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.
STUDY THE FOLLOWING POETIC DEVICES. LEARN THE DEFINITIONS AND CLICK ON THE TERMS TO SEE EXAMPLES AND GET A MORE DETAILED EXPLANATION.
ALLITERATION - is the repetition of initial consonant sounds.
ALLUSION - is a direct or indirect reference to a familiar figure, place or event from history, literature, mythology or the Bible.
APOSTROPHE - a figure of speech in which a person not present is addressed.
ASSONANCE - is a close repetition of similar vowel sounds, usually in stressed syllables.
ATMOSPHERE / MOOD - is the prevailing feeling that is created in a story or poem.
CACOPHONY - Harsh sounds introduced for poetic effect - sometimes words that are difficult to pronounce.
CLICHE - an overused expression that has lost its intended force or novelty.
CONNOTATION - the emotional suggestions attached to words beyond their strict definitions.
CONSONANCE - the close repetition of identical consonant sounds before and after different vowels.
CONTRAST - the comparison or juxtaposition of things that are different
DENOTATION - the dictionary meaning of words.
DISSONANCE - the juxtaposition of harsh jarring sounds in one or more lines.
EUPHONY - agreeable sounds that are easy to articulate.
EXTENDED METAPHOR - an implied comparison between two things which are essentially not alike. These points of comparison are continued throughout the selection.
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE - Language used in such a way as to force words out of their literal meanings by emphasizing their connotations to bring new insight and feeling to the subject.
HYPERBOLE - an exaggeration in the service of truth - an overstatement.
IDIOM - is a term or phrase that cannot be understood by a literal translation, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is understood through common use.
IMAGERY - is the representation through language of sense experience. The image most often suggests a mental picture, but an image may also represent a sound, smell, taste or tactile experience.
IRONY - is a literary device which reveals concealed or contradictory meanings.
JARGON - language peculiar to a particular trade, profession or group.
JUXTAPOSITION - is the overlapping or mixing of opposite or different situations, characters, settings, moods, or points of view in order to clarify meaning, purpose, or character, or to heighten certain moods, especially humour, horror, and suspense. also Contrast
LITERAL LANGUAGE - what is said is based in reality without the comparisons used in figurative language.
LITOTES - a form of understatement in which something is said by denying the opposite.
METAPHOR - a comparison between two things which are essentially dissimilar. The comparison is implied rather than directly stated.
METER - any regular pattern of rhythm based on stressed and unstressed syllables.
METONYMY - use of a closely related idea for the idea itself.
MOOD - see atmosphere
ONOMATOPOEIA - the use of words which sound like what they mean.
OXYMORON - two words placed close together which are contradictory, yet have truth in them.
PARADOX - a statement in which there is an apparent contradiction which is actually true.
PERSONIFICATION - giving human attributes to an animal, object or idea.
RHYME - words that sound alike
RHYME SCHEME - any pattern of rhymes in poetry. Each new sound is assigned the next letter in the alphabet.
RHYTHM - a series of stressed or accented syllables in a group of words, arranged so that the reader expects a similar series to follow.
SIMILE - a comparison between two things which are essentially dissimilar. The comparison is directly stated through words such as like, as, than or resembles.
SPEAKER - the "voice" which seems to be telling the poem. Not the same as the poet; this is like a narrator.
SYMBOL - a symbol has two levels of meaning, a literal level and a figurative level. Characters, objects, events and settings can all be symbolic in that they represent something else beyond themselves.
SYNEDOCHE - the use of a part for the whole idea.
THEME - is the central idea of the story, usually implied rather than directly stated. It is the writer's idea abut life and can be implied or directly stated through the voice of the speaker. It should not be confused with moral or plot.
TONE - is the poet's attitude toward his/her subject or readers. it is similar to tone of voice but should not be confused with mood or atmosphere. An author's tone might be sarcastic, sincere, humourous . . .
TROPE - a figure of speech in which a word is used outside its literal meaning. Simile and metaphor are the two most common tropes.
UNDERSTATEMENT - this is saying less than what you mean in the service of truth.
VOICE - the creating and artistic intelligence that we recognize behind any speaker.
POETIC DEVICES - QUIZ #1