Vocabulary for Literary Analysis
To read, think and write about literature, you need to have a literary vocabulary that will help you articulate your ideas about literature. The following is a list of literary terms that you will use this year in your study of literature.
Allegory: a work in which elements symbolize or represent something else.
Alliteration: the practice of beginning several consecutive or neighboring words with the same sound: ?The twisting trout twinkled below?.
Allusion: a reference to a mythological, literary, or historical person, place, or thing.
Analogy: a comparison between two or more similar objects, suggesting that if they are alike in certain respects, they will probably be alike in other ways, too.
Anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase in successive clauses.
Antagonist: the person or think working against the protagonist, or hero, of the work.
Antithesis: a direct juxtaposition of structurally parallel words, phrases or clauses for the purpose of contrast: e.g., ?Sink or swim.?
Apostrophe: a form of personification in which the absent or dead are spoken to as if present and the inanimate as if alive.
Anagnorisis (recognition): the moment when the tragic hero recognizes the truth of his situation and/or his identity.
Archetype: refers to an original pattern or prototypical symbol living in the human mind. The tree of life, mandala of the seasons, heroes and villains, creation of the universe and tragedy are all examples of archetypes. Archetypes operate in such a way as to be recognizable in all human creations, including science, literature and art.
Assonance: the repetition of accented vowel sounds in a series of words: e.g. the words ?cry? and ?side? have the same vowel sound and so are said to be in assonance.
Audience: the intended person, people or group to whom a text is addressed.
Catharsis: the events of a tragedy should inspire pity and terror in its viewers, allowing them, through vicarious participation in the dramatic event, to attain an emotional purgation, moral purification, or clarity of intellectual viewpoint.
Characterization: the method an author uses to reveal or describe characters and their various personalities. This may include appearance, speech, thoughts, actions, and how others around him or her perceive the character.
Climax: A moment of great or culminating intensity in a narrative or drama; the turning point in a plot or dramatic action after which it is impossible to return to a prior state.
Conflict: the problem or struggle in a story that triggers the action. There are five basic types of conflict:
Consonance: the repetition of consonant sounds within a series of words to produce a harmonious effect. Although similar to alliteration, consonance is not limited to the first letters of words: ?And each slow dusk is drawing-down of blinds.? The ?d? sound is in consonance. The ?s? sound is also in consonance.
Context: the set of facts or circumstances surrounding an event or a situation in a piece of literature.
Couplet: two lines of verse the same lengths that usually rhyme.
Denouement: the final solution or outcome of a piece of drama or prose, also known as the resolution.
Details: the facts revealed by the author or speaker that support the attitude or tone in a piece of poetry or prose.
Dialogue: the conversation carried on between and among the characters of a literary work.
Diction: the author?s choice of words that are intended to convey a certain effect.
Didactic literature: instructs or presents a moral or religious statement.
Drama: the form of literature known as plays; but drama also refers to the type of serious play that is often concerned with the leading character?s relationship to society.
Dramatic monologue: a literary work (or part of a literary work) in which a character is speaking about him- or herself as if another person were present. The speaker?s words reveal something important about his or her character.
Empathy: putting yourself in someone else?s place and imagining how that person must feel.
Exposition: the writing that is intended to make clear, or explain, something that might otherwise be difficult to understand; in a play or novel, it would be that portion of the plot that helps the reader to understand the background or situation in which the work is set.
Expressionism: a highly emotional form of dramatic expression exploring the ultimate nature of human experience. The expressionist playwrights focused on subconscious feelings and desires.
Falling action: the action of a play or story that works out the decision arrived at during the climax. It ends with the resolution or denouement.
Figures of speech: words or phrases that describe one thing in terms of something else. They always involve some sort of imaginative comparison between seemingly unlike things. Not meant to be taken literally, figurative language is used to produce images in a reader?s mind and to express ideas in fresh, vivid, and imaginative ways. The most common examples of figurative language, or figures of speech, used in both prose and poetry, are simile, metaphor, and personification.
Flashback: a scene that interrupts the action of a work to show a previous event.
Foreshadowing: the use of hints or clues in a narrative to suggest future action.
Genre: a category or type of literature based on its style, form, and content.
Hamartia: Taken from the Greek meaning ?to err,? it is the protagonist?s inner weakness or inherent error. Also known as tragic flaw.
Hyperbole: a deliberate, extravagant, and often outrageous exaggeration: ?The shot heard ?round the world.? It may be used for either serious or comic effect.
Hubris: derived from the Greek word hybris, means ?excessive pride.? In Greek tragedy, hubris is often viewed as the flaw that leads to the downfall of the tragic hero.
Idiom: A form of speech or an expression of a given language that is particular to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements, such as ?keep tabs on;? often the result of a regional speech or dialect.
Imagery: consists of the words or phrases a writer uses to represent persons, objects, actions, feelings, and ideas descriptively by appealing to the senses.
Irony: occurs in three types:
Metaphor: a comparison between two unlike things NOT using ?like? or ?as?: ?Time is money?.
Mood: the atmosphere or predominant emotion aroused in the reader of a literary work.
Motif: an often-repeated idea or theme in literature
Motivation: a circumstance or set of circumstances that prompts a character to act in a certain way or that determines the outcome of a situation or work.
Myth: a traditional story that attempts to explain a natural phenomenon or justify a certain practice or belief of a society.
Narration: the telling of a story in writing or speaking.
Narrator: the person telling the story.
Onomatopoeia: the use of words that mimic the sounds they describe: ?hiss,? ?buzz,? and ?bang.? When onomatopoeia is used on an extended scale in a poem, it is called imitative harmony.
Paradox: occurs when the elements of a statement contradict each other. Although the statement may appear illogical, impossible, or absurd, it turns out to have a coherent meaning the reveals a hidden truth: ?The coach considered this to be a good loss.?
Pathos: a Greek word meaning suffering or passion. It usually describes the part of a play or story that is intended to elicit pity or sorrow from the audience.
Peripeteia (reversal of situation): Also known as the ?tragic fall?, when a disastrous change of fortune catapults the hero from the heights of happiness to the depths of misery.
Personification: a kind of metaphor that gives inanimate objects or abstract ideas human characteristics: ?The wind cried in the dark.?
Plot: the sequence of events or actions in a short story, novel, play, or narrative poem. It is usually a series of related incidents that build upon one another as the story develops.
Point of View: the perspective from which a narrative is told. In first person point of view the story is told by one of the characters: ?When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.? In the third person point of view the story is told by someone outside the story. ?He regretted his actions, but it was too late to change the result.?
Protagonist: the central character of a drama, novel, short story, or narrative poem.
Pun: a play on words that are identical or similar in sound but have sharply diverse meanings. Puns can have serious as well as humorous uses: e.g. when Mercutio is bleeding to death in Romeo and Juliet, he says to his friends, ?Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.?
Quest: an archetype that features a main character who is seeking something to find something or achieve a goal. In the process, this person encounters and overcomes a series of obstacles. In the end, he or she returns, having gained knowledge and experience as a result of the adventures.
Repetition: the deliberate use of any element of language more than once ? sound, word, phrase, sentence, grammatical pattern, or rhythmical pattern.
Resolution, or denouement: The portion of the play or story in which the problem is solved. It comes after the climax and falling action and is intended to bring the story to a satisfactory end.
Rhyme: the repetition of sounds in tow or more words or phrases that appear close to each other in a poem. End rhyme occurs at the end of lines; internal rhyme, within a line. Slant rhyme is approximate rhyme. A rhyme scheme is the pattern of end rhymes.
Rising action: a series of conflicts or struggles that build a story or play toward a climax.
Sarcasm: the use of verbal irony in which a person appears to be praising something but is actually insulting it: e.g., ?She?s a real winner!?
Setting: the time and place in which events in a short story, novel, play or narrative poem take place.
Shift or turn: a change or movement in a piece resulting from an epiphany, realization, or insight gained by the speaker, a character or the reader.
Simile: a comparison of two different things or ideas through the use of words ?like? or ?as?. It is a definitely stated comparison in which the speaker says one think is like another: e.g., ?The warrior fought like a lion.?
Soliloquy: a speech delivered by a character when he or she is alone on the stage.
Sound devices: stylistic techniques that convey meaning through sound, including rhyme, assonance, consonance, alliteration, and onomatopoeia.
Speaker: The narrator of a text. This may be the author, a character in the text, or an external narrator who does not play a role in the text.
Stereotype: a pattern or form that does not change. A character is ?stereotyped? if she or he has no individuality and fits the mold of that particular kind of person.
Structure: the framework or organization of a literary selection. For example, the structure of fiction is usually determined by plot and by chapter division; the structure of drama depends upon its division into acts and scenes; the structure of an essay depends upon the organization of ideas; the structure of poetry is determined by its rhyme scheme and stanzaic form.
Style: the writer?s characteristic manner of employing language.
Symbol: a person, place, thing or an event that has both a meaning in itself and that stands for something larger than itself, such as a quality, attitude, belief, or value: the dove is a symbol of peach. Characters in literature are often symbols of good and evil.
Syntax: the arrangement of words and the order of grammatical elements in a sentence.
Theme: the central message of a literary work. It is not the same as a subject, which can be expressed in a word or two: courage, survival, war, pride, etc. The theme is the idea that author wishes to convey about that subject. It is expressed as a sentence or general statement about life or human nature. A literary work can have more than one theme, and most themes are not directly stated but are implied. The reader must think about all the elements of the work and use them to make inferences, or reasonable guesses, as to which themes seem to be implied. An example of a theme on the subject of pride might be that pride often precedes a fall.
Tone: the writer?s, or speaker?s, attitude toward a subject, character, or audience, and it is conveyed through the author?s choice of words and detail. Tone can be serious, humorous, sarcastic, indignant, objective, etc.
Tragedy: a dramatic narrative in which serious and important actions turn out disastrously for the protagonist or tragic hero.
Tragic hero: the main character of great importance to his state or culture and who is conventionally of noble birth and high social station, the ruler or an important leader in his society. The moral health of the state is identified with, and dependent on, that of its ruler, and so the tragic hero?s story is also that of his state. Such heroes are mixed characters, neither thoroughly good or thoroughly evil, yet ?better? or ?greater? than the rest of us in the sense that they are of higher than ordinary moral worth and social significance.
Vernacular: The everyday language spoken by people as distinguished from the literary language; the standard native language of a country or locality. Synonym: dialect.
Character--Imaginary people created by the writer. Perhaps the most important element of literature.
Plot--The arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story.
Look for: Repeated elements in action, gesture, dialogue, description, as well as shifts in direction, focus, time, place, etc.
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.
Point of View--Again, the point of view can sometimes indirectly establish the author's intentions. Point of view pertains to who tells the story and how it is told.
Irony--A contrast or discrepancy between one thing and another.
Secondary Language Arts
The following are a list of terms associated with "academic language" and may be found in state frameworks in the United States. (other than California) Familiarity and use of academic language may make a substantial impact in test scores.