluiah; Glory, glory halleluiah.” Robert burns repeats the line “For a’that, and a’that!” In his poem by the same title.

83            Rising Action: The development of action in a work, usually at the beginning. The first part of plot structure.

84            Rhetorical Question: A question that is asked simply for stylistic effect and is not expected to be answered. William Wordsworth’s poem, “The Happy Warrior,” opens with two rhetorical questions in lines 1-2:

Who is the happy warrior? Who is he

That every man in arms should wish to be?

85            Rhyme: The repetition of the same or similar sounds, most often at the ends of lines. The following stanza of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” shows the rhyme:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence

Two roads diverged in a wood and I

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

86            Rhythm: The modulation of weak and strong (stressed and unstressed) elements in the flow of speech.

87            Sarcasm: A form of verbal irony in which apparent praise is actually harshly or bitterly critical. For example, if a teacher says to a student who sneaks into class an hour late, “Nice of you to join us today,” the teacher is being sarcastic. Perhaps the best-known sarcasm is Jonathan Swift’s satire, A Modest Proposal. Oscar Wilde is also well known for his sarcastic statements; The Importance of Being Earnest is full of them.

88            Satire: A literary work that holds up human failings to ridicule and censure. Jonathan Swift and George Orwell both were masters of satire.

89            Scansion: The analysis of verse to show its meter.

90            Setting: The time and place of the action in a story, poem, or play. George Lucas’ Star Wars opens by telling us that the setting was “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

91            Shakespearean Sonnet: Also called an English sonnet: a sonnet form that divides the poem into three units of four lines each and a final unit of two lines, usually abab cdcd efef gg. Here’s Shakespeare’s 34th:

Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,

And make me travel forth without my cloak,

To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,

Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?

’Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break,

To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,

For no man well of such a salve can speak,

That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace:

Nor can thy shame give physic to by grief;

Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss:

The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

To him that bears the strong offence’s cross.

Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,

And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

92            Shaped Verse: Another name for concrete poetry: poetry that is shaped to look like an object. John Hollander’s “A Statue of Nature” is shaped to look like New York State.

93            Simile: A direct, explicit comparison of one thing to another, usually using the words like or as to draw the connection. See also metaphor. Charles Dickens wrote: “There was a steamy mist in all the hollows, and it had roared in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit.”

94            Soliloquy: A monologue in which the character in a play is alone and speaking only to himself or herself. A famous example of soliloquy is Hamlet’s “To Be Or Not To Be” speech.

95            Speaker: The person, not necessarily the author, who is the voice of a poem.

96            Stanza: A section of a poem demarcated by extra line spacing. Some distinguish a stanza, a division marked by a single pattern of meter or rhyme, from a verse paragraph, a division marked by thought rather than pattern, not unlike a paragraph in prose writing. Stanzas can be identified by the number of their lines:

Couplet – two lines

Tercet – three lines

Quatrain – four lines

Cinquain – five lines

Sestet – six lines

Heptatich – seven lines

Octave – eight lines

97            Stereotype: A characterization based on conscious or unconscious assumptions that some one aspect, such as gender, age, ethnic or national identity, religion, occupation, marital status, and so on, are predictably accompanied by certain character traits, actions, even values. In literature, stereotyped or stock characters are often used to fulfill a particular purpose of the author. For instance, the Wickid Witch in “Snow White” is a stereotyped character. Sometimes an author will create a main character that actually represents all of us. This would be an Everyman character, based on the medieval morality play, Everyman.

98            Stock Character: One who appears in a number of stories or plays such as the cruel stepmother, the femme fatale, etc.

99            Structure: The organization or arrangement of the various elements in a work.

100         Style: A distinctive manner of expression; each author’s style is expressed through his or her diction, rhythm, imagery, and so on. It is a writer’s typical way of writing. Style includes word choice, tone, degree of formality, figurative language, rhythm, grammar, structure, sentence length, organization, and every other feature of a writer’s use of language. For example, Hemingway wrote primarily with short, simple sentences while Joseph Conrad wrote long, rambling prose.

101         Symbolism: A person, place, thing, event, or pattern in a literary work that designates itself and at the same time figuratively represents or “stands for” something else. Often the thing or idea represented is more abstract, general, non- or superrational than the symbol, which is more concrete and particular. The poem, “The Sick Rose” by William Blake, is full of symbolism:

O Rose, thou art sick!

The invisible worm

That flies in the night

In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy,

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.

Critics have written thousands of pages about the sexual and death symbolism of this poem (feel free to try your own interpretation!).

102         Synecdoche:  When a part is used to signify a whole, as in “All hands on deck!” and “The rustler bragged he’d absconded with five hundred head of longhorns.” Hands stand for the whole of the sailors, and the rustler obviously took more than just the heads and the horns of the animals he was stealing. William Shakespeare penned a famous synecdoche in Mark Anthony’s speech to the citizens in Julius Caesar, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.” Frank Sinatra’s famous song, “I left my heart in San Francisco” is another example of synecdoche. In fact, song lyrics are filled with this particular literary device.

103         Syntax: The way words are put together to form phrases, clauses, and sentences. Syntax is sentence structure and how it influences the way the reader receives a particular piece of writing.

104         Terza Rima: A verse form consisting of three-line stanzas in which the second line of each rhymes with the first and third of the next. Shelly’s “Ode to the West Wind,” written in terza rima, begins:

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red.

Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed…

105         Theme: A generalized, abstract paraphrase of the inferred central or dominant idea or concern of a work; the statement a poem makes about its subject.

106         Tone: The attitude a literary work takes toward its subject and theme; the tenor of a piece of writing based on particular stylistic devices employed by the writer. Tone reflects the narrator’s attitude.

107         Tragedy: A drama in which a character (usually good and noble and of high rank) is brought to a disastrous end in his or her confrontation with a superior race. Often the protagonist’s downfall is a direct result of a fatal flaw in his or her character. Examples of tragedy would include Oedipus the King, Hamlet, and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

108         Trochaic: A metrical foot in poetry that is the opposite of iambic. The first syllable is stressed, the second is not: /u/u/u/u. Longfellow wrote the lengthy poem, “Hiawatha’s Childhood” using trochees:

By the shores of Gitchee Gumee,

By the shining Big-Sea-Water,

Stood the wigwam of Nakomis,

Daughter of the Moon, Nakomis.

109         Turning Point: The third part of plot structure, the point at which the action stops rising and begins falling or reversing. Sometimes referred to as the climax of the story.

110         Villanelle: A verse form consisting of nineteen lines divided into six stanzas – five tercets (three-line stanzas) and one quatrain (four-line stanza). The first and third line of the first tercet rhyme, and this rhyme is repeated through each of the next four tercets and in the last two lines of the concluding quatrain.

111         Voice: The acknowledged or unacknowledged source of the words of the story; the speaker; the “person” telling the story or poem. When referring to voice in a literary passage, you should look closely at all the elements of the author’s style and just how these elements come together in the particular piece of literature you are reading.


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