Short Literary Essays About A Cultural Aspect

This article is about the art of written work. For the card game, see Literature (card game). For literature in the field technical publications, see Academic publishing.

Literature, in its broadest sense, is any single body of written works. More restrictively, literature is writing considered to be an art form, or any single writing deemed to have artistic or intellectual value, often due to deploying language in ways that differ from ordinary usage.

Its Latin root literatura/litteratura (derived itself from littera: letter or handwriting) was used to refer to all written accounts, though contemporary definitions extend the term to include texts that are spoken or sung (oral literature). The concept has changed meaning over time: nowadays it can broaden to have non-written verbal art forms, and thus it is difficult to agree on its origin, which can be paired with that of language or writing itself. Developments in print technology have allowed an evergrowing distribution and proliferation of written works, culminating in electronic literature.

Literature can be classified according to whether it is fiction or non-fiction, and whether it is poetry or prose. It can be further distinguished according to major forms such as the novel, short story or drama; and works are often categorized according to historical periods or their adherence to certain aesthetic features or expectations (genre).

Definitions[edit]

There have been various attempts to define "literature".[1] Simon and Delyse Ryan begin their attempt to answer the question "What is Literature?" with the observation:

The quest to discover a definition for "literature" is a road that is much travelled, though the point of arrival, if ever reached, is seldom satisfactory. Most attempted definitions are broad and vague, and they inevitably change over time. In fact, the only thing that is certain about defining literature is that the definition will change. Concepts of what is literature change over time as well. [2]

Definitions of literature have varied over time: it is a "culturally relative definition".[3] In Western Europe prior to the 18th century, literature denoted all books and writing.[3] A more restricted sense of the term emerged during the Romantic period, in which it began to demarcate "imaginative" writing.[4][5] Contemporary debates over what constitutes literature can be seen as returning to older, more inclusive notions; Cultural studies, for instance, takes as its subject of analysis both popular and minority genres, in addition to canonical works.

The value judgment definition of literature considers it to cover exclusively those writings that possess high quality or distinction, forming part of the so-called belles-lettres ('fine writing') tradition.[6] This sort of definition is that used in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910–11) when it classifies literature as "the best expression of the best thought reduced to writing."[7] Problematic in this view is that there is no objective definition of what constitutes "literature": anything can be literature, and anything which is universally regarded as literature has the potential to be excluded, since value judgments can change over time.[6]

The formalist definition is that "literature" foregrounds poetic effects; it is the "literariness" or "poetic" of literature that distinguishes it from ordinary speech or other kinds of writing (e.g., journalism).[8][9] Jim Meyer considers this a useful characteristic in explaining the use of the term to mean published material in a particular field (e.g., "scientific literature"), as such writing must use language according to particular standards.[1] The problem with the formalist definition is that in order to say that literature deviates from ordinary uses of language, those uses must first be identified; this is difficult because "ordinary language" is an unstable category, differing according to social categories and across history.[10]

Etymologically, the term derives from Latinliteratura/litteratura "learning, a writing, grammar," originally "writing formed with letters," from litera/littera "letter".[11] In spite of this, the term has also been applied to spoken or sung texts.[1][12]

Major forms[edit]

Poetry[edit]

Main article: Poetry

Poetry is a form of literary art which uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, prosaic ostensible meaning.[13] Poetry has traditionally been distinguished from prose by its being set in verse;[a] prose is cast in sentences, poetry in lines; the syntax of prose is dictated by meaning, whereas that of poetry is held across meter or the visual aspects of the poem.[18] Prior to the 19th century, poetry was commonly understood to be something set in metrical lines; accordingly, in 1658 a definition of poetry is "any kind of subject consisting of Rhythm or Verses".[13] Possibly as a result of Aristotle's influence (his Poetics), "poetry" before the 19th century was usually less a technical designation for verse than a normative category of fictive or rhetorical art.[19] As a form it may pre-date literacy, with the earliest works being composed within and sustained by an oral tradition;[20][21] hence it constitutes the earliest example of literature.

Prose[edit]

Main article: Prose

Prose is a form of language that possesses ordinary syntax and natural speech rather than rhythmic structure; in which regard, along with its measurement in sentences rather than lines, it differs from poetry.[18][22] On the historical development of prose, Richard Graff notes that "[In the case of Ancient Greece] recent scholarship has emphasized the fact that formal prose was a comparatively late development, an "invention" properly associated with the classical period".[23]

  • Novel: a long fictional prose narrative. It was the form's close relation to real life that differentiated it from the chivalric romance;[24][25] in most European languages the equivalent term is roman, indicating the proximity of the forms.[25] In English, the term emerged from the Romance languages in the late 15th century, with the meaning of "news"; it came to indicate something new, without a distinction between fact or fiction.[26] Although there are many historical prototypes, so-called "novels before the novel",[27] the modern novel form emerges late in cultural history—roughly during the eighteenth century.[28] Initially subject to much criticism, the novel has acquired a dominant position amongst literary forms, both popularly and critically.[25][29][30]
  • Novella: in purely quantitative terms, the novella exists between the novel and short story; the publisher Melville House classifies it as "too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story".[31] There is no precise definition in terms of word or page count.[32]Literary prizes and publishing houses often have their own arbitrary limits,[33] which vary according to their particular intentions. Summarizing the variable definitions of the novella, William Giraldi concludes "[it is a form] whose identity seems destined to be disputed into perpetuity".[34] It has been suggested that the size restriction of the form produces various stylistic results, both some that are shared with the novel or short story,[35][36] and others unique to the form.[37]
  • Short story: a dilemma in defining the "short story" as a literary form is how to, or whether one should, distinguish it from any short narrative; hence it also has a contested origin,[38] variably suggested as the earliest short narratives (e.g. the Bible), early short story writers (e.g. Edgar Allan Poe), or the clearly modern short story writers (e.g. Anton Chekhov).[39] Apart from its distinct size, various theorists have suggested that the short story has a characteristic subject matter or structure;[40][41] these discussions often position the form in some relation to the novel.[42]

Drama[edit]

Main article: Drama

Drama is literature intended for performance.[43] The form is often combined with music and dance, as in opera and musical theater. A play is a subset of this form, referring to the written dramatic work of a playwright that is intended for performance in a theater; it comprises chiefly dialogue between characters, and usually aims at dramatic or theatrical performance rather than at reading. A closet drama, by contrast, refers to a play written to be read rather than to be performed; hence, it is intended that the meaning of such a work can be realized fully on the page.[44] Nearly all drama took verse form until comparatively recently.

Greek drama exemplifies the earliest form of drama of which we have substantial knowledge. Tragedy, as a dramatic genre, developed as a performance associated with religious and civic festivals, typically enacting or developing upon well-known historical or mythological themes. Tragedies generally presented very serious themes. With the advent of newer technologies, scripts written for non-stage media have been added to this form. War of the Worlds (radio) in 1938 saw the advent of literature written for radio broadcast, and many works of Drama have been adapted for film or television. Conversely, television, film, and radio literature have been adapted to printed or electronic media.

History[edit]

Main article: History of literature

The history of literature follows closely the development of civilization. When defined exclusively as written work, Ancient Egyptian literature,[45] along with Sumerian literature, are considered the world's oldest literatures.[46] The primary genres of the literature of Ancient Egypt—didactic texts, hymns and prayers, and tales—were written almost entirely in verse;[47] while use of poetic devices is clearly recognizable, the prosody of the verse is unknown.[48] The question of whether Sumerian literature was poetry or prose remains unanswered. It did contain at least one feature of poetry (left-justified lines), but the style of writing precludes the detection of certain other identifying features.

Different historical periods are reflected in literature. National and tribal sagas, accounts of the origin of the world and of customs, and myths which sometimes carry moral or spiritual messages predominate in the pre-urban eras. The epics of Homer, dating from the early to middle Iron age, and the great Indian epics of a slightly later period, have more evidence of deliberate literary authorship, surviving like the older myths through oral tradition for long periods before being written down.

Literature in all its forms can be seen as written records, whether the literature itself be factual or fictional, it is still quite possible to decipher facts through things like characters' actions and words or the authors' style of writing and the intent behind the words. The plot is for more than just entertainment purposes; within it lies information about economics, psychology, science, religions, politics, cultures, and social depth. Studying and analyzing literature becomes very important in terms of learning about our[who?] history. Through the study of past literature we[who?] are able to learn about how society has evolved and about the societal norms during each of the different periods all throughout history. This can even help us to understand references made in more modern literature because authors often make references to Greek mythology and other old religious texts or historical moments. Not only is there literature written on each of the aforementioned topics themselves, and how they have evolved throughout history (like a book about the history of economics or a book about evolution and science, for example) but one can also learn about these things in fictional works. Authors often include historical moments in their works, like when Lord Byron talks about the Spanish and the French in "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Canto I"[49] and expresses his opinions through his character Childe Harold. Through literature we are able to continuously uncover new information about history. It is easy to see how all academic fields have roots in literature.[50] Information became easier to pass down from generation to generation once we began to write it down. Eventually everything was written down, from things like home remedies and cures for illness, or how to build shelter to traditions and religious practices. From there people were able to study literature, improve on ideas, further our knowledge, and academic fields such as the medical field or trades could be started. In much the same way as the literature that we study today continue to be updated as we[who?] continue to evolve and learn more and more.

As a more urban culture developed, academies provided a means of transmission for speculative and philosophical literature in early civilizations, resulting in the prevalence of literature in Ancient China, Ancient India, Persia and Ancient Greece and Rome. Many works of earlier periods, even in narrative form, had a covert moral or didactic purpose, such as the Sanskrit Panchatantra or the Metamorphoses of Ovid. Drama and satire also developed as urban culture provided a larger public audience, and later readership, for literary production. Lyric poetry (as opposed to epic poetry) was often the speciality of courts and aristocratic circles, particularly in East Asia where songs were collected by the Chinese aristocracy as poems, the most notable being the Shijing or Book of Songs. Over a long period, the poetry of popular pre-literate balladry and song interpenetrated and eventually influenced poetry in the literary medium.

In ancient China, early literature was primarily focused on philosophy, historiography, military science, agriculture, and poetry. China, the origin of modern paper making and woodblock printing, produced the world's first print cultures.[51] Much of Chinese literature originates with the Hundred Schools of Thought period that occurred during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (769‒269 BCE). The most important of these include the Classics of Confucianism, of Daoism, of Mohism, of Legalism, as well as works of military science (e.g. Sun Tzu's The Art of War) and Chinese history (e.g. Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian). Ancient Chinese literature had a heavy emphasis on historiography, with often very detailed court records. An exemplary piece of narrative history of ancient China was the Zuo Zhuan, which was compiled no later than 389 BCE, and attributed to the blind 5th-century BCE historian Zuo Qiuming.

In ancient India, literature originated from stories that were originally orally transmitted. Early genres included drama, fables, sutras and epic poetry. Sanskrit literature begins with the Vedas, dating back to 1500–1000 BCE, and continues with the Sanskrit Epics of Iron Age India. The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts. The Samhitas (vedic collections) date to roughly 1500–1000 BCE, and the "circum-Vedic" texts, as well as the redaction of the Samhitas, date to c. 1000‒500 BCE, resulting in a Vedic period, spanning the mid-2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE, or the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age.[52] The period between approximately the 6th to 1st centuries BC saw the composition and redaction of the two most influential Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, with subsequent redaction progressing down to the 4th century AD. Other major literary works are Ramcharitmanas & Krishnacharitmanas.

In ancient Greece, the epics of Homer, who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Hesiod, who wrote Works and Days and Theogony, are some of the earliest, and most influential, of Ancient Greek literature. Classical Greek genres included philosophy, poetry, historiography, comedies and dramas. Plato and Aristotle authored philosophical texts that are the foundation of Western philosophy, Sappho and Pindar were influential lyric poets, and Herodotus and Thucydides were early Greek historians. Although drama was popular in Ancient Greece, of the hundreds of tragedies written and performed during the classical age, only a limited number of plays by three authors still exist: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The plays of Aristophanes provide the only real examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy, the earliest form of Greek Comedy, and are in fact used to define the genre.[53]

Roman histories and biographies anticipated the extensive mediaeval literature of lives of saints and miraculous chronicles, but the most characteristic form of the Middle Ages was the romance, an adventurous and sometimes magical narrative with strong popular appeal. Controversial, religious, political and instructional literature proliferated during the Renaissance as a result of the invention of printing, while the mediaeval romance developed into a more character-based and psychological form of narrative, the novel, of which early and important examples are the Chinese Monkey and the German Faust books.

In the Age of Reason philosophical tracts and speculations on history and human nature integrated literature with social and political developments. The inevitable reaction was the explosion of Romanticism in the later 18th century which reclaimed the imaginative and fantastical bias of old romances and folk-literature and asserted the primacy of individual experience and emotion. But as the 19th century went on, European fiction evolved towards realism and naturalism, the meticulous documentation of real life and social trends. Much of the output of naturalism was implicitly polemical, and influenced social and political change, but 20th century fiction and drama moved back towards the subjective, emphasizing unconscious motivations and social and environmental pressures on the individual. Writers such as Proust, Eliot, Joyce, Kafka and Pirandello exemplify the trend of documenting internal rather than external realities.

Genre fiction also showed it could question reality in its 20th century forms, in spite of its fixed formulas, through the enquiries of the skeptical detective and the alternative realities of science fiction. The separation of "mainstream" and "genre" forms (including journalism) continued to blur during the period up to our own times. William Burroughs, in his early works, and Hunter S. Thompson expanded documentary reporting into strong subjective statements after the second World War, and post-modern critics have disparaged the idea of objective realism in general.

Awards[edit]

Main article: List of literary awards

There are numerous awards recognizing achievement and contribution in literature. Given the diversity of the field, awards are typically limited in scope, usually on: form, genre, language, nationality and output (e.g. for first-time writers or debut novels).[54]

The Nobel Prize in Literature was one of the six Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895,[55] and is awarded to an author on the basis of their body of work, rather than to, or for, a particular work itself.[b] Other literary prizes for which all nationalities are eligible include: the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Man Booker International Prize and the Franz Kafka Prize.

Essays[edit]

An essay consists of a discussion of a topic from an author's personal point of view, exemplified by works by Michel de Montaigne or by Charles Lamb.

Genres related to the essay may include the memoir and the epistle.

Other prose literature[edit]

Philosophical, historical, journalistic, and scientific writings are traditionally ranked as literature. They offer some of the oldest prose writings in existence; novels and prose stories earned the names "fiction" to distinguish them from factual writing or nonfiction, which writers historically have crafted in prose.

Natural science[edit]

As advances and specialization have made new scientific research inaccessible to most audiences, the "literary" nature of science writing has become less pronounced over the last two centuries. Now, science appears mostly in journals. Scientific works of Aristotle, Copernicus, and Newton still exhibit great value, but since the science in them has largely become outdated, they no longer serve for scientific instruction. Yet, they remain too technical to sit well in most programs of literary study. Outside of "history of science" programs, students rarely read such works.

Philosophy[edit]

Philosophy has become an increasingly academic discipline. More of its practitioners lament this situation than occurs with the sciences; nonetheless most new philosophical work appears in academic journals. Major philosophers through history—Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Augustine, Descartes, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche—have become as canonical as any writers. Some recent philosophy works are argued to merit the title "literature", but much of it does not, and some areas, such as logic, have become extremely technical to a degree similar to that of mathematics.

Psychology[edit]

Literature allows readers to access intimate emotional aspects of a person's character that would not be obvious otherwise.[56] It benefits the psychological development and understanding of the reader. For example, it allows a person to access emotional states from which the person has distanced himself or herself. An entry written by D. Mitchell featured in The English Journal explains how the author used young adult literature in order to re-experience the emotional psychology she experienced as a child which she describes as a state of "wonder".[57]

Hogan also explains that the temporal and emotional amount which a person devotes to understanding a character's situation in literature allows literature to be considered "ecological[ly] valid in the study of emotion".[58] This can be understood in the sense that literature unites a large community by provoking universal emotions. It also allows readers to access cultural aspects that they are not exposed to thus provoking new emotional experiences.[59] Authors choose literary device according to what psychological emotion he or she is attempting to describe, thus certain literary devices are more emotionally effective than others.[60]

Furthermore, literature is being more popularly regarded as a psychologically effective research tool. It can be considered a research tool because it allows psychologists to discover new psychological aspects and it also allows psychologists to promote their theories.[61] For example, the print capacity available for literature distribution has allowed psychological theories such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to be universally recognized.

Maslow's "Third Force Psychology Theory" even allows literary analysts to critically understand how characters reflect the culture and the history in which they are contextualized. It also allows analysts to understand the author's intended message and to understand the author's psychology.[62] The theory suggests that human beings possess a nature within them that demonstrates their true "self" and it suggests that the fulfillment of this nature is the reason for living. It also suggests that neurological development hinders actualizing the nature because a person becomes estranged from his or her true self.[63] Therefore, literary devices reflect a character's and an author's natural self.[60] In his "Third Force Psychology and the Study of Literature", Paris argues "D.H. Lawrence's 'pristine unconscious' is a metaphor for the real self".[64] Thus Literature is a reputable tool that allows readers to develop and apply critical reasoning to the nature of emotions.

History[edit]

A significant portion of historical writing ranks as literature, particularly the genre known as creative nonfiction, as can a great deal of journalism, such as literary journalism. However, these areas have become extremely large, and often have a primarily utilitarian purpose: to record data or convey immediate information. As a result, the writing in these fields often lacks a literary quality, although it often(and in its better moments)has that quality. Major "literary" historians include Herodotus, Thucydides and Procopius, all of whom count as canonical literary figures.

Law[edit]

Law offers more ambiguity. Some writings of Plato and Aristotle, the law tables of Hammurabi of Babylon, or even the early parts of the Bible could be seen as legal literature. Roman civil law as codified in the Corpus Juris Civilis during the reign of Justinian I of the Byzantine Empire has a reputation as significant literature. The founding documents of many countries, including Constitutions and Law Codes, can count as literature.

Other narrative forms[edit]

  • Electronic literature is a literary genre consisting of works that originate in digital environments.
  • Films, videos and broadcast soap operas have carved out a niche which often parallels the functionality of prose fiction.
  • Graphic novels and comic books present stories told in a combination of sequential artwork, dialogue and text.

Genres of literature[edit]

Literary genre is a mode of categorizing literature. The term originates from French, designating a proposed type or class.[65] However, such classes are subject to change, and have been used in different ways in different periods and traditions.

Literary techniques[edit]

Main article: list of narrative techniques

A literary technique or literary device can be used by authors in order to enhance the written framework of a piece of literature, and produce specific effects. Literary techniques encompass a wide range of approaches to crafting a work: whether a work is narrated in first-person or from another perspective, whether to use a traditional linear narrative or a nonlinear narrative, or the choice of literary genre, are all examples of literary technique. They may indicate to a reader that there is a familiar structure and presentation to a work, such as a conventional murder-mystery novel; or, the author may choose to experiment with their technique to surprise the reader.

In this way, use of a technique can lead to the development of a new genre, as was the case with one of the first modern novels, Pamela by Samuel Richardson. Pamela is written as a collection of letter-writing correspondence, called "epistolary technique"; by using this technique, Pamela strengthened the tradition of the epistolary novel, a genre which had been practiced for some time already but without the same acclaim.

Literary technique is distinguished from literary device, as military strategy is distinguished from military tactics. Devices are specific constructions within the narrative that make it effective. Examples include metaphor, simile, ellipsis, narrative motifs, and allegory. Even simple word play functions as a literary device. The narrative mode may be considered a literary device, such as the use of stream-of-consciousness narrative.

Literary criticism implies a critique and evaluation of a piece of literature and, in some cases, it is used to improve a work in progress or a classical piece, as with an ongoing theater production. Literary editors can serve a similar purpose for the authors with whom they work. There are many types of literary criticism and each can be used to critique a piece in a different way or critique a different aspect of a piece.

Legal status[edit]

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(February 2014)

United Kingdom[edit]

Literary works have been protected by copyright law from unauthorized reproduction since at least 1710.[66] Literary works are defined by copyright law to mean any work, other than a dramatic or musical work, which is written, spoken or sung, and accordingly includes (a) a table or compilation (other than a database), (b) a computer program, (c) preparatory design material for a computer program, and (d) a database.

Literary works are not limited to works of literature, but include all works expressed in print or writing (other than dramatic or musical works).[67]

See also[edit]

Main articles: Outline of literature and Index of literature articles

Lists
Related topics

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

Citations

  1. ^This distinction is complicated by various hybrid forms such as the prose poem[14] and prosimetrum,[15] and more generally by the fact that prose possesses rhythm.[16] Abram Lipsky refers to it as an "open secret" that "prose is not distinguished from poetry by lack of rhythm".[17]
  2. ^However, in some instances a work has been cited in the explanation of why the award was given.
  1. ^ abcMeyer, Jim (1997). "What is Literature? A Definition Based on Prototypes". Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session. 41 (1). Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
  2. ^Simon Ryan; Delyse Ryan. "What is Literature?". Foundation: Fundamentals of Literature and Drama. Australian Catholic University. Archived from the original on 20 February 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2014. 
  3. ^ abLeitch et al., The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 28
  4. ^Ross, "The Emergence of "Literature": Making and Reading the English Canon in the Eighteenth Century", 406
  5. ^Eagleton, Literary theory: an introduction, 16
  6. ^ abEagleton, Literary theory: an introduction, 9
  7. ^Biswas, Critique of Poetics, 538
  8. ^Leitch et al., The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 4
  9. ^Eagleton, Literary theory: an introduction, 2–6
  10. ^Eagleton, Literary theory: an introduction, 4
  11. ^"literature (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 9 February 2014. 
  12. ^Finnegan, Ruth (1974). "How Oral Is Oral Literature?". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 37 (1): 52–64. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00094842. JSTOR 614104. (subscription required)
  13. ^ ab"poetry, n". Oxford English Dictionary. OUP. Retrieved 13 February 2014. (subscription required)
  14. ^"Poetic Form: Prose Poem". Poets.org. Academy of American Poets. Archived from the original on 2 October 2013. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  15. ^Preminger, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 981
  16. ^Preminger, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 979
  17. ^Lipsky, Abram (1908). "Rhythm in Prose". The Sewanee Review. 16 (3): 277–289. JSTOR 27530906. (subscription required)
  18. ^ abPreminger, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 938–939
  19. ^Ross, "The Emergence of "Literature": Making and Reading the English Canon in the Eighteenth Century", 398
  20. ^Finnegan, Ruth H. (1977). Oral poetry: its nature, significance, and social context. Indiana University Press. p. 66. 
  21. ^Magoun, Jr., Francis P. (1953). "Oral-Formulaic Character of Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry". Speculum. 28 (3): 446–467. doi:10.2307/2847021. JSTOR 2847021. (subscription required)
  22. ^Alison Booth; Kelly J. Mays. "Glossary: P". LitWeb, the Norton Introduction to Literature Studyspace. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  23. ^Graff, Richard (2005). "Prose versus Poetry in Early Greek Theories of Style". Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric. 23 (4): 303–335. doi:10.1525/rh.2005.23.4.303. JSTOR 10.1525/rh.2005.23.4.303. (subscription required)
  24. ^Goody, Jack (2006). "From Oral to Written: An Anthropological Breakthrough in Storytelling". In Franco Moretti. The Novel, Volume 1: History, Geography, and Culture. Princeton: Princeton UP. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-691-04947-2.
Literary Analysis: Using Elements of Literature

Students are asked to write literary analysis essays because this type of assignment encourages you to think about how and why a poem, short story, novel, or play was written.  To successfully analyze literature, you’ll need to remember that authors make specific choices for particular reasons.  Your essay should point out the author’s choices and attempt to explain their significance. 

Another way to look at a literary analysis is to consider a piece of literature from your own perspective.  Rather than thinking about the author’s intentions, you can develop an argument based on any single term (or combination of terms) listed below.  You’ll just need to use the original text to defend and explain your argument to the reader.

Allegory - narrative form in which the characters are representative of some larger humanistic trait (i.e. greed, vanity, or bravery) and attempt to convey some larger lesson or meaning to life. Although allegory was originally and traditionally character based, modern allegories tend to parallel story and theme.

  • William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily- the decline of the Old South
  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- man’s struggle to contain his inner primal instincts
  • District 9- South African Apartheid
  • X Men- the evils of prejudice
  • Harry Potter- the dangers of seeking “racial purity”

Character - representation of a person, place, or thing performing traditionally human activities or functions in a work of fiction

  • Protagonist - The character the story revolves around.
  • Antagonist - A character or force that opposes the protagonist.
  • Minor character - Often provides support and illuminates the protagonist.
  • Static character - A character that remains the same.
  • Dynamic character - A character that changes in some important way.
  • Characterization - The choices an author makes to reveal a character’s personality, such as appearance, actions, dialogue, and motivations.  

Look for: Connections, links, and clues between and about characters. Ask yourself what the function and significance of each character is. Make this determination based upon the character's history, what the reader is told (and not told), and what other characters say about themselves and others.

Connotation - implied meaning of word. BEWARE! Connotations can change over time.

  • confidence/ arrogance
  • mouse/ rat
  • cautious/ scared
  • curious/ nosey
  • frugal/ cheap

Denotation - dictionary definition of a word

Diction - word choice that both conveys and emphasizes the meaning or theme of a poem through distinctions in sound, look, rhythm, syllable, letters, and definition  

Figurative language - the use of words to express meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words themselves

  • Metaphor - contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme without using like or as  
    • You are the sunshine of my life.
  • Simile - contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme using like or as  
    • What happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun
  • Hyperbole - exaggeration
    • I have a million things to do today.
  • Personification - giving non-human objects human characteristics
    • America has thrown her hat into the ring, and will be joining forces with the British.

Foot - grouping of stressed and unstressed syllables used in line or poem

  • Iamb - unstressed syllable followed by stressed
    • Made famous by the Shakespearian sonnet, closest to the natural rhythm of human speech
      • How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
  • Spondee - stressed stressed
    • Used to add emphasis and break up monotonous rhythm
      • Blood boil, mind-meld, well- loved
  • Trochee - stressed unstressed
    • Often used in children’s rhymes and to help with memorization, gives poem a hurried feeling
      • While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
  • Anapest - unstressed unstressed stressed
    • Often used in longer poems or “rhymed stories”
      • Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
  • Dactyls - stressed unstressed unstressed
    • Often used in classical Greek or Latin text, later revived by the Romantics, then again by the Beatles, often thought to create a heartbeat or pulse in a poem
      • Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
        With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

The iamb stumbles through my books; trochees rush and tumble; while anapest runs like a hurrying brook; dactyls are stately and classical.

Imagery - the author’s attempt to create a mental picture (or reference point) in the mind of the reader. Remember, though the most immediate forms of imagery are visual, strong and effective imagery can be used to invoke an emotional, sensational (taste, touch, smell etc) or even physical response.

Meter - measure or structuring of rhythm in a poem

Plot - the arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story

  • Foreshadowing - When the writer clues the reader in to something that will eventually occur in the story; it may be explicit (obvious) or implied (disguised).
  • Suspense - The tension that the author uses to create a feeling of discomfort about the unknown
  • Conflict - Struggle between opposing forces.
  • Exposition - Background information regarding the setting, characters, plot.
  • Rising Action - The process the story follows as it builds to its main conflict
  • Crisis - A significant turning point in the story that determines how it must end
  • Resolution/Denouement - The way the story turns out.

Point of View - pertains to who tells the story and how it is told. The point of view of a story can sometimes indirectly establish the author's intentions.

  • Narrator - The person telling the story who may or may not be a character in the story.
  • First-person - Narrator participates in action but sometimes has limited knowledge/vision.
  • Second person - Narrator addresses the reader directly as though she is part of the story. (i.e. “You walk into your bedroom.  You see clutter everywhere and…”)
  • Third Person (Objective) - Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character's perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.
  • Omniscient - All-knowing narrator (multiple perspectives). The narrator knows what each character is thinking and feeling, not just what they are doing throughout the story.  This type of narrator usually jumps around within the text, following one character for a few pages or chapters, and then switching to another character for a few pages, chapters, etc. Omniscient narrators also sometimes step out of a particular character’s mind to evaluate him or her in some meaningful way.

Rhythm - often thought of as a poem’s timing. Rhythm is the juxtaposition of stressed and unstressed beats in a poem, and is often used to give the reader a lens through which to move through the work. (See meter and foot)

Setting - the place or location of the action.  The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. Example – In Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the crumbling old mansion reflects the decaying state of both the family and the narrator’s mind. We also see this type of emphasis on setting in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.

Speaker - the person delivering the poem. Remember, a poem does not have to have a speaker, and the speaker and the poet are not necessarily one in the same.

Structure (fiction) - The way that the writer arranges the plot of a story.

Look for: Repeated elements in action, gesture, dialogue, description, as well as shifts in direction, focus, time, place, etc.

Structure(poetry) - The pattern of organization of a poem. For example, a Shakespearean sonnet is a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Because the sonnet is strictly constrained, it is considered a closed or fixed form. An open or free form poem has looser form, or perhaps one of the author’s invention, but it is important to remember that these poems  are not necessarily formless.

Symbolism - when an object is meant to be representative of something or an idea greater than the object itself.

  • Cross - representative of Christ or Christianity
  • Bald Eagle - America or Patriotism
  • Owl - wisdom or knowledge
  • Yellow - implies cowardice or rot

Tone - the implied attitude towards the subject of the poem. Is it hopeful, pessimistic, dreary, worried? A poet conveys tone by combining all of the elements listed above to create a precise impression on the reader.

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