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what is essays in literary terms

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essay , an analytic , interpretative, or critical literary composition usually much shorter and less systematic and formal than a dissertation or thesis and usually dealing with its subject from a limited and often personal point of view.

Some early treatises—such as those of Cicero on the pleasantness of old age or on the art of “divination,” Seneca on anger or clemency , and Plutarch on the passing of oracles—presage to a certain degree the form and tone of the essay, but not until the late 16th century was the flexible and deliberately nonchalant and versatile form of the essay perfected by the French writer Michel de Montaigne . Choosing the name essai to emphasize that his compositions were attempts or endeavours, a groping toward the expression of his personal thoughts and experiences, Montaigne used the essay as a means of self-discovery. His Essais , published in their final form in 1588, are still considered among the finest of their kind. Later writers who most nearly recall the charm of Montaigne include, in England, Robert Burton , though his whimsicality is more erudite , Sir Thomas Browne , and Laurence Sterne , and in France, with more self-consciousness and pose, André Gide and Jean Cocteau .

what is essays in literary terms

At the beginning of the 17th century, social manners, the cultivation of politeness, and the training of an accomplished gentleman became the theme of many essayists. This theme was first exploited by the Italian Baldassare Castiglione in his Il libro del cortegiano (1528; The Book of the Courtier ). The influence of the essay and of genres allied to it, such as maxims, portraits, and sketches, proved second to none in molding the behavior of the cultured classes, first in Italy, then in France, and, through French influence, in most of Europe in the 17th century. Among those who pursued this theme was the 17th-century Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracián in his essays on the art of worldly wisdom.

Keener political awareness in the 18th century, the age of Enlightenment , made the essay an all-important vehicle for the criticism of society and religion. Because of its flexibility, its brevity , and its potential both for ambiguity and for allusions to current events and conditions, it was an ideal tool for philosophical reformers. The Federalist Papers in America and the tracts of the French Revolutionaries are among the countless examples of attempts during this period to improve the human condition through the essay.

The genre also became the favoured tool of traditionalists of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge , who looked to the short, provocative essay as the most potent means of educating the masses. Essays such as Paul Elmer More’s long series of Shelburne Essays (published between 1904 and 1935), T.S. Eliot ’s After Strange Gods (1934) and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948), and others that attempted to reinterpret and redefine culture , established the genre as the most fitting to express the genteel tradition at odds with the democracy of the new world.

Whereas in several countries the essay became the chosen vehicle of literary and social criticism, in other countries the genre became semipolitical, earnestly nationalistic, and often polemical, playful, or bitter. Essayists such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather wrote with grace on several lighter subjects, and many writers—including Virginia Woolf , Edmund Wilson , and Charles du Bos —mastered the essay as a form of literary criticism .

Literary Devices

Literary devices, terms, and elements, definition of essay, common examples of essay, significance of essay in literature.

Many famous writers and thinkers have also written numerous examples of essays. For instance, the treatises of the philosophers Plutarch, Cicero, and Seneca are all early forms of essay writing. Essay writing might seem dull to school children, but in fact the form has become extremely popular, often converging with a type of writing called “creative non-fiction.” Authors are able to explore complex concepts through anecdote, evidence, and exploration. An author may want to persuade his or her audience to accept a central idea, or simply describe what he or she has experienced. Below you will find examples of essays from famous writers.

Examples of Essay in Literature

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an essayist and poet who was a part of the Transcendentalist movement and who believed strongly in the importance of individualism and self-reliance. The above essay example, in fact, is titled “Self-Reliance,” and encourages human beings to trust themselves and strike out on their own.

Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a form of the energy that was rolling in at the open window and driving its way through so many narrow and intricate corridors in my own brain and in those of other human beings, there was something marvelous as well as pathetic about him. It was as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zig-zagging to show us the true nature of life. Thus displayed one could not get over the strangeness of it. One is apt to forget all about life, seeing it humped and bossed and garnished and cumbered so that it has to move with the greatest circumspection and dignity. Again, the thought of all that life might have been had he been born in any other shape caused one to view his simple activities with a kind of pity.
Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd — seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘natives’, and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing — no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

George Orwell’s marvelous essay “Shooting an Elephant” tells the story of when he was a police officer in Lower Burma and was asked to deal with an elephant wandering through a market. Orwell brilliantly extrapolates his role in shooting and killing the animal to the effects of Imperialism and the British Empire.

Not that it’s profound, but I’m struck, amid the pig’s screams and wheezes, by the fact that these agricultural pros do not see their stock as pets or friends. They are just in the agribusiness of weight and meat. They are unconnected, even at the fair’s self-consciously special occasion of connection. And why not?—even at the fair their products continue to drool and smell and scream, and the work goes on. I can imagine what they think of us, cooing at the swine: we fairgoers don’t have to deal with the business of breeding and feeding our meat; our meat simply materializes at the corn-dog stand, allowing us to separate our healthy appetites from fur and screams and rolling eyes. We tourists get to indulge our tender animal-rights feelings with our tummies full of bacon. I don’t know how keen these sullen farmers’ sense of irony is, but mine’s been honed East Coast keen, and I feel like a bit of an ass in the Swine Barn.

(“Ticket to the Fair” by David Foster Wallace)

Test Your Knowledge of Essay

3. Which of the following statements is true? A. Essays are found in many intellectual magazines. B. Essays are only used in school settings. C. Essays are always boring. [spoiler title=”Answer to Question #3″] Answer: A is the correct answer.[/spoiler]

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  • How to write a literary analysis essay | A step-by-step guide

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on August 14, 2023.

Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.

A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.

Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :

  • An introduction that tells the reader what your essay will focus on.
  • A main body, divided into paragraphs , that builds an argument using evidence from the text.
  • A conclusion that clearly states the main point that you have shown with your analysis.

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Table of contents

Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion, other interesting articles.

The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.

Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.

To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.

Language choices

Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?

What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).

Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.

Narrative voice

Ask yourself:

  • Who is telling the story?
  • How are they telling it?

Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?

Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.

The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?

Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.

  • Novels are often divided into chapters and parts.
  • Poems are divided into lines, stanzas, and sometime cantos.
  • Plays are divided into scenes and acts.

Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.

There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?

With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.

In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for  dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.

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Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.

If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:

Essay question example

Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?

Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:

Thesis statement example

Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.

Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.

Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.

Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:

Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:

The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .

However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:

Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.

Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.

Finding textual evidence

To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.

It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.

To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.

Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.

A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.

If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.

“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”

The introduction

The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.

A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.

Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.

Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!

If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.

The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.

Paragraph structure

A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.

Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.

In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.

Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.

Topic sentences

To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.

A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:

… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.

Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.

This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.

Using textual evidence

A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.

It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:

It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.

In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:

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The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.

A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.

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The 31 Literary Devices You Must Know

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Need to analyze The Scarlet Letter or To Kill a Mockingbird for English class, but fumbling for the right vocabulary and concepts for literary devices? You've come to the right place. To successfully interpret and analyze literary texts, you'll first need to have a solid foundation in literary terms and their definitions.

In this article, we'll help you get familiar with most commonly used literary devices in prose and poetry. We'll give you a clear definition of each of the terms we discuss along with examples of literary elements and the context in which they most often appear (comedic writing, drama, or other).

Before we get to the list of literary devices, however, we have a quick refresher on what literary devices are and how understanding them will help you analyze works of literature.

What Are Literary Devices and Why Should You Know Them?

Literary devices are techniques that writers use to create a special and pointed effect in their writing, to convey information, or to help readers understand their writing on a deeper level.

Often, literary devices are used in writing for emphasis or clarity. Authors will also use literary devices to get readers to connect more strongly with either a story as a whole or specific characters or themes.

So why is it important to know different literary devices and terms? Aside from helping you get good grades on your literary analysis homework, there are several benefits to knowing the techniques authors commonly use.

Being able to identify when different literary techniques are being used helps you understand the motivation behind the author's choices. For example, being able to identify symbols in a story can help you figure out why the author might have chosen to insert these focal points and what these might suggest in regard to her attitude toward certain characters, plot points, and events.

In addition, being able to identify literary devices can make a written work's overall meaning or purpose clearer to you. For instance, let's say you're planning to read (or re-read) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. By knowing that this particular book is a religious allegory with references to Christ (represented by the character Aslan) and Judas (represented by Edmund), it will be clearer to you why Lewis uses certain language to describe certain characters and why certain events happen the way they do.

Finally, literary techniques are important to know because they make texts more interesting and more fun to read. If you were to read a novel without knowing any literary devices, chances are you wouldn't be able to detect many of the layers of meaning interwoven into the story via different techniques.

Now that we've gone over why you should spend some time learning literary devices, let's take a look at some of the most important literary elements to know.

List of Literary Devices: 31 Literary Terms You Should Know

Below is a list of literary devices, most of which you'll often come across in both prose and poetry. We explain what each literary term is and give you an example of how it's used. This literary elements list is arranged in alphabetical order.

An allegory is a story that is used to represent a more general message about real-life (historical) issues and/or events. It is typically an entire book, novel, play, etc.

Example: George Orwell's dystopian book Animal Farm is an allegory for the events preceding the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist era in early 20th century Russia. In the story, animals on a farm practice animalism, which is essentially communism. Many characters correspond to actual historical figures: Old Major represents both the founder of communism Karl Marx and the Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin; the farmer, Mr. Jones, is the Russian Czar; the boar Napoleon stands for Joseph Stalin; and the pig Snowball represents Leon Trotsky.

Alliteration

Alliteration is a series of words or phrases that all (or almost all) start with the same sound. These sounds are typically consonants to give more stress to that syllable. You'll often come across alliteration in poetry, titles of books and poems ( Jane Austen is a fan of this device, for example—just look at Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility ), and tongue twisters.

Example: "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." In this tongue twister, the "p" sound is repeated at the beginning of all major words.

Allusion is when an author makes an indirect reference to a figure, place, event, or idea originating from outside the text. Many allusions make reference to previous works of literature or art.

Example: "Stop acting so smart—it's not like you're Einstein or something." This is an allusion to the famous real-life theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.

Anachronism

An anachronism occurs when there is an (intentional) error in the chronology or timeline of a text. This could be a character who appears in a different time period than when he actually lived, or a technology that appears before it was invented. Anachronisms are often used for comedic effect.

Example: A Renaissance king who says, "That's dope, dude!" would be an anachronism, since this type of language is very modern and not actually from the Renaissance period.

Anaphora is when a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of multiple sentences throughout a piece of writing. It's used to emphasize the repeated phrase and evoke strong feelings in the audience.

Example: A famous example of anaphora is Winston Churchill's "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" speech. Throughout this speech, he repeats the phrase "we shall fight" while listing numerous places where the British army will continue battling during WWII. He did this to rally both troops and the British people and to give them confidence that they would still win the war.

Anthropomorphism

An anthropomorphism occurs when something nonhuman, such as an animal, place, or inanimate object, behaves in a human-like way.

Example: Children's cartoons have many examples of anthropomorphism. For example, Mickey and Minnie Mouse can speak, wear clothes, sing, dance, drive cars, etc. Real mice can't do any of these things, but the two mouse characters behave much more like humans than mice.

Asyndeton is when the writer leaves out conjunctions (such as "and," "or," "but," and "for") in a group of words or phrases so that the meaning of the phrase or sentence is emphasized. It is often used for speeches since sentences containing asyndeton can have a powerful, memorable rhythm.

Example: Abraham Lincoln ends the Gettysburg Address with the phrase "...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth." By leaving out certain conjunctions, he ends the speech on a more powerful, melodic note.

Colloquialism

Colloquialism is the use of informal language and slang. It's often used by authors to lend a sense of realism to their characters and dialogue. Forms of colloquialism include words, phrases, and contractions that aren't real words (such as "gonna" and "ain't").

Example: "Hey, what's up, man?" This piece of dialogue is an example of a colloquialism, since it uses common everyday words and phrases, namely "what's up" and "man."

An epigraph is when an author inserts a famous quotation, poem, song, or other short passage or text at the beginning of a larger text (e.g., a book, chapter, etc.). An epigraph is typically written by a different writer (with credit given) and used as a way to introduce overarching themes or messages in the work. Some pieces of literature, such as Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick , incorporate multiple epigraphs throughout.

Example: At the beginning of Ernest Hemingway's book The Sun Also Rises is an epigraph that consists of a quotation from poet Gertrude Stein, which reads, "You are all a lost generation," and a passage from the Bible.

Epistrophe is similar to anaphora, but in this case, the repeated word or phrase appears at the end of successive statements. Like anaphora, it is used to evoke an emotional response from the audience.

Example: In Lyndon B. Johnson's speech, "The American Promise," he repeats the word "problem" in a use of epistrophe: "There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem."

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A euphemism is when a more mild or indirect word or expression is used in place of another word or phrase that is considered harsh, blunt, vulgar, or unpleasant.

Example: "I'm so sorry, but he didn't make it." The phrase "didn't make it" is a more polite and less blunt way of saying that someone has died.

A flashback is an interruption in a narrative that depicts events that have already occurred, either before the present time or before the time at which the narration takes place. This device is often used to give the reader more background information and details about specific characters, events, plot points, and so on.

Example: Most of the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is a flashback from the point of view of the housekeeper, Nelly Dean, as she engages in a conversation with a visitor named Lockwood. In this story, Nelly narrates Catherine Earnshaw's and Heathcliff's childhoods, the pair's budding romance, and their tragic demise.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is when an author indirectly hints at—through things such as dialogue, description, or characters' actions—what's to come later on in the story. This device is often used to introduce tension to a narrative.

Example: Say you're reading a fictionalized account of Amelia Earhart. Before she embarks on her (what we know to be unfortunate) plane ride, a friend says to her, "Be safe. Wouldn't want you getting lost—or worse." This line would be an example of foreshadowing because it implies that something bad ("or worse") will happen to Earhart.

Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that's not meant to be taken literally by the reader. It is often used for comedic effect and/or emphasis.

Example: "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse." The speaker will not literally eat an entire horse (and most likely couldn't ), but this hyperbole emphasizes how starved the speaker feels.

Imagery is when an author describes a scene, thing, or idea so that it appeals to our senses (taste, smell, sight, touch, or hearing). This device is often used to help the reader clearly visualize parts of the story by creating a strong mental picture.

Example: Here's an example of imagery taken from William Wordsworth's famous poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud":

When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden Daffodils; Beside the Lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Irony is when a statement is used to express an opposite meaning than the one literally expressed by it. There are three types of irony in literature:

  • Verbal irony: When someone says something but means the opposite (similar to sarcasm).
  • Situational irony: When something happens that's the opposite of what was expected or intended to happen.
  • Dramatic irony: When the audience is aware of the true intentions or outcomes, while the characters are not . As a result, certain actions and/or events take on different meanings for the audience than they do for the characters involved.
  • Verbal irony: One example of this type of irony can be found in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." In this short story, a man named Montresor plans to get revenge on another man named Fortunato. As they toast, Montresor says, "And I, Fortunato—I drink to your long life." This statement is ironic because we the readers already know by this point that Montresor plans to kill Fortunato.
  • Situational irony: A girl wakes up late for school and quickly rushes to get there. As soon as she arrives, though, she realizes that it's Saturday and there is no school.
  • Dramatic irony: In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , Romeo commits suicide in order to be with Juliet; however, the audience (unlike poor Romeo) knows that Juliet is not actually dead—just asleep.

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Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is the comparing and contrasting of two or more different (usually opposite) ideas, characters, objects, etc. This literary device is often used to help create a clearer picture of the characteristics of one object or idea by comparing it with those of another.

Example: One of the most famous literary examples of juxtaposition is the opening passage from Charles Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities :

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …"

Malapropism

Malapropism happens when an incorrect word is used in place of a word that has a similar sound. This misuse of the word typically results in a statement that is both nonsensical and humorous; as a result, this device is commonly used in comedic writing.

Example: "I just can't wait to dance the flamingo!" Here, a character has accidentally called the flamenco (a type of dance) the flamingo (an animal).

Metaphor/Simile

Metaphors are when ideas, actions, or objects are described in non-literal terms. In short, it's when an author compares one thing to another. The two things being described usually share something in common but are unalike in all other respects.

A simile is a type of metaphor in which an object, idea, character, action, etc., is compared to another thing using the words "as" or "like."

Both metaphors and similes are often used in writing for clarity or emphasis.

"What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." In this line from Romeo and Juliet , Romeo compares Juliet to the sun. However, because Romeo doesn't use the words "as" or "like," it is not a simile—just a metaphor.

"She is as vicious as a lion." Since this statement uses the word "as" to make a comparison between "she" and "a lion," it is a simile.

A metonym is when a related word or phrase is substituted for the actual thing to which it's referring. This device is usually used for poetic or rhetorical effect .

Example: "The pen is mightier than the sword." This statement, which was coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, contains two examples of metonymy: "the pen" refers to "the written word," and "the sword" refers to "military force/violence."

Mood is the general feeling the writer wants the audience to have. The writer can achieve this through description, setting, dialogue, and word choice .

Example: Here's a passage from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: "It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats -- the hobbit was fond of visitors." In this passage, Tolkien uses detailed description to set create a cozy, comforting mood. From the writing, you can see that the hobbit's home is well-cared for and designed to provide comfort.

Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a word (or group of words) that represents a sound and actually resembles or imitates the sound it stands for. It is often used for dramatic, realistic, or poetic effect.

Examples: Buzz, boom, chirp, creak, sizzle, zoom, etc.

An oxymoron is a combination of two words that, together, express a contradictory meaning. This device is often used for emphasis, for humor, to create tension, or to illustrate a paradox (see next entry for more information on paradoxes).

Examples: Deafening silence, organized chaos, cruelly kind, insanely logical, etc.

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A paradox is a statement that appears illogical or self-contradictory but, upon investigation, might actually be true or plausible.

Note that a paradox is different from an oxymoron: a paradox is an entire phrase or sentence, whereas an oxymoron is a combination of just two words.

Example: Here's a famous paradoxical sentence: "This statement is false." If the statement is true, then it isn't actually false (as it suggests). But if it's false, then the statement is true! Thus, this statement is a paradox because it is both true and false at the same time.

Personification

Personification is when a nonhuman figure or other abstract concept or element is described as having human-like qualities or characteristics. (Unlike anthropomorphism where non-human figures become human-like characters, with personification, the object/figure is simply described as being human-like.) Personification is used to help the reader create a clearer mental picture of the scene or object being described.

Example: "The wind moaned, beckoning me to come outside." In this example, the wind—a nonhuman element—is being described as if it is human (it "moans" and "beckons").

Repetition is when a word or phrase is written multiple times, usually for the purpose of emphasis. It is often used in poetry (for purposes of rhythm as well).

Example: When Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the score for the hit musical Hamilton, gave his speech at the 2016 Tony's, he recited a poem he'd written that included the following line:

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.

Satire is genre of writing that criticizes something , such as a person, behavior, belief, government, or society. Satire often employs irony, humor, and hyperbole to make its point.

Example: The Onion is a satirical newspaper and digital media company. It uses satire to parody common news features such as opinion columns, editorial cartoons, and click bait headlines.

A type of monologue that's often used in dramas, a soliloquy is when a character speaks aloud to himself (and to the audience), thereby revealing his inner thoughts and feelings.

Example: In Romeo and Juliet , Juliet's speech on the balcony that begins with, "O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?" is a soliloquy, as she is speaking aloud to herself (remember that she doesn't realize Romeo's there listening!).

Symbolism refers to the use of an object, figure, event, situation, or other idea in a written work to represent something else— typically a broader message or deeper meaning that differs from its literal meaning.

The things used for symbolism are called "symbols," and they'll often appear multiple times throughout a text, sometimes changing in meaning as the plot progresses.

Example: In F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby , the green light that sits across from Gatsby's mansion symbolizes Gatsby's hopes and dreams .

A synecdoche is a literary device in which part of something is used to represent the whole, or vice versa. It's similar to a metonym (see above); however, a metonym doesn't have to represent the whole—just something associated with the word used.

Example: "Help me out, I need some hands!" In this case, "hands" is being used to refer to people (the whole human, essentially).

While mood is what the audience is supposed to feel, tone is the writer or narrator's attitude towards a subject . A good writer will always want the audience to feel the mood they're trying to evoke, but the audience may not always agree with the narrator's tone, especially if the narrator is an unsympathetic character or has viewpoints that differ from those of the reader.

Example: In an essay disdaining Americans and some of the sites they visit as tourists, Rudyard Kipling begins with the line, "Today I am in the Yellowstone Park, and I wish I were dead." If you enjoy Yellowstone and/or national parks, you may not agree with the author's tone in this piece.

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How to Identify and Analyze Literary Devices: 4 Tips

In order to fully interpret pieces of literature, you have to understand a lot about literary devices in the texts you read. Here are our top tips for identifying and analyzing different literary techniques:

Tip 1: Read Closely and Carefully

First off, you'll need to make sure that you're reading very carefully. Resist the temptation to skim or skip any sections of the text. If you do this, you might miss some literary devices being used and, as a result, will be unable to accurately interpret the text.

If there are any passages in the work that make you feel especially emotional, curious, intrigued, or just plain interested, check that area again for any literary devices at play.

It's also a good idea to reread any parts you thought were confusing or that you didn't totally understand on a first read-through. Doing this ensures that you have a solid grasp of the passage (and text as a whole) and will be able to analyze it appropriately.

Tip 2: Memorize Common Literary Terms

You won't be able to identify literary elements in texts if you don't know what they are or how they're used, so spend some time memorizing the literary elements list above. Knowing these (and how they look in writing) will allow you to more easily pinpoint these techniques in various types of written works.

Tip 3: Know the Author's Intended Audience

Knowing what kind of audience an author intended her work to have can help you figure out what types of literary devices might be at play.

For example, if you were trying to analyze a children's book, you'd want to be on the lookout for child-appropriate devices, such as repetition and alliteration.

Tip 4: Take Notes and Bookmark Key Passages and Pages

This is one of the most important tips to know, especially if you're reading and analyzing works for English class. As you read, take notes on the work in a notebook or on a computer. Write down any passages, paragraphs, conversations, descriptions, etc., that jump out at you or that contain a literary device you were able to identify.

You can also take notes directly in the book, if possible (but don't do this if you're borrowing a book from the library!). I recommend circling keywords and important phrases, as well as starring interesting or particularly effective passages and paragraphs.

Lastly, use sticky notes or post-its to bookmark pages that are interesting to you or that have some kind of notable literary device. This will help you go back to them later should you need to revisit some of what you've found for a paper you plan to write.

What's Next?

Looking for more in-depth explorations and examples of literary devices? Join us as we delve into imagery , personification , rhetorical devices , tone words and mood , and different points of view in literature, as well as some more poetry-specific terms like assonance and iambic pentameter .

Reading The Great Gatsby for class or even just for fun? Then you'll definitely want to check out our expert guides on the biggest themes in this classic book, from love and relationships to money and materialism .

Got questions about Arthur Miller's The Crucible ? Read our in-depth articles to learn about the most important themes in this play and get a complete rundown of all the characters .

For more information on your favorite works of literature, take a look at our collection of high-quality book guides and our guide to the 9 literary elements that appear in every story !

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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Argumentative Essay

Definition of argumentative essay, models for argumentative essays, five types of argument claims in essay writing  , three major types of argument and how to apply them, classical argument, toulmin argument, rogerian argument, four steps to outline and argumentative essay, examples of argumentative essay in literature, example #1: put a little science in your life by brian greene.

“When we consider the ubiquity of cellphones, iPods, personal computers and the Internet, it’s easy to see how science (and the technology to which it leads) is woven into the fabric of our day-to-day activities . When we benefit from CT scanners, M.R.I. devices, pacemakers and arterial stents, we can immediately appreciate how science affects the quality of our lives. When we assess the state of the world, and identify looming challenges like climate change, global pandemics, security threats and diminishing resources, we don’t hesitate in turning to science to gauge the problems and find solutions. And when we look at the wealth of opportunities hovering on the horizon—stem cells, genomic sequencing, personalized medicine, longevity research, nanoscience, brain-machine interface, quantum computers, space technology—we realize how crucial it is to cultivate a general public that can engage with scientific issues; there’s simply no other way that as a society we will be prepared to make informed decisions on a range of issues that will shape the future.”

Example #2: Boys Here, Girls There: Sure, If Equality’s the Goal by Karen Stabiner

“The first objections last week came from the National Organization for Women and the New York Civil Liberties Union, both of which opposed the opening of TYWLS in the fall of 1996. The two groups continue to insist—as though it were 1896 and they were arguing Plessy v. Ferguson—that separate can never be equal. I appreciate NOW ’s wariness of the Bush administration’s endorsement of single-sex public schools, since I am of the generation that still considers the label “feminist” to be a compliment—and many feminists still fear that any public acknowledgment of differences between the sexes will hinder their fight for equality .”

Example #3: The Flight from Conversation by Sherry Turkle

“We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “ alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.”

Function of Argumentative Essay

Synonyms of argumentative essay, related posts:, post navigation.

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Literary Terms

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Included below is a list of literary terms that can help you interpret, critique, and respond to a variety of different written works. This list is by no means comprehensive, but instead offers a primer to the language frequently used by scholars and students researching literary works. This list and the terms included in it can help you begin to identify central concerns or elements in a work that might help facilitate your interpretation, argumentation, and analysis. We encourage you to read this list alongside the other guides to literary interpretation included on the OWL Website. Please use the links on the left-hand side of this page to access other helpful resources.

  • Characterization : The ways individual characters are represented by the narrator or author of a text. This includes descriptions of the characters’ physical appearances, personalities, actions, interactions, and dialogue.
  • Dialogue : Spoken exchanges between characters in a dramatic or literary work, usually between two or more speakers.
  • Genre : A kind of literature. For instance, comedy, mystery, tragedy, satire, elegy, romance, and epic are all genres. Texts frequently draw elements from multiple genres to create dynamic narratives. Alastair Fowler uses the following elements to define genres: organizational features (chapters, acts, scenes, stanzas); length; mood (the Gothic novel tends to be moody and dark); style (a text can be high, low, or in-between depending on its audience); the reader’s role (readers of a mystery are expected to interpret evidence); and the author’s reason for writing (an epithalamion is a poem composed for marriage) (Mickics 132-3).
  • Imagery : A term used to describe an author’s use of vivid descriptions “that evoke sense-impressions by literal or figurative reference to perceptible or ‘concrete’ objects, scenes, actions, or states” (Baldick 121). Imagery can refer to the literal landscape or characters described in a narrative or the theoretical concepts an author employs.
  • Plot : The sequence of events that occur through a work to produce a coherent narrative or story.
  • Point of View: The perspective (visual, interpretive, bias, etc.) a text takes when presenting its plot and narrative. For instance, an author might write a narrative from a specific character’s point of view, which means that that character is our narrative and readers experience events through his or her eyes.
  • Style : Comprising an author’s diction, syntax, tone, characters, and other narrative techniques, “style” is used to describe the way an author uses language to convey his or her ideas and purpose in writing. An author’s style can also be associated to the genre or mode of writing the author adopts, such as in the case of a satire or elegy with would adopt a satirical or elegiac style of writing.
  • Symbol(ism): An object or element incorporated into a narrative to represent another concept or concern. Broadly, representing one thing with another. Symbols typically recur throughout a narrative and offer critical, though often overlooked, information about events, characters, and the author’s primary concerns in telling the story.
  • Theme : According to Baldick, a theme may be defined as “a salient abstract idea that emerges from a literary work’s treatment of its subject-matter; or a topic recurring in a number or literary works” (Baldick 258). Themes in literature tend to differ depending on author, time period, genre, style, purpose, etc.
  • Tone : A way of communicating information (in writing, images, or sound) that conveys an attitude. Authors convey tone through a combination of word-choice, imagery, perspective, style, and subject matter. By adopting a specific tone, authors can help readers accurately interpret meaning in a text.
  • First person : A story told from the perspective of one or several characters, each of whom typically uses the word “I.” This means that readers “see” or experience events in the story through the narrator’s eyes.
  • Second person : A narrative perspective that typically addresses that audience using “you.” This mode can help authors address readers and invest them in the story.
  • Third person : Describes a narrative told from the perspective of an outside figure who does not participate directly in the events of a story. This mode uses “he,” “she,” and “it” to describe events and characters.

Types of Prose Texts

  • Bildungsroman : This is typically a type of novel that depicts an individual’s coming-of-age through self-discovery and personal knowledge. Such stories often explore the protagonists’ psychological and moral development. Examples include Dickens’ Great Expectations and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man .
  • Epistolary : A novel composed primarily of letters sent and received by its principal characters. This type of novel was particularly popular during the eighteenth century.
  • Essay : According to Baldick, “a short written composition in prose that discusses a subject or proposes an argument without claiming to be a complete or thorough exposition” (Baldick 87). A notable example of the essay form is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which uses satire to discuss eighteenth-century economic and social concerns in Ireland.
  • Novella : An intermediate-length (between a novel and a short story) fictional narrative.

Terms for Interpreting Authorial Voice

  • Apology : Often at the beginning or conclusion of a text, the term “apology” refers to an instance in which the author or narrator justifies his or her goals in producing the text.
  • Irony : Typically refers to saying one thing and meaning the opposite, often to shock audiences and emphasize the importance of the truth.
  • Satire : A style of writing that mocks, ridicules, or pokes fun at a person, belief, or group of people in order to challenge them. Often, texts employing satire use sarcasm, irony, or exaggeration to assert their perspective.
  • Stream of consciousness : A mode of writing in which the author traces his or her thoughts verbatim into the text. Typically, this style offers a representation of the author’s exact thoughts throughout the writing process and can be used to convey a variety of different emotions or as a form of pre-writing.

Terms for Interpreting Characters

  • Antagonist : A character in a text who the protagonist opposes. The antagonist is often (though not always) the villain of a story.
  • Anti-hero : A protagonist of a story who embodies none of the qualities typically assigned to traditional heroes and heroines. Not to be confused with the antagonist of a story, the anti-hero is a protagonist whose failings are typically used to humanize him or her and convey a message about the reality of human existence.
  • Archetype : “a resonant figure of mythic importance, whether a personality, place, or situation, found in diverse cultures and different historical periods” (Mickics 24). Archetypes differ from allegories because they tend to reference broader or commonplace (often termed “stock”) character types, plot points, and literary conventions. Paying attention to archetypes can help readers identify what an author may posit as “universal truths” about life, society, human interaction, etc. based on what other authors or participants in a culture may have said about them.
  • Epithet : According to Taafe, “An adjective, noun, or phase expressing some characteristic quality of a thing or person or a descriptive name applied to a person, as Richard the Lion-Hearted” (Taafe 58). An epithet usually indicates some notable quality about the individual with whom it addresses, but it can also be used ironically to emphasize qualities that individual might actually lack.
  • Personification : The artistic representation of a concept, quality, or idea in the form of a person. Personification can also refer to “a person who is considered a representative type of a particular quality or concept” (Taafe 120). Many classical deities are good examples of personifications. For instance, the Greek god Ares is a personification of war.
  • Protagonist : The primary character in a text, often positioned as “good” or the character with whom readers are expected to identify. Protagonists usually oppose an antagonist.

Terms for Interpreting Word Choice, Dialogue, and Speech

  • Alliteration : According to Baldick, “The repetition of the same sounds—usually initial consonants of words or of stressed syllabus—in any sequence of neighboring words” (Baldick 6). Alliteration is typically used to convey a specific tone or message.
  • Apostrophe : This figure of speech refers to an address to “a dead or absent person, or an abstraction or inanimate object” and is “usually employed for emotional emphasis, can become ridiculous [or humorous] when misapplied” (Baldick 17).
  • Diction : Word choice, or the specific language an author, narrator, or speaker uses to describe events and interact with other characters.

Terms for Interpreting Plot

  • Climax : The height of conflict and intrigue in a narrative. This is when events in the narrative and characters’ destinies are most unclear; the climax often appears as a decision the protagonist must make or a challenge he or she must overcome in order for the narrative to obtain resolution.
  • Denouement : The “falling action” of a narrative, when the climax and central conflicts are resolved and a resolution is found. In a play, this is typically the last act and in a novel it might include the final chapters.
  • Deus Ex Machina : According to Taafe, “Literally, in Latin, the ‘god from the machine’; a deity in Greek and Roman drama who was brought in by stage machinery to intervene in the action; hence, any character, event, or device suddenly introduced to resolve the conflict” (43).
  • Exposition : Usually located at the beginning of a text, this is a detailed discussion introducing characters, setting, background information, etc. readers might need to know in order to understand the text that follows. This section is particularly rich for analysis because it contains a lot of important information in a relatively small space.
  • Frame Narrative : a story that an author encloses around the central narrative in order to provide background information and context. This is typically referred to as a “story within a story” or a “tale within a tale.” Frame stories are usually located in a distinct place and time from the narratives they surround. Examples of stories with frame narratives include Canterbury Tales, Frankenstein , and Wuthering Heights .
  • In media res : Beginning in “the middle of things,” or when an author begins a text in the midst of action. This often functions as a way to both incorporate the reader directly into the narrative and secure his or her interest in the narrative that follows.

Terms for Interpreting Layers of Meaning

  • Allegory : A literary mode that attempts to convert abstract concepts, values, beliefs, or historical events into characters or other tangible elements in a narrative. Examples include, Gulliver’s Travels, The Faerie Queene, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Paradise Lost .
  • Allusion : When a text references, incorporates, or responds to an earlier piece (including literature, art, music, film, event, etc). T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) offers an extensive example of allusion in literature. According to Baldick, “The technique of allusion is an economical means of calling upon the history or the literary tradition that author and reader are assumed to share” (7).
  • Hyperbole : exaggerated language, description, or speech that is not meant to be taken literally, but is used for emphasis. For instance, “I’ve been waiting here for ages” or “This bag weighs a ton.”
  • Metaphor : a figure of speech that refers to one thing by another in order to identify similarities between the two (and therefore define each in relation to one another).
  • Note that metonymy differs subtly from synecdoche, which substitutes a part of something for the whole. For example, the phrase "all hands on deck" can substitute for the more awkward "all people on deck."
  • Parody : a narrative work or writing style that mocks or mimics another genre or work. Typically, parodies exaggerate and emphasize elements from the original work in order to ridicule, comment on, or criticize their message.
  • Simile : a figure of speech that compares two people, objects, elements, or concepts using “like” or “as.”

Works Cited

For more information or to read about other literary terms, please see the following texts:

Baldick, Chris. Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms . Oxford University Press, 2001.

Mikics, David. A New Handbook of Literary Terms . Yale University Press, 2007.

Taafe, James G. A Student’s Guide to Literary Term s. The World Publishing Company, 1967.

what is essays in literary terms

Literary Devices & Terms

# G W X Y

An acrostic is a piece of writing in which a particular set of letters—typically the first letter of each line, word, or paragraph—spells out a word or phrase with special significance to the text. Acrostics... (read full acrostic explanation with examples) An acrostic is a piece of writing in which a particular set of letters—typically the first letter of each line,... (read more)

An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and events. The story of "The Tortoise and The Hare" is a well-known allegory with a... (read full allegory explanation with examples) An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and... (read more)

Alliteration is a figure of speech in which the same sound repeats in a group of words, such as the “b” sound in: “Bob brought the box of bricks to the basement.” The repeating sound... (read full alliteration explanation with examples) Alliteration is a figure of speech in which the same sound repeats in a group of words, such as the... (read more)

In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas, and they do so in... (read full allusion explanation with examples) In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... (read more)

An anachronism is a person or a thing placed in the wrong time period. For instance, if a novel set in Medieval England featured a trip to a movie-theater, that would be an anachronism. Although... (read full anachronism explanation with examples) An anachronism is a person or a thing placed in the wrong time period. For instance, if a novel set... (read more)

Anadiplosis is a figure of speech in which a word or group of words located at the end of one clause or sentence is repeated at or near the beginning of the following clause or... (read full anadiplosis explanation with examples) Anadiplosis is a figure of speech in which a word or group of words located at the end of one... (read more)

An analogy is a comparison that aims to explain a thing or idea by likening it to something else. For example, a career coach might say, "Being the successful boss or CEO of a company... (read full analogy explanation with examples) An analogy is a comparison that aims to explain a thing or idea by likening it to something else. For... (read more)

An anapest is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable. The word "understand" is an anapest, with the unstressed syllables of "un" and "der" followed... (read full anapest explanation with examples) An anapest is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable.... (read more)

Anaphora is a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences. For example, Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech contains anaphora: "So let freedom... (read full anaphora explanation with examples) Anaphora is a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences. For... (read more)

An antagonist is usually a character who opposes the protagonist (or main character) of a story, but the antagonist can also be a group of characters, institution, or force against which the protagonist must contend.... (read full antagonist explanation with examples) An antagonist is usually a character who opposes the protagonist (or main character) of a story, but the antagonist can... (read more)

Antanaclasis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated within a sentence, but the word or phrase means something different each time it appears. A famous example of antanaclasis is... (read full antanaclasis explanation with examples) Antanaclasis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated within a sentence, but the word... (read more)

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics, emotions, and behaviors to animals or other non-human things (including objects, plants, and supernatural beings). Some famous examples of anthropomorphism include Winnie the Pooh, the Little Engine that Could, and Simba from... (read full anthropomorphism explanation with examples) Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics, emotions, and behaviors to animals or other non-human things (including objects, plants, and supernatural beings). Some famous... (read more)

Antimetabole is a figure of speech in which a phrase is repeated, but with the order of words reversed. John F. Kennedy's words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you... (read full antimetabole explanation with examples) Antimetabole is a figure of speech in which a phrase is repeated, but with the order of words reversed. John... (read more)

Antithesis is a figure of speech that juxtaposes two contrasting or opposing ideas, usually within parallel grammatical structures. For instance, Neil Armstrong used antithesis when he stepped onto the surface of the moon in 1969... (read full antithesis explanation with examples) Antithesis is a figure of speech that juxtaposes two contrasting or opposing ideas, usually within parallel grammatical structures. For instance,... (read more)

An aphorism is a saying that concisely expresses a moral principle or an observation about the world, presenting it as a general or universal truth. The Rolling Stones are responsible for penning one of the... (read full aphorism explanation with examples) An aphorism is a saying that concisely expresses a moral principle or an observation about the world, presenting it as... (read more)

Aphorismus is a type of figure of speech that calls into question the way a word is used. Aphorismus is used not to question the meaning of a word, but whether it is actually appropriate... (read full aphorismus explanation with examples) Aphorismus is a type of figure of speech that calls into question the way a word is used. Aphorismus is... (read more)

Aporia is a rhetorical device in which a speaker expresses uncertainty or doubt—often pretended uncertainty or doubt—about something, usually as a way of proving a point. An example of aporia is the famous Elizabeth Barrett... (read full aporia explanation with examples) Aporia is a rhetorical device in which a speaker expresses uncertainty or doubt—often pretended uncertainty or doubt—about something, usually as... (read more)

Apostrophe is a figure of speech in which a speaker directly addresses someone (or something) that is not present or cannot respond in reality. The entity being addressed can be an absent, dead, or imaginary... (read full apostrophe explanation with examples) Apostrophe is a figure of speech in which a speaker directly addresses someone (or something) that is not present or... (read more)

Assonance is a figure of speech in which the same vowel sound repeats within a group of words. An example of assonance is: "Who gave Newt and Scooter the blue tuna? It was too soon!" (read full assonance explanation with examples) Assonance is a figure of speech in which the same vowel sound repeats within a group of words. An example... (read more)

An asyndeton (sometimes called asyndetism) is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and", "or", and "but" that join other words or clauses in a sentence into relationships of equal importance—are omitted.... (read full asyndeton explanation with examples) An asyndeton (sometimes called asyndetism) is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and", "or", and "but"... (read more)

A ballad is a type of poem that tells a story and was traditionally set to music. English language ballads are typically composed of four-line stanzas that follow an ABCB rhyme scheme. (read full ballad explanation with examples) A ballad is a type of poem that tells a story and was traditionally set to music. English language ballads... (read more)

A ballade is a form of lyric poetry that originated in medieval France. Ballades follow a strict rhyme scheme ("ababbcbc"), and typically have three eight-line stanzas followed by a shorter four-line stanza called an envoi.... (read full ballade explanation with examples) A ballade is a form of lyric poetry that originated in medieval France. Ballades follow a strict rhyme scheme ("ababbcbc"),... (read more)

Bildungsroman is a genre of novel that shows a young protagonist's journey from childhood to adulthood (or immaturity to maturity), with a focus on the trials and misfortunes that affect the character's growth. (read full bildungsroman explanation with examples) Bildungsroman is a genre of novel that shows a young protagonist's journey from childhood to adulthood (or immaturity to maturity),... (read more)

Blank verse is the name given to poetry that lacks rhymes but does follow a specific meter—a meter that is almost always iambic pentameter. Blank verse was particularly popular in English poetry written between the... (read full blank verse explanation with examples) Blank verse is the name given to poetry that lacks rhymes but does follow a specific meter—a meter that is... (read more)

A cacophony is a combination of words that sound harsh or unpleasant together, usually because they pack a lot of percussive or "explosive" consonants (like T, P, or K) into relatively little space. For instance, the... (read full cacophony explanation with examples) A cacophony is a combination of words that sound harsh or unpleasant together, usually because they pack a lot of... (read more)

A caesura is a pause that occurs within a line of poetry, usually marked by some form of punctuation such as a period, comma, ellipsis, or dash. A caesura doesn't have to be placed in... (read full caesura explanation with examples) A caesura is a pause that occurs within a line of poetry, usually marked by some form of punctuation such... (read more)

Catharsis is the process of releasing strong or pent-up emotions through art. Aristotle coined the term catharsis—which comes from the Greek kathairein meaning "to cleanse or purge"—to describe the release of emotional tension that he... (read full catharsis explanation with examples) Catharsis is the process of releasing strong or pent-up emotions through art. Aristotle coined the term catharsis—which comes from the... (read more)

Characterization is the representation of the traits, motives, and psychology of a character in a narrative. Characterization may occur through direct description, in which the character's qualities are described by a narrator, another character, or... (read full characterization explanation with examples) Characterization is the representation of the traits, motives, and psychology of a character in a narrative. Characterization may occur through... (read more)

Chiasmus is a figure of speech in which the grammar of one phrase is inverted in the following phrase, such that two key concepts from the original phrase reappear in the second phrase in inverted... (read full chiasmus explanation with examples) Chiasmus is a figure of speech in which the grammar of one phrase is inverted in the following phrase, such... (read more)

The word cinquain can refer to two different things. Historically, it referred to any stanza of five lines written in any type of verse. More recently, cinquain has come to refer to particular types of... (read full cinquain explanation with examples) The word cinquain can refer to two different things. Historically, it referred to any stanza of five lines written in... (read more)

A cliché is a phrase that, due to overuse, is seen as lacking in substance or originality. For example, telling a heartbroken friend that there are "Plenty of fish in the sea" is such a... (read full cliché explanation with examples) A cliché is a phrase that, due to overuse, is seen as lacking in substance or originality. For example, telling... (read more)

Climax is a figure of speech in which successive words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are arranged in ascending order of importance, as in "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... (read full climax (figure of speech) explanation with examples) Climax is a figure of speech in which successive words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are arranged in ascending order of... (read more)

The climax of a plot is the story's central turning point—the moment of peak tension or conflict—which all the preceding plot developments have been leading up to. In a traditional "good vs. evil" story (like many superhero movies)... (read full climax (plot) explanation with examples) The climax of a plot is the story's central turning point—the moment of peak tension or conflict—which all the preceding plot... (read more)

Colloquialism is the use of informal words or phrases in writing or speech. Colloquialisms are usually defined in geographical terms, meaning that they are often defined by their use within a dialect, a regionally-defined variant... (read full colloquialism explanation with examples) Colloquialism is the use of informal words or phrases in writing or speech. Colloquialisms are usually defined in geographical terms,... (read more)

Common meter is a specific type of meter that is often used in lyric poetry. Common meter has two key traits: it alternates between lines of eight syllables and lines of six syllables, and it... (read full common meter explanation with examples) Common meter is a specific type of meter that is often used in lyric poetry. Common meter has two key... (read more)

A conceit is a fanciful metaphor, especially a highly elaborate or extended metaphor in which an unlikely, far-fetched, or strained comparison is made between two things. A famous example comes from John Donne's poem, "A... (read full conceit explanation with examples) A conceit is a fanciful metaphor, especially a highly elaborate or extended metaphor in which an unlikely, far-fetched, or strained... (read more)

Connotation is the array of emotions and ideas suggested by a word in addition to its dictionary definition. Most words carry meanings, impressions, or associations apart from or beyond their literal meaning. For example, the... (read full connotation explanation with examples) Connotation is the array of emotions and ideas suggested by a word in addition to its dictionary definition. Most words... (read more)

Consonance is a figure of speech in which the same consonant sound repeats within a group of words. An example of consonance is: "Traffic figures, on July Fourth, to be tough." (read full consonance explanation with examples) Consonance is a figure of speech in which the same consonant sound repeats within a group of words. An example... (read more)

A couplet is a unit of two lines of poetry, especially lines that use the same or similar meter, form a rhyme, or are separated from other lines by a double line break. (read full couplet explanation with examples) A couplet is a unit of two lines of poetry, especially lines that use the same or similar meter, form... (read more)

A dactyl is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables. The word “poetry” itself is a great example of a dactyl, with the stressed syllable... (read full dactyl explanation with examples) A dactyl is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables.... (read more)

Denotation is the literal meaning, or "dictionary definition," of a word. Denotation is defined in contrast to connotation, which is the array of emotions and ideas suggested by a word in addition to its dictionary... (read full denotation explanation with examples) Denotation is the literal meaning, or "dictionary definition," of a word. Denotation is defined in contrast to connotation, which is... (read more)

The dénouement is the final section of a story's plot, in which loose ends are tied up, lingering questions are answered, and a sense of resolution is achieved. The shortest and most well known dénouement, it could be... (read full dénouement explanation with examples) The dénouement is the final section of a story's plot, in which loose ends are tied up, lingering questions are answered, and... (read more)

A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby an unsolvable conflict or point of tension is suddenly resolved by the unexpected appearance of an implausible character, object, action, ability, or event. For example, if... (read full deus ex machina explanation with examples) A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby an unsolvable conflict or point of tension is suddenly resolved by... (read more)

Diacope is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated with a small number of intervening words. The first line of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, "Happy families are all alike;... (read full diacope explanation with examples) Diacope is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated with a small number of intervening... (read more)

Dialogue is the exchange of spoken words between two or more characters in a book, play, or other written work. In prose writing, lines of dialogue are typically identified by the use of quotation marks... (read full dialogue explanation with examples) Dialogue is the exchange of spoken words between two or more characters in a book, play, or other written work.... (read more)

Diction is a writer's unique style of expression, especially his or her choice and arrangement of words. A writer's vocabulary, use of language to produce a specific tone or atmosphere, and ability to communicate clearly... (read full diction explanation with examples) Diction is a writer's unique style of expression, especially his or her choice and arrangement of words. A writer's vocabulary,... (read more)

Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a character's understanding of a given situation, and that of the audience. More specifically, in dramatic... (read full dramatic irony explanation with examples) Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a... (read more)

A dynamic character undergoes substantial internal changes as a result of one or more plot developments. The dynamic character's change can be extreme or subtle, as long as his or her development is important to... (read full dynamic character explanation with examples) A dynamic character undergoes substantial internal changes as a result of one or more plot developments. The dynamic character's change... (read more)

An elegy is a poem of serious reflection, especially one mourning the loss of someone who died. Elegies are defined by their subject matter, and don't have to follow any specific form in terms of... (read full elegy explanation with examples) An elegy is a poem of serious reflection, especially one mourning the loss of someone who died. Elegies are defined... (read more)

End rhyme refers to rhymes that occur in the final words of lines of poetry. For instance, these lines from Dorothy Parker's poem "Interview" use end rhyme: "The ladies men admire, I’ve heard, / Would shudder... (read full end rhyme explanation with examples) End rhyme refers to rhymes that occur in the final words of lines of poetry. For instance, these lines from... (read more)

An end-stopped line is a line of poetry in which a sentence or phrase comes to a conclusion at the end of the line. For example, the poet C.P. Cavafy uses end-stopped lines in his... (read full end-stopped line explanation with examples) An end-stopped line is a line of poetry in which a sentence or phrase comes to a conclusion at the... (read more)

Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence or clause across a line break. For example, the poet John Donne uses enjambment in his poem "The Good-Morrow" when he continues the opening sentence across the line... (read full enjambment explanation with examples) Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence or clause across a line break. For example, the poet John Donne uses... (read more)

An envoi is a brief concluding stanza at the end of a poem that can either summarize the preceding poem or serve as its dedication. The envoi tends to follow the same meter and rhyme... (read full envoi explanation with examples) An envoi is a brief concluding stanza at the end of a poem that can either summarize the preceding poem... (read more)

Epanalepsis is a figure of speech in which the beginning of a clause or sentence is repeated at the end of that same clause or sentence, with words intervening. The sentence "The king is dead,... (read full epanalepsis explanation with examples) Epanalepsis is a figure of speech in which the beginning of a clause or sentence is repeated at the end... (read more)

An epigram is a short and witty statement, usually written in verse, that conveys a single thought or observation. Epigrams typically end with a punchline or a satirical twist. (read full epigram explanation with examples) An epigram is a short and witty statement, usually written in verse, that conveys a single thought or observation. Epigrams... (read more)

An epigraph is a short quotation, phrase, or poem that is placed at the beginning of another piece of writing to encapsulate that work's main themes and to set the tone. For instance, the epigraph of Mary... (read full epigraph explanation with examples) An epigraph is a short quotation, phrase, or poem that is placed at the beginning of another piece of writing to... (read more)

Epistrophe is a figure of speech in which one or more words repeat at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences. In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln urged the American people to ensure that,... (read full epistrophe explanation with examples) Epistrophe is a figure of speech in which one or more words repeat at the end of successive phrases, clauses,... (read more)

Epizeuxis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated in immediate succession, with no intervening words. In the play Hamlet, when Hamlet responds to a question about what he's reading... (read full epizeuxis explanation with examples) Epizeuxis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated in immediate succession, with no intervening... (read more)

Ethos, along with logos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective speaking or writing). Ethos is an argument that appeals to the audience by emphasizing the... (read full ethos explanation with examples) Ethos, along with logos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective... (read more)

Euphony is the combining of words that sound pleasant together or are easy to pronounce, usually because they contain lots of consonants with soft or muffled sounds (like L, M, N, and R) instead of consonants with harsh, percussive sounds (like... (read full euphony explanation with examples) Euphony is the combining of words that sound pleasant together or are easy to pronounce, usually because they contain lots of consonants with soft... (read more)

Exposition is the description or explanation of background information within a work of literature. Exposition can cover characters and their relationship to one another, the setting or time and place of events, as well as... (read full exposition explanation with examples) Exposition is the description or explanation of background information within a work of literature. Exposition can cover characters and their... (read more)

An extended metaphor is a metaphor that unfolds across multiple lines or even paragraphs of a text, making use of multiple interrelated metaphors within an overarching one. So while "life is a highway" is a... (read full extended metaphor explanation with examples) An extended metaphor is a metaphor that unfolds across multiple lines or even paragraphs of a text, making use of... (read more)

An external conflict is a problem, antagonism, or struggle that takes place between a character and an outside force. External conflict drives the action of a plot forward. (read full external conflict explanation with examples) An external conflict is a problem, antagonism, or struggle that takes place between a character and an outside force. External conflict... (read more)

The falling action of a story is the section of the plot following the climax, in which the tension stemming from the story's central conflict decreases and the story moves toward its conclusion. For instance, the traditional "good... (read full falling action explanation with examples) The falling action of a story is the section of the plot following the climax, in which the tension stemming from... (read more)

Figurative language is language that contains or uses figures of speech. When people use the term "figurative language," however, they often do so in a slightly narrower way. In this narrower definition, figurative language refers... (read full figurative language explanation with examples) Figurative language is language that contains or uses figures of speech. When people use the term "figurative language," however, they... (read more)

A figure of speech is a literary device in which language is used in an unusual—or "figured"—way in order to produce a stylistic effect. Figures of speech can be broken into two main groups: figures... (read full figure of speech explanation with examples) A figure of speech is a literary device in which language is used in an unusual—or "figured"—way in order to... (read more)

A character is said to be "flat" if it is one-dimensional or lacking in complexity. Typically, flat characters can be easily and accurately described using a single word (like "bully") or one short sentence (like "A naive... (read full flat character explanation with examples) A character is said to be "flat" if it is one-dimensional or lacking in complexity. Typically, flat characters can be easily... (read more)

Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making explicit statements or leaving subtle... (read full foreshadowing explanation with examples) Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... (read more)

Formal verse is the name given to rhymed poetry that uses a strict meter (a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables). This two-line poem by Emily Dickinson is formal verse because it rhymes and... (read full formal verse explanation with examples) Formal verse is the name given to rhymed poetry that uses a strict meter (a regular pattern of stressed and... (read more)

Free verse is the name given to poetry that doesn’t use any strict meter or rhyme scheme. Because it has no set meter, poems written in free verse can have lines of any length, from... (read full free verse explanation with examples) Free verse is the name given to poetry that doesn’t use any strict meter or rhyme scheme. Because it has... (read more)

Hamartia is a literary term that refers to a tragic flaw or error that leads to a character's downfall. In the novel Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein's arrogant conviction that he can usurp the roles of God... (read full hamartia explanation with examples) Hamartia is a literary term that refers to a tragic flaw or error that leads to a character's downfall. In... (read more)

Hubris refers to excessive pride or overconfidence, which drives a person to overstep limits in a way that leads to their downfall. In Greek mythology, the legend of Icarus involves an iconic case of hubris:... (read full hubris explanation with examples) Hubris refers to excessive pride or overconfidence, which drives a person to overstep limits in a way that leads to... (read more)

Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations intended to emphasize a point, rather than be taken literally.... (read full hyperbole explanation with examples) Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements... (read more)

An iamb is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which one unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. The word "define" is an iamb, with the unstressed syllable of "de" followed by the... (read full iamb explanation with examples) An iamb is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which one unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.... (read more)

An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning that is difficult or impossible to understand based solely on a literal interpretation of the words in the phrase. For example, saying that something is... (read full idiom explanation with examples) An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning that is difficult or impossible to understand based solely on... (read more)

Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages the senses of touch, movement,... (read full imagery explanation with examples) Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... (read more)

Internal rhyme is rhyme that occurs in the middle of lines of poetry, instead of at the ends of lines. A single line of poetry can contain internal rhyme (with multiple words in the same... (read full internal rhyme explanation with examples) Internal rhyme is rhyme that occurs in the middle of lines of poetry, instead of at the ends of lines.... (read more)

Irony is a literary device or event in which how things seem to be is in fact very different from how they actually are. If this seems like a loose definition, don't worry—it is. Irony is a... (read full irony explanation with examples) Irony is a literary device or event in which how things seem to be is in fact very different from how... (read more)

Juxtaposition occurs when an author places two things side by side as a way of highlighting their differences. Ideas, images, characters, and actions are all things that can be juxtaposed with one another. For example,... (read full juxtaposition explanation with examples) Juxtaposition occurs when an author places two things side by side as a way of highlighting their differences. Ideas, images,... (read more)

A kenning is a figure of speech in which two words are combined in order to form a poetic expression that refers to a person or a thing. For example, "whale-road" is a kenning for... (read full kenning explanation with examples) A kenning is a figure of speech in which two words are combined in order to form a poetic expression... (read more)

A line break is the termination of one line of poetry, and the beginning of a new line. (read full line break explanation with examples) A line break is the termination of one line of poetry, and the beginning of a new line. (read more)

Litotes is a figure of speech and a form of understatement in which a sentiment is expressed ironically by negating its contrary. For example, saying "It's not the best weather today" during a hurricane would... (read full litotes explanation with examples) Litotes is a figure of speech and a form of understatement in which a sentiment is expressed ironically by negating... (read more)

Logos, along with ethos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective speaking or writing). Logos is an argument that appeals to an audience's sense of logic... (read full logos explanation with examples) Logos, along with ethos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective... (read more)

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as in the sentence "Love is... (read full metaphor explanation with examples) A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other.... (read more)

Meter is a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that defines the rhythm of some poetry. These stress patterns are defined in groupings, called feet, of two or three syllables. A pattern of unstressed-stressed,... (read full meter explanation with examples) Meter is a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that defines the rhythm of some poetry. These stress patterns... (read more)

Metonymy is a type of figurative language in which an object or concept is referred to not by its own name, but instead by the name of something closely associated with it. For example, in... (read full metonymy explanation with examples) Metonymy is a type of figurative language in which an object or concept is referred to not by its own... (read more)

The mood of a piece of writing is its general atmosphere or emotional complexion—in short, the array of feelings the work evokes in the reader. Every aspect of a piece of writing can influence its mood, from the... (read full mood explanation with examples) The mood of a piece of writing is its general atmosphere or emotional complexion—in short, the array of feelings the work evokes... (read more)

A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the central themes of a book or play. For example, one... (read full motif explanation with examples) A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of... (read more)

A narrative is an account of connected events. Two writers describing the same set of events might craft very different narratives, depending on how they use different narrative elements, such as tone or point of view. For... (read full narrative explanation with examples) A narrative is an account of connected events. Two writers describing the same set of events might craft very different narratives,... (read more)

Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech in which words evoke the actual sound of the thing they refer to or describe. The “boom” of a firework exploding, the “tick tock” of a clock, and the... (read full onomatopoeia explanation with examples) Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech in which words evoke the actual sound of the thing they refer to or... (read more)

An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to make a point—particularly to reveal a deeper or hidden truth. The most recognizable oxymorons are... (read full oxymoron explanation with examples) An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to... (read more)

A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel of truth or reason. Oscar Wilde's famous declaration that "Life is much too important to be... (read full paradox explanation with examples) A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel... (read more)

Parallelism is a figure of speech in which two or more elements of a sentence (or series of sentences) have the same grammatical structure. These "parallel" elements can be used to intensify the rhythm of... (read full parallelism explanation with examples) Parallelism is a figure of speech in which two or more elements of a sentence (or series of sentences) have... (read more)

Parataxis is a figure of speech in which words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are set next to each other so that each element is equally important. Parataxis usually involves simple sentences or phrases whose relationships... (read full parataxis explanation with examples) Parataxis is a figure of speech in which words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are set next to each other so... (read more)

A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually for comic effect. Parodies can take many forms, including fiction, poetry, film, visual art, and... (read full parody explanation with examples) A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually... (read more)

Pathetic fallacy occurs when a writer attributes human emotions to things that aren't human, such as objects, weather, or animals. It is often used to make the environment reflect the inner experience of a narrator... (read full pathetic fallacy explanation with examples) Pathetic fallacy occurs when a writer attributes human emotions to things that aren't human, such as objects, weather, or animals.... (read more)

Pathos, along with logos and ethos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective speaking or writing). Pathos is an argument that appeals to an audience's emotions. When a... (read full pathos explanation with examples) Pathos, along with logos and ethos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective... (read more)

Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent to their plans." Describing the... (read full personification explanation with examples) Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... (read more)

Plot is the sequence of interconnected events within the story of a play, novel, film, epic, or other narrative literary work. More than simply an account of what happened, plot reveals the cause-and-effect relationships between... (read full plot explanation with examples) Plot is the sequence of interconnected events within the story of a play, novel, film, epic, or other narrative literary... (read more)

Point of view refers to the perspective that the narrator holds in relation to the events of the story. The three primary points of view are first person, in which the narrator tells a story from... (read full point of view explanation with examples) Point of view refers to the perspective that the narrator holds in relation to the events of the story. The... (read more)

Polyptoton is a figure of speech that involves the repetition of words derived from the same root (such as "blood" and "bleed"). For instance, the question, "Who shall watch the watchmen?" is an example of... (read full polyptoton explanation with examples) Polyptoton is a figure of speech that involves the repetition of words derived from the same root (such as "blood"... (read more)

Polysyndeton is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and," "or," and "but" that join other words or clauses in a sentence into relationships of equal importance—are used several times in close... (read full polysyndeton explanation with examples) Polysyndeton is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and," "or," and "but" that join other words... (read more)

The protagonist of a story is its main character, who has the sympathy and support of the audience. This character tends to be involved in or affected by most of the choices or conflicts that... (read full protagonist explanation with examples) The protagonist of a story is its main character, who has the sympathy and support of the audience. This character... (read more)

A pun is a figure of speech that plays with words that have multiple meanings, or that plays with words that sound similar but mean different things. The comic novelist Douglas Adams uses both types... (read full pun explanation with examples) A pun is a figure of speech that plays with words that have multiple meanings, or that plays with words... (read more)

A quatrain is a four-line stanza of poetry. It can be a single four-line stanza, meaning that it is a stand-alone poem of four lines, or it can be a four-line stanza that makes up... (read full quatrain explanation with examples) A quatrain is a four-line stanza of poetry. It can be a single four-line stanza, meaning that it is a... (read more)

A red herring is a piece of information in a story that distracts readers from an important truth, or leads them to mistakenly expect a particular outcome. Most often, the term red herring is used to refer... (read full red herring explanation with examples) A red herring is a piece of information in a story that distracts readers from an important truth, or leads them... (read more)

In a poem or song, a refrain is a line or group of lines that regularly repeat, usually at the end of a stanza in a poem or at the end of a verse in... (read full refrain explanation with examples) In a poem or song, a refrain is a line or group of lines that regularly repeat, usually at the... (read more)

Repetition is a literary device in which a word or phrase is repeated two or more times. Repetition occurs in so many different forms that it is usually not thought of as a single figure... (read full repetition explanation with examples) Repetition is a literary device in which a word or phrase is repeated two or more times. Repetition occurs in... (read more)

A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in which a question is asked for a reason other than to get an answer—most commonly, it's asked to make a persuasive point. For example, if a... (read full rhetorical question explanation with examples) A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in which a question is asked for a reason other than to... (read more)

A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in two or more words. Rhyming is particularly common in many types of poetry, especially at the ends of lines, and is a requirement in formal verse.... (read full rhyme explanation with examples) A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in two or more words. Rhyming is particularly common in many types... (read more)

A rhyme scheme is the pattern according to which end rhymes (rhymes located at the end of lines) are repeated in works poetry. Rhyme schemes are described using letters of the alphabet, such that all... (read full rhyme scheme explanation with examples) A rhyme scheme is the pattern according to which end rhymes (rhymes located at the end of lines) are repeated... (read more)

The rising action of a story is the section of the plot leading up to the climax, in which the tension stemming from the story's central conflict grows through successive plot developments. For example, in the story of "Little... (read full rising action explanation with examples) The rising action of a story is the section of the plot leading up to the climax, in which the tension stemming... (read more)

A character is said to be "round" if they are lifelike or complex. Round characters typically have fully fleshed-out and multi-faceted personalities, backgrounds, desires, and motivations. Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby... (read full round character explanation with examples) A character is said to be "round" if they are lifelike or complex. Round characters typically have fully fleshed-out and... (read more)

Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of satire, but satirists can take aim at other targets as... (read full satire explanation with examples) Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians,... (read more)

A sestet is a six-line stanza of poetry. It can be any six-line stanza—one that is, itself, a whole poem, or one that makes up a part of a longer poem. Most commonly, the term... (read full sestet explanation with examples) A sestet is a six-line stanza of poetry. It can be any six-line stanza—one that is, itself, a whole poem,... (read more)

Setting is where and when a story or scene takes place. The where can be a real place like the city of New York, or it can be an imagined location, like Middle Earth in... (read full setting explanation with examples) Setting is where and when a story or scene takes place. The where can be a real place like the... (read more)

Sibilance is a figure of speech in which a hissing sound is created within a group of words through the repetition of "s" sounds. An example of sibilance is: "Sadly, Sam sold seven venomous serpents to Sally and... (read full sibilance explanation with examples) Sibilance is a figure of speech in which a hissing sound is created within a group of words through the repetition... (read more)

A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like" or "as," but can also use other words that indicate... (read full simile explanation with examples) A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often... (read more)

Traditionally, slant rhyme referred to a type of rhyme in which two words located at the end of a line of poetry themselves end in similar—but not identical—consonant sounds. For instance, the words "pact" and... (read full slant rhyme explanation with examples) Traditionally, slant rhyme referred to a type of rhyme in which two words located at the end of a line... (read more)

A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself, relating his or her innermost thoughts and feelings as if thinking aloud. In some cases,... (read full soliloquy explanation with examples) A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself,... (read more)

A sonnet is a type of fourteen-line poem. Traditionally, the fourteen lines of a sonnet consist of an octave (or two quatrains making up a stanza of 8 lines) and a sestet (a stanza of... (read full sonnet explanation with examples) A sonnet is a type of fourteen-line poem. Traditionally, the fourteen lines of a sonnet consist of an octave (or... (read more)

A spondee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which both syllables are stressed. The word "downtown" is a spondee, with the stressed syllable of "down" followed by another stressed syllable, “town”: Down-town. (read full spondee explanation with examples) A spondee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which both syllables are stressed. The word "downtown" is a... (read more)

A stanza is a group of lines form a smaller unit within a poem. A single stanza is usually set apart from other lines or stanza within a poem by a double line break or... (read full stanza explanation with examples) A stanza is a group of lines form a smaller unit within a poem. A single stanza is usually set... (read more)

A character is said to be "static" if they do not undergo any substantial internal changes as a result of the story's major plot developments. Antagonists are often static characters, but any character in a... (read full static character explanation with examples) A character is said to be "static" if they do not undergo any substantial internal changes as a result of... (read more)

Stream of consciousness is a style or technique of writing that tries to capture the natural flow of a character's extended thought process, often by incorporating sensory impressions, incomplete ideas, unusual syntax, and rough grammar. (read full stream of consciousness explanation with examples) Stream of consciousness is a style or technique of writing that tries to capture the natural flow of a character's... (read more)

A syllogism is a three-part logical argument, based on deductive reasoning, in which two premises are combined to arrive at a conclusion. So long as the premises of the syllogism are true and the syllogism... (read full syllogism explanation with examples) A syllogism is a three-part logical argument, based on deductive reasoning, in which two premises are combined to arrive at... (read more)

Symbolism is a literary device in which a writer uses one thing—usually a physical object or phenomenon—to represent something more abstract. A strong symbol usually shares a set of key characteristics with whatever it is... (read full symbolism explanation with examples) Symbolism is a literary device in which a writer uses one thing—usually a physical object or phenomenon—to represent something more... (read more)

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which, most often, a part of something is used to refer to its whole. For example, "The captain commands one hundred sails" is a synecdoche that uses "sails"... (read full synecdoche explanation with examples) Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which, most often, a part of something is used to refer to its... (read more)

A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary themes is their universality, which is to say that themes are ideas that not only... (read full theme explanation with examples) A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary... (read more)

The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical or mournful, praising or critical, and so on. For instance, an editorial in a newspaper... (read full tone explanation with examples) The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical... (read more)

A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedy, and is usually the protagonist. Tragic heroes typically have heroic traits that earn them the sympathy of the audience, but also have flaws or... (read full tragic hero explanation with examples) A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedy, and is usually the protagonist. Tragic heroes typically have... (read more)

A trochee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable. The word "poet" is a trochee, with the stressed syllable of "po" followed by the... (read full trochee explanation with examples) A trochee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable.... (read more)

Understatement is a figure of speech in which something is expressed less strongly than would be expected, or in which something is presented as being smaller, worse, or lesser than it really is. Typically, understatement is... (read full understatement explanation with examples) Understatement is a figure of speech in which something is expressed less strongly than would be expected, or in which something... (read more)

Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean. When there's a hurricane raging outside and someone remarks "what lovely weather we're having," this... (read full verbal irony explanation with examples) Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean.... (read more)

A villanelle is a poem of nineteen lines, and which follows a strict form that consists of five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by one quatrain (four-line stanza). Villanelles use a specific rhyme scheme of ABA... (read full villanelle explanation with examples) A villanelle is a poem of nineteen lines, and which follows a strict form that consists of five tercets (three-line... (read more)

A zeugma is a figure of speech in which one "governing" word or phrase modifies two distinct parts of a sentence. Often, the governing word will mean something different when applied to each part, as... (read full zeugma explanation with examples) A zeugma is a figure of speech in which one "governing" word or phrase modifies two distinct parts of a... (read more)

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Literary works are primarily distinguishable from other pieces of writing by their creative, or artistic intent.

The writer of this passage emphasises the distinction between writing of didactic purpose and literary writing which has that other, aesthetic, dimension. In fundamental terms literature is 'an expression of life through the medium of language' [2], but language used more profoundly than when used simply to convey information.

The following two extracts, for example, both describing one partner's response to marital problems, are different in both their form and their intent:

And

The first piece, from a newspaper, gives a typical tabloid account of a broken marriage. It plainly states the position of the two parties involved, (but with an attitude akin to 'gossip'). The tone of the second piece is less factual and more descriptive. Here the writer is sets out to depict a particular scene, that of a woman distressed by the discovery of some unsavoury information concerning her husband, and employs such devices as the use of emotive words, such as 'disfigured', the gradual increase of dramatic tension, 'slowly turned in her chair', and then in the last line a humorous deflation of this tension, 'her face . . . was not a pretty sight'. The author shows a mixture of intentions here, the structure and the use of language showing a different approach and purpose to the first piece's straightforward account of the everyday world. In contrast to such a plain factual account -

So literary writing, having creative and artistic intent, is more carefully structured and uses words for the rhetorical effect of their flow, their sound, and their emotive and descriptive qualities. Literary writers can also employ tone, rhyme, rhythm, irony, dialogue and its variations such as dialects and slang, and a host of other devices in the construction of a particular prose work, poem, or play.

Literary writing is, in essence, a 'response', a subjective personal view which the writer expresses through his themes, ideas, thoughts, reminiscences, using his armoury of words to try to evoke, or provoke, a response in his reader.

In , R. S. Thomas conveys his response to a landscape:

Here the powerful evocation of desolation, of the stark brutality, even indifference, of the countryside is captured by Thomas through a pointed use of language which also conveys his grim mood.

In contrast, Keat's conveys a soft, sensuous depiction of this season which captured his imagination:

Both these extracts show a creative, imaginative response to a particular scene, and show contrasting ways in which a poet can use diction to capture his mood and provoke a reaction in the reader. Devices such as rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, and assonance combine to form a structure of mood, a structure recognisably literary.

Literature is a process of communication, it 'helps us to understand life'. [10]

Perhaps we should also consider the motivation of the writer as a factor which distinguishes literary from other forms of writing. The writer's motivation is the energy that pulls together the strands of his creativity in the shaping of the finished work.

Ernest Hemingway gives his reasons for writing:

Georges Simenon puts forward the idea of therapeutic value, a search for self:

Philip Larkin gives his reasons for writing poems as a need 'to preserve things I have seen/thought/felt (if I may so indicate a composite and complex experience) both for myself and for others'. Here, in , his motive was to capture his response to a view seen from a train:

The main impetus behind Edward Thomas's , is to describe his experience of love:

While the motive behind Andrew Young's, , is self-evident.

Personal motivation is an essential characteristic of literary writing. It is the engine behind creativity, and the last two extracts provide examples of some of the great themes which occur again and again, not only in literary writing, but in all the arts; love, death, war, and peace. Such themes, it seems, provide perennial inspiration for artists.

So perhaps an inventory of literary writers' motives should include the overflowing of their passions, their desire for self-expression, an abiding fascination with humanity in all its variety, the need to come to grips with relationships as they really are in the world as it really is, the striving after an ideal world which can exist only in the imagination, and, perhaps at the heart of it all, the need to form, shape, things of beauty.

The artist needs to resolve conflicts within himself, to reach an understanding, to search for some credible meaning of to life, to death, to everything. He is always reaching, fumbling toward some sort of truth; an artistic creative truth, a truth that resides in the individual artist and needs to be grasped, made real, made understandable.

Perhaps in some cases the artist's motivation could be seen as a need to create other worlds, in the way that Milton and Tolkien created other worlds, in order that they can project real conflicts onto another plane.

The many different genres of the novel constitute a particular challenge to the concept of 'literary writing'. Detective novels, and science fiction novels, for example, are creative, imaginative, depictions of life. We might question their seriousness as literature, or whether they can achieve the high ideals of art, but then we might equally well question the meaning of 'seriousness', and 'the high ideals of art'. Popular novels may not deal with life's great conflicts, or search for truth and beauty, and they may deal with the seamier side of life, or escape into the fantastic, but can they still be considered 'literature'? Do they still make an important contribution to our understanding of the world, as 'real' literature does?

Obviously 'literary' works such as Tolstoy's and Proust's take as a nucleus an event, an aspect of life and construct a world around that core. They are works about real people, engaged in the real business of living. They convey knowledge, understanding, experience and are hence considered important. Yet they have in common with the detective and science fiction novel that they are books, consisting of words that have been used to express something, words that may or may not be read, and may or may not succeed in conveying an understanding of the world they depict.

In my view it comes down to subjective value judgements. I believe literature is a 'broad church' which ought to be able to deal with any subject, and that ultimately it is individual readers, or readers en masse, who decide on the value of any particular work and on whether or not it deserves a place in the annals of literary history.

Writers aim to show us 'the world', but no single writer can do this, and 'literature' should encompass numerous different kinds of writer because each is trying to show us something which cannot be shown as a whole. Each, whether a Tolstoy or a Raymond Chandler, can only give us his own small fragment of understanding. Ultimately it is those works which endure that should be considered 'literature', those which have succeeded in holding firm a fragment of life, to be seen, to be read, to be understood.

Perhaps we should let a writer have the last word on summing up the writers' art:

In conclusion, literary writing does embody certain distinguishing characteristics. It is a self-conscious, imaginative mode of writing which uses words not just to convey information, but as an art form. Ultimately it is a response to life.

Personally, passages of outstanding literary writing such as the following, convince me that words are the highest form of expression available to mankind:


1. Hudson, W. H. p.10
2. Hudson, W. H. p. 10
3. Nabokov, V. p.95
4. Hudson p.10
5. Angus Wilson, in Dick, K.
6. Geroges Simenon, in Dick, K.
7. Thomas, R.S. Poems
8. Hayward, J. p. 296
9. John Middleton Murray. Preface to the poems of Walter de la Mare
10. Reeves, J. p.16
11. Dick, K. p. 196
12. Dick, K. p.38
13. Allot, K.
14. Allot, K. p. 63
15. Allot, K. p. 83
16. Faulkner, William, in Dick, K. p.33
17. Shakespeare, Measure for Measure


Allot, Kenneth (Ed) The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse. Penguin 1980
Dick, Kay. (Ed) Interviews from 'Paris Review'. Penguin 1972
Hayward, John. (Ed) Penguin Book of Verse. Penguin 1981
Hudson, William Henry. An Introduction to the Study of Literature. Harrap 1963
Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. Penguin 1982
Reeves, James. The Critical Sense. Heinemann 1957
Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure

© John Oldcastle, October 2000

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what is essays in literary terms

Finding the Glow Within: What Biology and Fiction Writing Have In Common

Janie kim on the pursuit of open-ended questions in science and literature.

Biology is the study of life—of finding unusual beauty in the ordinary. So, too, is writing.

Why do we find glowing lights pretty? From natural occurrences like fireflies and bioluminescent ocean waves, to manmade ones like holiday lights and sprawling evening cityscapes, there is an allure in all the sparkle, glitter, glow. The pull is a gentle one, more of a suggestion than a tug.

In nature, glowing lights are a matter of survival: for fireflies, light attracts mates; for some jellyfish, the lightshows within their tissue-paper membranes shoo off predators; for certain marine bacteria, making light is the ticket to a cozy home within squids and fish, which use that gifted glow to nullify their moonlit shadows or as a means to catch prey. We humans are intrinsically drawn to such luminescence because similarly bright and sparkly things signal a source of water, and the sight still tickles awake some primitive, survivalist corner of ourselves—or so one theory goes. (A hard-wired oooh shiny.) Such biological sorts of glow are part of my day-to-day, as a PhD student studying bioluminescent bacteria.

But life-sustaining glow also takes forms beyond the biological, and when I sit down to write stories, it is these variations on the theme that I am most interested in. I am talking about the glow in certain moments and memories, which evoke the same cocoonlike feeling as the light of campfires and of candles crowned in flickering flame. That glow within your chest when you, a reader, sink into a book that hits all the right notes. Or the glow when you, a nostalgic, leaf through old photos, touching your thumb to each bygone era that the passage of years has rendered rosy.

Or when you, a sibling, notice your brother humming along to a song as he looks out the passenger seat window, his chin idly cupped in heel of hand, the humming simply a reflex of happiness within this most mundane of moments with you. I am talking about this kind of undeniable glow, this bioluminescence of the emotional variety, a nebulous thing not quite precisely captured within an English word, perhaps existing on a plane intersecting or tangential to the Danish hygge, or to the Korean bunuigi (vibes).

Some amalgam of safety and wonder, warmth and sudden weightlessness, a sense that this is all fleeting as though it were brief happiness yet somehow also longer-lived as though it were true contentment, plus some amnesia to top it all off—because within that sheltered amnion of glow, you briefly forget that anything beyond exists. When we talk about the all-American pursuit of happiness, isn’t it this kind of glow that we are really in pursuit of? This miraculous little pulse of warmth somewhere in the chest in some cavity that’s not strictly biological, not exactly physical, yet somehow capable of feeling like it’s bursting at its seams?

bioluminescence  noun       the emission of light by living organisms.

I am in search of this emission of light when I write stories, like many writers. How does one create bioluminescence in writing?

A possible answer to the elusive question comes from the biology lab. When it comes to cellular mysteries, sometimes the best way to find an answer to a question is by asking alternative questions that probe from oblique angles, and then by looking for indirect readouts of the original phenomenon. To find glow in writing, too, I ask such sidelong questions. How do we come to terms with the unknown? What is identity, when all of our identities are always in a state of flux? And when these incorporeal multitudes that define us are shattered, by nature of existence in an irrational world, how are they put back together? Where can we find that mysterious glue even in the most unexpected of places? 

The percolation of such questions through my last year of undergrad, the first year of the pandemic, pooled into the shape of We Carry the Sea in Our Hands . I found that when I ask such questions over and over, look at them from here and there, sometimes I get lucky and notice a parallax, a glow. Sometimes, it just takes a particular angle of view to see it. A trick of the light, like most blues in nature. Aren’t we all just chasing will-o’-the-wisps, anyways?

Perhaps this is why in both science and in writing, there is no such thing as useless knowledge. Knowledge gained simply as a function of curiosity seems to have an inherent funky viewing angle. Scientists-in-training are often encouraged to attend seminars in other departments, because maybe a molecular biologist at a mechanical engineering talk will pick up an odd snippet of information or a way of thinking that sparks a new idea. Writers of fiction, too, cannot predict when learning some very specific, random fact might come in handy in a story—the oily flammability of birch bark, the difference between contact calls and alarm calls of songbirds, the behavior of tin buttons in cold temperatures, the vagaries of usefulness.

Read widely and read often: a phrase heard so often by both novice scientists and writers that they share the same reflex tickle in the head upon hearing it—part agreement and part annoyance. Poke your nose into other genres, we’re told. Walk into something new, leave behind all your presuppositions, and simply observe how things are done, so we’re told. And by doing so, perhaps we will chance upon a new angle from which to approach our work, to search for glow in an unexpected corner. I think this is what Abraham Flexner was talking about in his essay “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge.”

The process of story-writing and of scientific research are often not so dissimilar. People find reflected pieces of themselves in stories, both in reading them and in writing them, and can move these likenesses around, like an abacus, to try to comprehend the meaning of things that happened or are happening or will happen. I wonder if this is not what biology is, as well? To me it seems an echo, moving around questions and data points to find within them an abstraction of truth.

A shortcut to finding glow when writing, for me, is going to the lab. Or rather, thinking about biological phenomena, which the lab is conducive to. There is so much to marvel at within a single cell, the vast knowns and vaster unknowns of something so small, something so delicately complex yet surprisingly robust, such elegant works of self-contained art as they are. These are landscapes filled with tiny intricacies that float and spin and dance, buoyed by molecular ferries and electron shuttles, everything timed and positioned just so after millennia inside the dollhouse of evolution.

How brief each motion can be, yet how impactful within a whole undulating sea of movements! How precisely complex a cell is, how easily it stirs up wanderlust and vertigo—so much so that you wonder how anyone could possibly probe and poke at its choreographies with any sensitivity, like trying to cut slices out of a cake using just one’s bare fingers.

Thinking of biology as the wonder that it is (or reminding myself of this, when the realities of routine lab-work fog up the nice view) creates an approximation of glow for me. If I would like to write, it is often simply a matter of transferring that nascent light into the written word. (Not unlike how FRET works, for the scientists out there.)

Perhaps above all, scientific research and fiction-writing are most synergistic in their appreciation of uncertainty. Nothing is fact, revisiting questions is the norm. Like ocean waves, echoing up and down the shore, each sandy imprint a likeness of its predecessors but not quite the same. It is part of why scientists and writers are blessed or cursed—take your pick—with the ever-flowing stream of “What am I doing?”, “Am I doing anything right?”, “Do I know anything at all? And if so, how do I know?”

Whether I choose to comfort myself by rationalizing this as a readout of scientific rigor, as the proper level of doubt and questioning with which I should approach my science, or choose to call it a little crisis de rigueur to work out with either a philosopher or a therapist—or instead choose, as is often simplest, to just slap on the label of impostor syndrome like it’s one of those “Hello, my name is” stickers at a child’s birthday party—what seems true is that questions without clear answers nor endpoints are both the nature and point of it all. To borrow a phrase that one of my PhD advisors likes to say: “it’s not a bug; it’s a feature.” This seems to be the cartilaginous stuff that stretches between science and writing and renders them two organ systems within the same body. In my life, writing and biology are necessarily symbiotic.

Four years ago, I wrote in my PhD program applications about how my childhood writing hobby metamorphosed into an interest in science. All I wrote then of the newer, reverse relationship, of how science in turn came to give life to my writing, was that “biological research seeks out what makes life move, and creative writing searches for why that is meaningful to people and society.” Microscope and macroscope, I think. This essay is my addendum—but I wonder, how might all this change in the coming years, this polaroid of opinions and fumbles? We become the stories we tell ourselves.

In recent months I have felt adrift between worlds, unable to say “I’m a writer” nor “I’m a scientist” without feeling like I am wearing ill-fitting clothes. But I do recognize that living unmoored between questioned identities that keep shifting like refracted light—“writing-dabbler?”, “science-dabbler?”—has its own value, if viewed from a particular angle. To make a home for myself within this interstitial space is to ask many questions and to enjoy the privilege of not yet knowing many answers (which I think is this: it is easier to learn something stunningly fascinating when you simply have so much to learn in the first place). This, too, is a state that I am learning how to find glow within.

__________________________________

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We Carry the Sea in Our Hands by Janie Kim is available from Alcove Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

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Literary World Grapples With Alice Munro’s Legacy After Daughter’s Revelation of Abuse

Canadian Author Alice Munro attends a press conference at Trinity College, Dublin, in 2009.

T ributes flowed in from across the literary world after the death in May at age 92 of Nobel Prize-winning Canadian writer Alice Munro, who is credited with perfecting the contemporary short story . But Munro’s many admirers must now grapple with a darker aspect of her legacy that has just come to light.

In a heart-wrenching essay by Andrea Robin Skinner, Munro’s youngest daughter who is now 58 years old— published on Sunday in the Toronto Star alongside a reported companion piece by the paper —Skinner reveals that she was sexually abused by her stepfather, Munro’s second husband Gerald Fremlin, since she was 9, and that when she informed Munro of the abuse years later, the celebrated writer turned a blind eye and stood by her daughter’s abuser.

The revelation of what until now had been a long-held family secret has rocked readers and colleagues of Munro, whose works often explored themes of women’s lives, complex familial dynamics, sex, trauma, and secrecy.

According to Skinner, Fremlin, a cartographer who died in 2013, climbed into bed with her when she was 9 and touched her inappropriately. She also detailed how, throughout her childhood when the two were alone, Fremlin would crack lewd jokes, press her about her “sex life,” describe Munro’s “sexual needs” to her, and expose himself and occasionally masturbate in front of her.

“At the time, I didn’t know this was abuse. I thought I was doing a good job of preventing abuse by averting my eyes and ignoring his stories,” Skinner writes.

Skinner says she first revealed her abuse by Fremlin to Munro when she was 25, having been hesitant to open up about it earlier, fearing her mother’s reaction. “I have been afraid all my life that you would blame me for what happened,” Skinner wrote in a 1992 letter, parts of which she shared with the Star .

According to Skinner, what inspired her to finally disclose her torment to her mother was Munro’s reaction to a short story in which a girl died by suicide after being sexually abused by her stepfather. At the time, Munro questioned to Skinner why the girl in the story didn’t tell her mother. 

But when Skinner revealed her own experience with Fremlin, Munro was shockingly unsympathetic: “As it turned out, in spite of her sympathy for a fictional character, my mother had no similar feelings for me.”

“She said that she had been ‘told too late,’ she loved him too much, and that our misogynistic culture was to blame if I expected her to deny her own needs, sacrifice for her children, and make up for the failings of men,” Skinner writes. “She was adamant that whatever had happened was between me and my stepfather. It had nothing to do with her.” Meanwhile, Fremlin denied wrongdoing and deflected blame onto Skinner.

Skinner says she and her family ultimately moved on, “acting as if nothing had happened,” until Skinner became pregnant in 2002. Skinner decided after the birth of her own twins to cut off contact with Fremlin—who she did not want near her children—as well as Munro, who Skinner says was more concerned about her own personal inconvenience by the move.

Skinner’s quiet estrangement continued until she read a 2004 New York Times story about Munro in which her mother heaped praise on Fremlin.

“I wanted to speak out. I wanted to tell the truth. That’s when I went to the police to report my abuse,” Skinner recalls. “For so long I’d been telling myself that holding my pain alone had at least helped my family, that I had done the moral thing, contributing to the greatest good for the greatest number. Now, I was claiming my right to a full life, taking the burden of abuse and handing it back to Fremlin.”

In 2005, Fremlin was charged with indecent assault and convicted without a trial after pleading guilty. He was sentenced to two years’ probation, a result Skinner says she was satisfied with because she wasn’t seeking for him to be punished nor did she believe he was still a threat to others given his old age.

“What I wanted was some record of the truth, some public proof that I hadn’t deserved what had happened to me,” Skinner writes in her essay. She had also hoped her story would “become part of the stories people tell about my mother. I never wanted to see another interview, biography or event that didn’t wrestle with the reality of what had happened to me, and with the fact that my mother, confronted with the truth of what had happened, chose to stay with, and protect, my abuser.”

But that’s not how things panned out. “My mother’s fame meant the silence continued,” Skinner writes. Munro retired in 2013 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature a few months later. 

“Many influential people came to know something of my story,” Skinner writes, “yet continued to support, and add to, a narrative they knew was false.”

“Everybody knew,” Skinner’s stepmother Carole Munro told the Star , recounting being asked by a journalist at a dinner party years ago about rumors related to Skinner—and affirming that they were true. (Robert Thacker, author of an acclaimed biography of Munro, told the Globe and Mail on Sunday that he was aware of the allegations of what happened to Skinner, who had reached out to him directly before his book was published in 2005, but he declined to mention it because he didn’t want to overstep in a sensitive family matter.)

Skinner’s story stayed out of the public eye. But now, with her essay sending shockwaves through the literary world, the narrative surrounding her mother is beginning to change.

“I know I’m not alone in feeling deeply unnerved by what feels like a seismic shift in our understanding of someone who was formative to me and others as a writer,” Pulitzer finalist Rebecca Makkai said in a series of posts on X reflecting on the recent news.

“Lots of people reflexively denying that Alice Munro could have knowingly spent her life with the pedophile who abused her daughter, or rushing to say they never liked her writing,” Canadian magazine writer and editor Michelle Cyca posted on X . “Harder to accept the truth that people who make transcendent art are capable of monstrous acts.”

“The Alice Munro news is so completely and tragically consistent with the world she evoked in her stories—all those young people betrayed and sabotaged by adults who were supposed to care for them,” American novelist and essayist Jess Row posted on X .

American novelist and essayist Brandon Taylor shared his gratitude toward Skinner. “I’m so in awe of her courage,” he said in a series of posts on X , adding that her account was “personally devastating in that I recognize so much of my own story and history in her experience.” 

In a statement from Munro’s Books, which was founded by Jim and Alice Munro but has been independently owned since 2014, the company said it “unequivocally supports Andrea Robin Skinner as she publicly shares her story of her sexual abuse as a child.”

“Along with so many readers and writers, we will need time to absorb this news and the impact it may have on the legacy of Alice Munro, whose work and ties to the store we have previously celebrated,” the statement added. 

In a co-published statement from the Munro family, Andrea and her three siblings—Andrew, Jenny, and Sheila—thanked the owners and staff of Munro’s Books for “acknowledging and honoring Andrea’s truth, and being very clear about their wish to end the legacy of silence.”

While Skinner says she never reconciled with her mother before Munro’s death, she has with her siblings—who reached out in 2014 to seek understanding and healing together and have supported her coming out publicly with what is sure to put their mother’s reputation in a much different light.

Skinner, for her part, has made clear that this is not about Alice Munro’s reputation. “I just really hope that this story isn’t about celebrities behaving badly,” she told the  Star . While some will gravitate toward it simply “for the entertainment value,” she adds: “I want so much for my personal story to focus on patterns of silencing, the tendency to do that in families and societies.”

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What it means for the Supreme Court to throw out Chevron decision, undercutting federal regulators

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FILE- Gulls follow a commercial fishing boat as crewmen haul in their catch in the Gulf of Maine, in this Jan. 17, 2012 file photo. TExecutive branch agencies will likely have more difficulty regulating the environment, public health, workplace safety and other issues under a far-reaching decision by the Supreme Court. The court’s 6-3 ruling on Friday overturned a 1984 decision colloquially known as Chevron that has instructed lower courts to defer to federal agencies when laws passed by Congress are not crystal clear. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

The Supreme Court building is seen on Friday, June 28, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Executive branch agencies will likely have more difficulty regulating the environment, public health, workplace safety and other issues under a far-reaching decision by the Supreme Court .

The court’s 6-3 ruling on Friday overturned a 1984 decision colloquially known as Chevron that has instructed lower courts to defer to federal agencies when laws passed by Congress are not crystal clear.

The 40-year-old decision has been the basis for upholding thousands of regulations by dozens of federal agencies, but has long been a target of conservatives and business groups who argue that it grants too much power to the executive branch, or what some critics call the administrative state.

The Biden administration has defended the law, warning that overturning so-called Chevron deference would be destabilizing and could bring a “convulsive shock” to the nation’s legal system.

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Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said federal judges “must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority.”

The ruling does not call into question prior cases that relied on the Chevron doctrine, Roberts wrote.

Here is a look at the court’s decision and the implications for government regulations going forward.

What is the Chevron decision?

Atlantic herring fishermen sued over federal rules requiring them to pay for independent observers to monitor their catch. The fishermen argued that the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act did not authorize officials to create industry-funded monitoring requirements and that the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to follow proper rulemaking procedure.

In two related cases, the fishermen asked the court to overturn the 40-year-old Chevron doctrine, which stems from a unanimous Supreme Court case involving the energy giant in a dispute over the Clean Air Act. That ruling said judges should defer to the executive branch when laws passed by Congress are ambiguous.

In that case, the court upheld an action by the Environmental Protection Agency under then-President Ronald Reagan.

In the decades following the ruling, Chevron has been a bedrock of modern administrative law, requiring judges to defer to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of congressional statutes.

But the current high court, with a 6-3 conservative majority has been increasingly skeptical of the powers of federal agencies. Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch have questioned the Chevron decision. Ironically, it was Gorsuch’s mother, former EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch, who made the decision that the Supreme Court upheld in 1984.

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What’s at stake?

With a closely divided Congress, presidential administrations have increasingly turned to federal regulation to implement policy changes. Federal rules impact virtually every aspect of everyday life, from the food we eat and the cars we drive to the air we breathe and homes we live in.

President Joe Biden’s administration, for example, has issued a host of new regulations on the environment and other priorities, including restrictions on emissions from power plants and vehicle tailpipes , and rules on student loan forgiveness , overtime pay and affordable housing.

Those actions and others could be opened up to legal challenges if judges are allowed to discount or disregard the expertise of the executive-branch agencies that put them into place.

With billions of dollars potentially at stake, groups representing the gun industry and other businesses such as tobacco, agriculture, timber and homebuilding, were among those pressing the justices to overturn the Chevron doctrine and weaken government regulation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief last year on behalf of business groups arguing that modern application of Chevron has “fostered aggrandizement’’ of the executive branch at the expense of Congress and the courts.

David Doniger, a lawyer and longtime Natural Resources Defense Council official who argued the original Chevron case in 1984, said he feared that a ruling to overturn the doctrine could “free judges to be radical activists” who could “effectively rewrite our laws and block the protections they are supposed to provide.”

“The net effect will be to weaken our government’s ability to meet the real problems the world is throwing at us — big things like COVID and climate change,″ Doniger said.

More than just fish

“This case was never just about fish,’' said Meredith Moore of the environmental group Ocean Conservancy. Instead, businesses and other interest groups used the herring fishery “to attack the foundations of the public agencies that serve the American public and conserve our natural resources,’' she said.

The court ruling will likely open the floodgates to litigation that could erode critical protections for people and the environment, Moore and other advocates said.

“For more than 30 years, fishery observers have successfully helped ensure that our oceans are responsibly managed so that fishing can continue in the future,’' said Dustin Cranor of Oceana, another conservation group.

He called the case “just the latest example of the far right trying to undermine the federal government’s ability to protect our oceans, waters, public lands, clean air and health.’'

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey called the decision a fitting follow-up to a 2022 decision — in a case he brought — that limits the EPA’s ability to control greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The court held that Congress must speak with specificity when it wants to give an agency authority to regulate on an issue of major national significance.

Morrisey, now the GOP nominee for governor, called Chevron “a misguided doctrine under which courts defer to legally dubious interpretations of statutes put out by federal administrative agencies.”

A shift toward judicial power

The Supreme Court ruling will almost certainly shift power away from the executive branch and Congress and toward courts, said Craig Green, a professor at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law.

“Federal judges will now have the first and final word about what statutes mean,″ he said. “That’s a big shift in power.″

In what some observers see as a historic irony, many conservatives who now attack Chevron once celebrated it. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was among those who hailed the original ruling as a way to rein in liberal laws.

“Conservatives believed in this rule until they didn’t,’' Green said in an interview.

In recent years, conservatives have focused on “deconstruction of the administrative state,’' even if the result lessens the ability of a conservative president to impose his beliefs on government agencies.

“If you weaken the federal government, you get less government,’' Green said — an outcome that many conservatives, including those who back former President Donald Trump, welcome.

The ruling will likely “gum up the works for federal agencies and make it even harder for them to address big problems. Which is precisely what the critics of Chevron want,” said Jody Freeman, director of the environmental and energy law program at Harvard Law School.

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Miles Franklin Literary Award 2024 shortlist: Book experts on the surprises and likely winner of Australia's biggest literary award

A composite of three portraits of writers and three book covers

The shortlist for the 2024 Miles Franklin Literary Award has now been announced, with six authors selected from the longlist to vie for Australia's most prestigious literary award.

The shortlist is:

  • Hossein Asgari, Only Sound Remains (Puncher & Wattmann)
  • Jen Craig, Wall (Puncher & Wattmann)
  • Andre Dao, Anam (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Random House)
  • Gregory Day, The Bell of the World (Transit Lounge)
  • Sanya Rushdi, Hospital (Giramondo Publishing)
  • Alexis Wright, Praiseworthy (Giramondo Publishing)

The list includes a previous winner (Wright), a previous shortlistee (Day) and three (!) debut novelists (Asgari, Dao and Rushdi).

Along with last year's, it's the most culturally diverse Miles Franklin shortlist ever, with four writers of colour in the running, and the third year in a row to feature more writers of colour than writers from Anglo-Saxon backgrounds.

And if Craig, Rushdi or Wright win, they'll become the eighth woman winner in a row (12 women have won in the 13 years since the controversial 2011 shortlist was entirely composed of men), and the 20th woman to win the $60,000 award since 1957.

Last year's winner was Shankari Chandran for Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens. This year's winner will be announced on August 1.

A stack of six books on a table

To take a closer look at the list, we've convened a literary cabal of The Book Show's Claire Nichols and Sarah L'Estrange, The Bookshelf's Kate Evans and book critic Declan Fry.

Surprises and themes

Sarah L'Estrange: It's no surprise to see Alexis Wright there!

A book cover showing a yellow stroke of paint against a painted black and grey background

But I'm surprised at the uniformity of the shortlist. Often there'll be a bit of a range of more literary and then maybe more populist fiction, like last year's list, whereas this shortlist is absolutely singing the praises of high literary fiction.

Kate Evans: It's noticeable how many of the books are from smaller publishers, who, arguably, are able to take more risks and play around with the form. The shortlisted books do play around with form and are a bit more experimental.

And that, to me, is exactly what the Miles Franklin should be. It's supposed to be looking at novels of the highest literary merit — that's in their actual guidelines — "that presents Australian life in any of its phases".

Claire Nichols: I was disappointed that Edenglassie by Melissa Lucashenko didn't make the shortlist.

It's interesting what Kate was saying about how it's a very literary list. But I would argue that it shouldn't have to be literary at the expense of heart.

I think the best novels can do both, like when Lukashenko won the Miles in 2019 for Too Much Lip or when Tara June Winch won a year later for The Yield . These books had high literary merit, but also had characters you could really connect with and straddled that popular/literary divide.

I'm struggling a bit with this list to find those stories that I just love in that way.

KE: Hear, hear on Edenglassie: I also would have liked to have seen Charlotte Wood's Stone Yard Devotional there. I like the cleanness of the writing and the exploration of grief, it was really beautifully done.

SL: If we're talking about books that have heart, that also explore ideas, I felt like Angela O'Keeffe's The Sitter was able to do that. I would have happily seen that on the shortlist.

It's not that I don't think these shortlisted books are worthy, but they haven't fired me up like last year's list. I was really excited for Limberlost last year, I really thought Robbie Arnott was gonna win, although he didn't. But part of why we invest in prizes is the excitement, the disagreements, and I don't feel that with this list.

Declan Fry: I feel it's one of the most exciting shortlists in ages. I think that, actually, a lot of the books have so much heart.

Anam by André Dao , I really love. It explores how we make sense of time and displacement, what we might retrieve from the past or choose to forget, incorporating this meta-fictional weaving of the narrator's life as a human rights lawyer raising a family against his Vietnamese grandfather's dissidence and his forebears' migration, all of which inform the shape of a book he is struggling to write.

A book cover showing a black and white photo, overlaid with orange, of a man wearing a tie and shirt, plus the title

It reminds me of Javier Marías ; it's about time and memory. But it's very much about family too.

And of course, Alexis Wright's Praiseworthy. What a family! You've got a father on a quixotic quest to reinvigorate his community with the help of a donkey-powered transportation conglomerate, a mother seeking repatriation to China, their son, a kind of representative of the town's hopes and yearnings and anxieties, and his fallen-angel brother, who believes he belongs with the blonde power brokers dealing bread and circuses up in Canberra.

Plus a cast of cruel, unjust, hypocritical and violent characters struggling against cruel, unjust, hypocritical and violent circumstances. A realist's view of colonisation if ever there was one, told in language that is roiling and choral and haranguing and acrobatic.

Wright is always willing to be paradoxical and contradictory, funny and serious, high and low, ridiculous and full of gravitas.

CN: Something that is really interesting in a lot of these books is how time is expressed.

The Bell of the World by Gregory Day book cover with an illustration of a persons face/bell

For instance, the set-up of Gregory Day's The Bell of the World is that there's this small community on the south coast of Victoria. And some people in the community want to install a bell to measure out the time of the day. There’s a young poet and her uncle who reject this idea — they’re much more interested in listening to the music of the world around them.

It's about the colonial imposition of time on the natural world — which is an idea Alexis Wright is grappling with, too.

KE: This list shows how we've obviously moved away from an old-fashioned Anglo idea of Australian-ness (which, to be fair, has long been the case with the Miles Franklin). The shortlist includes stories of exile and displacement and refugees and voices in translation.

That is something to celebrate: the way in which not just fiction itself, but that this prize in particular, is making us think about what our ideas of Australian-ness and representation are.

Scaling walls of text

DF : Jen Craig's Wall is another shortlisted work that has a lot of heart.

You have this fierce, passionate interiority, a Thomas Bernhard -type monologist-narrator attempting to make sense of her life and familial anguishes and displacements, set against the absurdist comedy of her attempt to dispose of the Song Dong -inspired art installation she's made using her deceased father's possessions.

The book cover of Wall by Jen Craig, a red background, with two white hands holding a black ball

It's really all about familial angst and the horror of mundane life — something we felt very strongly during and after COVID-19.

I've been listening to music like Brian Eno , Richard Skelton and Hekla and their music has no entry or exit. It just surrounds you, encloses you. I feel that with Wall, you can enter and exit at any point. So it's actually very easy to get lost in.

I think you have to let yourself go and give yourself up to these novels, which is really exciting.

SL: I could relate to many aspects of Wall, especially the narrator's internal monologue and the problem of what to do with the family home after her father's death.

But while I also agree you can come in and out of Wall, that's a bit of a problem for me. I don't want to go in and out, I want to stay in a book.

KE: Yes, with that literal wall of text in that book, it means you're reading in very particular ways.

And one of the things about the shortlist is they're all sort of hard work. I think they all take effort and there's nothing wrong with reading taking effort. But while I could get swept up in Dao's book, I've not yet managed to read The Bell of the World. For various personal reasons to do with timing, I was a bit daunted by it — but will, of course, read it.

DF: We have a lot of dialogue happening about Craig's Wall and it's funny because to be troubled by something or haunted by something, or unsure, suggests a book is successful on some level — it's staying with you.

The difficulty of a work can be a way of growing to love it.

It's a matter of staying with what the work is doing and reading differently: A block of text can be intimidating but, by the same token, sometimes work that reads like a screenplay can also be intimidating and off-putting.

Having said all of this, the language of Anam, Praiseworthy or Wall is very accessible.

KE: I'm not scared of difficult work or even blocky ones. But comparing Wall to other books that offered a block of text, such as (say) Paul Lynch's Booker Prize-winning Prophet Song, they invited me in more readily.

But on Wall: I liked it when I read it and then, rather than being excessively troubled by it, to be honest, it didn't stay with me. And yet on revisiting it, there were images and issues of fragments, objects, houses and memory that I really liked. Even so, for me, Anam was doing something more interesting.

SL: Hossein Asgari's Only Sound Remains is a book that will stay with me. It's a really beautiful book, about Iranian immigrants in Australia and their troubled ties to Iran.

Only Sound Remains by Hossein Asgari book cover with a white background, outline or forest and person walking

It's a story of obsession, father-son relationships and exile and is written in a confessional style, which parallels the subject of the book, a famous Iranian poet — Forough Farrokhzad — who died young, in the 1960s, and was known for baring her heart's deepest desires in her poetry.

It introduced me to a world I knew little about (I've read a lot about Iran post-1979 but not much in the decades before this major political change) and it also definitely has the heart Claire was talking about earlier, while engaging with politics, literature and religion.

CN: Sanya Rushdi's Hospital is also accessible, simple, slim and really compelling. It's a book in translation, translated from Bengali into English, which is a really cool moment for the shortlist.

A book cover showing an illustration of a crowd of people descending a staircase

It's also a very real story, a work of autofiction. Sanya is writing very directly about her own experience of psychosis. It's not histrionic, it's not like the stories we've read about mental illness in the past, it's coming from a very personal place.

OK, but who will win the 2024 Miles Franklin Award?

DF: As an author, you wouldn't want to be up against Wright when she has a novel like Praiseworthy in contention.

Wright's career reaches maybe an apex in Praiseworthy. It pulls together the form she nailed in Carpentaria [2007 Miles winner] with the non-fictional concerns of books like Tracker [2018 Stella Prize winner], and her ongoing project of cataloguing the dysfunctional nature of colonisation on this continent and the grievous effects it has on both the colonised and the coloniser.

CN: I have never got it right, but I will say I think Alexis Wright is going to win. It's literally twice the size of any other book on the shortlist, it's so hard to put anything next to it to compare it to. She's going for everything in Praiseworthy, which has already won this year's Stella Prize .

SL: Praiseworthy is kind of beyond a novel. I read it more as an incantation or epic that contains the universe. It's like Wright has consumed all the world's ills, injustices and absurdities and she's managed to put it all into this book.

CN: I do think it's important to note that Praiseworthy is a challenging book to read. And I don't think it's going to be a book for everybody. So while critics have loved it, I'm going to be interested to see how readers tackle it.

DF : Claire's right. It's a difficult work, and particularly some of the reflections on death and suicidal ideation and violence are, in a sense, a true block of text, a verbal scream or wall the reader has to confront.

KE: Alexis Wright is the obvious winner, which doesn't mean that she will win. I am not a gambler, I'm a terrible betting person. And I never get any of this right, just for the record.

DF: I would be very happy if Dao, Craig or Wright won.

SL: If it wasn't Alexis, I would be very happy for Anam to win because it is an interesting way of approaching your own broader biography, as in a family biography and ancestry, and how that shapes you, and how you then shape it.

KE: I would be quite delighted if Dao's Anam won. There's so many things I really like about that novel.

The Book Show will be airing interviews with all six shortlisted authors on Monday, July 22; and The Bookshelf will have a special review program on all shortlisted authors and the winner, on Saturday, August 10.

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Book Review: 'Loving Sylvia Plath' attends to polarizing writer's circumstances more than her work

A popular form of writing nowadays is one that involves reexamining the lives of people, often members of marginalized groups, who have otherwise been flattened or short-changed by history

A popular form of writing nowadays is one that involves reexamining the lives of people, often members of marginalized groups, who have otherwise been flattened or short-changed by history.

How has society’s assumptions or prejudices informed how a person is remembered, many authors are asking, and what information is available to us that may tell a more complete story?

These are the questions Emily Van Duyne, an associate professor at Stockton University, asks in “Loving Sylvia Plath: A Reclamation.”

In the wake of Plath’s death by suicide, her husband and fellow writer Ted Hughes constructed a narrative that he was the “stabilizing factor” in his wife’s life but that, in the end, even he couldn’t save her. But Van Duyne rejects any notion that Plath was a bad mother or merely a morbid poet. She maintains Plath ought to be remembered as a complicated woman, a formidable writer — one who outshined Hughes — and almost certainly a victim of domestic abuse.

This book is not, for the most part, a hermeneutic study or close reading of Plath’s writings. Rather, Van Duyne’s source material for this reclaimed portrait of Plath are her circumstances.

Van Duyne seeks to subvert Hughes’ narrative of Plath’s life and what drove her to end it. In the wake of #MeToo and cultural conversations about believing women, Van Duyne argues Plath’s story ought to be given a fresh look.

Those wanting a primer on reading Plath or a comprehensive biography should look elsewhere to the plethora of extant literature on the enigmatic literary giant. But “Loving Sylvia Plath: A Reclamation” should be seen as supplementary material for those seeking to better understand the circumstances surrounding her final years.

AP book reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/book-reviews

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Supreme Court Says Trump Has Some Immunity in Election Case

The ruling makes a distinction between official actions of a president, which have immunity, and those of a private citizen. In dissent, the court’s liberals lament a vast expansion of presidential power.

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  • July 1, 2024

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that former President Donald J. Trump is entitled to substantial immunity from prosecution on charges of trying to overturn the last election, a blockbuster decision in the heat of the 2024 campaign that vastly expanded presidential power.

The vote was 6 to 3, dividing along partisan lines. Its immediate practical effect will be to further complicate the case against Mr. Trump, with the chances that it will go before a jury ahead of the election now vanishingly remote and the charges against him, at a minimum, narrowed.

The decision amounted to a powerful statement by the court’s conservative majority that presidents should be insulated from the potential that actions they take in carrying out their official duties could later be used by political enemies to charge them with crimes.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said Mr. Trump had at least presumptive immunity for his official acts. He added that the trial judge must undertake an intensive factual review to separate official and unofficial conduct and to assess whether prosecutors can overcome the presumption protecting Mr. Trump for his official conduct.

If Mr. Trump prevails at the polls, the issue could become moot since he could order the Justice Department to drop the charges.

The liberal wing, in some of the harshest dissents ever filed by justices of the Supreme Court, said the majority had created a kind of king not answerable to the law.

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  • Literary Terms

Glossary of Literary Terms

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Also called “ action- adventure,” action is a genre of film, TV, literature, etc., in which the primary feature is the constant slam-bang of fights, chases, explosions, and clever one-liners. Action stories typically do not explore complex relationships between human beings or the subtleties of psychology and philosophy.

Ad hominem is Latin for “against the man,” and refers to the logical fallacy (error) of arguing that someone is incorrect because they are unattractive, immoral, weird, or any other bad thing you could say about them as a person.

An adage is a brief piece of wisdom in the form of short, philosophical, and memorable sayings. The adage expresses a well-known and simple truth in a few words.

Adventure (pronounced ad-ven-cher) was originally a Middle English word derived from the Old French aventure meaning “destiny,” “fate,” or “chance event.” Today, we define adventure as a remarkable or unexpected journey, experience, or event that a person participates in as a result of chance. This last detail, a result of chance , is a key element of adventure; the stories usually involve a character who is brought to the adventure by chance, and chance usually plays a large role in the episodes of the story. Also, adventures usually includes dangerous situations, narrow escapes, problems to be solved through intelligence and skill, exotic people and places, and brave deeds.

An allegory is a story within a story. It has a “surface story” and another story hidden underneath. For example, the surface story might be about two neighbors throwing rocks at each other’s homes, but the hidden story would be about war between countries.

  • Alliteration

In alliteration, words that begin with the same sound are placed close together. Although alliteration often involves repetition of letters, most importantly, it is a repetition of sounds.

Allusion is basically a reference to something else .  It’s when a writer mentions some other work, or refers to an earlier part of the current work. In literature, it’s frequently used to reference cultural works (e.g. by alluding to a Bible story or Greek myth).

Ambiguity is an idea or situation that can be understood in more than one way. This extends from ambiguous sentences (which could mean one thing or another) up to ambiguous storylines and ambiguous arguments .

  • Amplification

Amplification involves extending a sentence or phrase in order to further explain, emphasize, or exaggerate certain points of a definition, description, or argument.

An anagram is a type of word play in which the letters of a word or phrase are rearranged to create new words and phrases.

An analogy is a literary technique in which two unrelated objects are compared for their shared qualities. Unlike a simile or a metaphor, an analogy is not a figure of speech, though the three are often quite similar. Instead, analogies are strong rhetorical devices used to make rational arguments and support ideas by showing connections and comparisons between dissimilar things.

Anaphora is when a certain word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of clauses or sentences that follow each other. This repetition emphasizes the phrase while adding rhythm to the passage, making it more memorable and enjoyable to read.

An anecdote   is a very short story that is significant to the topic at hand; usually adding  personal knowledge or experience to the topic.

In a story, the antagonist is the opposite of the protagonist, or main character. Typically, this is a villain of some kind, but not always! It’s just the opponent of the main character, or someone who gets in their way.

Anthimeria (also known as antimeria) is the usage of a word in a new grammatical form, most often the usage of a noun as a verb.

  • Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is giving human traits or attributes to animals, inanimate objects, or other non-human things. It comes from the Greek words anthropo (human) and morph (form).

Antithesis literally means “opposite” – it is usually the opposite of a statement, concept, or idea. In literary analysis, an antithesis is a pair of statements or images in which the one reverses the other. The pair is written with similar grammatical structures to show more contrast.

  • Antonomasia

Antonomasia is a literary term in which a descriptive phrase replaces a person’s name. Antonomasia can range from lighthearted nicknames to epic names.

An aphorism is a short, concise statement of a general truth, insight, or good advice.  It’s roughly synonymous with “a saying.” Aphorisms often use metaphors or creative imagery to get their point across.

Aphorismus is a term in which the speaker questions whether a word is being used correctly to show disagreement. Aphorismus is often written as a rhetorical question such as “How can you call this music ?”to show the difference between the usual meaning of a word and how it is  being used. So, the point is to call attention to the qualities of the word, suggesting that how it is being used is not a good example of the word.

An apologia is a defense of one’s conduct or opinions. It’s related to our concept of “apology,” but in many cases it’s the precise opposite of an apology! When you apologize, you’re saying “I did the wrong thing, and I regret it.” But in an apologia, you’re defending yourself , either by saying that what you did wasn’t wrong or denying that you were responsible for what happened.

An apologue is a short story or fable which provides a simple moral lesson. Apologues are often told through the use of animal characters with symbolical elements.

In literature, aporia is an expression of insincere doubt. It’s when the writer or speaker pretends, briefly, not to know a key piece of information or not to understand a key connection. After raising this doubt, the author will either respond to the doubt, or leave it open in a suggestive or “hinting” manner.

  • Aposiopesis

Aposiopesis is when a sentence is purposefully left incomplete or cut off. It’s caused by an inability or unwillingness to continue speaking. This allows the ending to be filled in by the listener’s imagination.

Appositives are noun phrases that follow or precede another noun, and give more information about it.

An archaism is an old word or expression that is no longer used with its original meaning or is only used in specific studies or areas.

An archetype (ARK-uh-type) is an idea, symbol, pattern, or character-type, in a story. It’s any story element that appears again and again in stories from cultures around the world and symbolizes something universal in the human experience.

An argument is a work of persuasion. You use it to convince others to agree with your claim or viewpoint when they have doubts or disagree.

Assonance is the repetition of the same or similar vowel sounds within words, phrases, or sentences.

Asyndeton is skipping one or more conjunctions (and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet) which are usually used in a series of phrases. Asyndeton is also known as asyndetism.

  • Autobiography

An autobiography is a self-written life story.

Auto = self

Graph = print or written

It is different from a  biography , which is the life story of a person written by someone else. Some people may have their life story written by another person because they don’t believe they can write well, but they are still considered an author because they are providing the information.

Bathos is text that abruptly turns from serious and poetic, to regular and silly.

A buzzword is a word or phrase that has little meaning but becomes popular during a specific time.

Cacophony is the use of a combination of words with loud, harsh sounds—in reality as well as literature.  In literary studies, this combination of words with rough or unharmonious sounds are used for a noisy or jarring poetic effect. Cacophony is considered the opposite of euphony which is the use of beautiful, melodious-sounding words.

Caesura refers to a break or pause in the middle of a line of verse. It can be marked as || in the middle of the line, although generally it is not marked at all – it’s simply part of the way the reader or singer pronounces the line.

Catharsis,  meaning “cleansing” in Greek, refers to a literary theory first developed by the philosopher Aristotle, who believed that cleansing our emotions was the purpose of a good story, especially a tragedy. Catharsis applies to any form of art or media that makes us feel strong negative emotions, but that we are nonetheless drawn to – we may seek out art that creates these emotions because the experience purges the emotions from our system.

A character is a person, animal, being, creature, or thing in a story. Writers use characters to perform the actions and speak dialogue, moving the story along a plot line. A story can have only one character (protagonist) and still be a complete story.

Chiasmus comes from a Greek word meaning “crossed,” and it refers to a grammatical structure that inverts a previous phrase. That is, you say one thing, and then you say something very similar, but flipped around.

  • Circumlocution

Circumlocution means “talking around” or “talking in circles.” It’s when you want to discuss something, but don’t want to make any direct reference to it, so you create a way to get around the subject. The key to circumlocution is that the statement has to be unnecessarily long and complicated.

A cliché is a saying, image, or idea which has been used so much that it sounds terribly uncreative. The word “cliche” was originally French for the sound of a printing plate, which prints the same thing over and over.

Climax is the highest point of tension or drama in a narrative’s plot. Often, climax is also when the main problem of the story is faced and solved by the main character or protagonist.

Coherence describes the way anything, such as an argument (or part of an argument) “hangs together.”  If something has coherence, its parts are well-connected and all heading in the same direction. Without coherence, a discussion may not make sense or may be difficult for the audience to follow. It’s an extremely important quality of formal writing.

  • Connotation

A connotation is a common feeling or association that a word has, in addition to its literal meaning (the denotation). Often, a series of words can have the same basic definitions, but completely different connotations—these are the emotions or meanings implied by a word, phrase, or thing.

Consonance is when the same consonant sound appears repeatedly in a line or sentence, creating a rhythmic effect.

A conundrum is a difficult problem, one that is impossible or almost impossible to solve. It’s an extremely broad term that covers any number of different types of situations, from moral dilemmas to riddles .

Comedy is a broad genre of film, television, and literature in which the goal is to make an audience laugh. It exists in every culture on earth (though the specifics of comedy can be very different from one culture to another), and has always been an extremely popular genre of storytelling.

Denotation is a word’ or thing’s “dictionary defintion”, i.e. its literal meaning.

The denouement is the very end of a story, the part where all the different plotlines are finally tied up and all remaining questions answered.

  • Deus ex machina

Deus ex machina is Latin for “a god from the machine.” It’s when some new character, force, or event suddenly shows up to solve a seemingly hopeless situation. The effect is usually much too abrupt, and it’s often disappointing for audiences.

Diacope is when a writer repeats a word or phrase with one or more words in between. A common and persistent example of diacope is Hamlet’s  “ To be , or not to be !”

Dialogue means “conversation.” In the broadest sense, this includes any case of two or more characters speaking to each other directly. But it also has a narrower definition, called the dialogue form . The dialogue form is the use of a sustained dialogue to express an argument or idea.

Diction refers to word choice and phrasing in any written or spoken text. Many authors can be said to have their own “diction,” because they tend to use certain words more than others or phrase things in a unique way.

  • Doppelganger

Doppelganger is a twin or double of some character, usually in the form of an evil twin . They sometimes impersonate a main character or cause confusion among the love interests.

Drama has two very different meanings. In modern pop culture, it means a genre of film or television that deals with serious, often negative, emotions. It’s the opposite of comedy, which is just for laughs. Drama refers only to film and television, not novels or other purely written art forms.

A dystopia is a horrible place where everything has gone wrong. Whereas utopia means a perfect paradise, dystopia means exactly the opposite.

Enjambment is continuing a line after the line breaks. Whereas many poems end lines with the natural pause at the end of a phrase or with punctuation as end-stopped lines, enjambment ends a line in the middle of a phrase, allowing it to continue onto the next line as an enjambed line.

An enthymeme is a kind of syllogism , or logical deduction, in which one of the premises is unstated.

An epigram is a short but insightful statement, often in verse form, which communicates a thought in a witty, paradoxical, or funny way.

An epiphany is an “Aha!” moment. As a literary device, epiphany is the moment when a character is suddenly struck with a life-changing, enlightening revelation or realization which changes his or her perspective for the rest of the story.

Epistrophe is when a certain phrase or word is repeated at the end of sentences or clauses that follow each other. This repetition creates a rhythm while emphasizing the repeated phrase. Epistrophe is also known as epiphora and antistrophe.

An epitaph is a short statement about a deceased person, often carved on his/her tombstone. Epitaphs can be poetic, sometimes written by poets or authors themselves before dying.

An Epithet is a glorified nickname. Traditionally, it replaces the name of a person and often describes them in some way.

An eponym refers to a person or thing after which something else is named. A person or thing’s name can come to be associated with the name of another character, person, product, object, activity, or even a discovery.

  • Equivocation

Commonly known as “doublespeak,” equivocation is the use of vague language to hide one’s meaning or to avoid committing to a point of view.

An essay is a form of writing in paragraph form that uses informal language, although it can be written formally. Essays may be written in first-person point of view (I, ours, mine), but third-person (people, he, she) is preferable in most academic essays.

Etymology is the investigation of word histories. Every word in every language has a unique origin and history; words can be born in many ways, and often their histories are quite adventurous and informative. Etymology investigates and documents the lives (mainly the origins) of words.

A euphemism is a polite, mild phrase that we substitute for a harsher, blunter way of saying something uncomfortable.

An excursus is a moment where a text moves away from its main topic – it’s roughly similar to “digression.”

Exemplum is just Latin for “example.” And that’s all it is. It’s an example, story, or anecdote used to demonstrate a point.

The exposition of a story is the first paragraph or paragraphs in which the characters, setting (time and place), and basic information is introduced.

  • Extended Metaphor

An extended metaphor is a metaphor that is developed in some detail by being used in more than one phrase, from a sentence or a paragraph, to encompassing an entire work.

A fairy tale is a story, often intended for children, that features fanciful and wondrous characters such as elves, goblins, wizards, and even, but not necessarily, fairies. The term “fairy” tale seems to refer more to the fantastic and magical setting or magical influences within a story, rather than the presence of the character of a fairy within that story.

In literature, a fable (pronounced fey-buh l) is a short fictional story that has a moral or teaches a lesson. Fables use humanized animals, objects, or parts of nature as main characters, and are therefore considered to be a sub-genre of fantasy.

Fantasy, from the Greek ϕαντασία  meaning ‘making visible,’ is a genre of fiction that concentrates on imaginary elements (the fantastic). This can mean magic, the supernatural, alternate worlds, superheroes, monsters, fairies, magical creatures, mythological heroes—essentially, anything that an author can imagine outside of reality.

A farce is a comedy in which everything is absolutely absurd. This usually involves some kind of deception or miscommunication.

  • Figures of Speech

A figure of speech is a word or phrase using figurative language—language that has other meaning than its normal definition. In other words, figures of speeches rely on implied or suggested meaning, rather than a dictionary definition.

Flashback is a device that moves an audience from the present moment in a chronological narrative to a scene in the past.

Folklore refers to the tales people tell – folk stories, fairy tales, “tall tales,” and even urban legends . Folklore is typically passed down by word of mouth, rather than being written in books. The key here is that folklore has no author – it just emerges from the culture and is carried forward by constant retelling.

  • Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing gives the audience hints or signs about the future. It suggests what is to come through imagery, language, and/or symbolism.

A genre is a category of literature identified by form, content, and style. Genres allow literary critics and students to classify compositions within the larger canon of literature.

A haiku is a specific type of Japanese poem which has 17 syllables divided into three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Haikus or haiku are typically written on the subject of nature.

Hamartia is the tragic flaw or error that reverses a protagonist’s fortune from good to bad.

Homophone is when two or more words have the same sound, but different meanings. They may be spelled the same or differently.

In literature, horror is a genre of fiction whose purpose is to create feelings of fear, dread, repulsion, and terror in the audience—in other words, it develops an atmosphere of horror.

Hyperbaton is a figure of speech in which the typical, natural order of words is changed as certain words are moved out of order.

Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which an author or speaker purposely and obviously exaggerates to an extreme. It is used for emphasis or as a way of making a description more creative and humorous.

An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning different from the words used. In this sense, idiom is pretty much synonymous with “figure of speech,” though with a slightly narrower definition: an idiom is part of the language.

Imagery is language used to create images in the mind of the reader. Imagery includes figurative and metaphorical language to improve the reader’s experience through their senses.

An innuendo is when you say something which is polite and innocent on the surface, but indirectly hints at an insult or rude comment,  a dirty joke, or even social or political criticism.

  • Intertextuality

Intertextuality is a fact about literary texts – the fact that they are all intimately interconnected. Every text is affected by all the texts that came before it, since those texts influenced the author’s thinking and aesthetic choices.

Invective is the literary device in which one attacks or insults a person or thing through the use of abusive language and tone.

Irony is when there are two contradicting meanings of the same situation, event, image, sentence, phrase, or story.  In many cases, this refers to the difference between expectations and reality.

Jargon is the specific type of language used by a particular group or profession.

  • Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is the placement of two or more things side by side, often in order to bring out their differences.

Kairos in Ancient Greek meant “time” – but it wasn’t just any time. It was exactly the right time to say or do a particular thing.  In modern rhetoric, it refers to making exactly the right statement at exactly the right moment.

A limerick is a five-line poem with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA, lines 1,2, and 5 rhyme together, while lines 3 and 4 rhymes togther) and a reasonably strict meter (anapestic triameter for lines 1, 2, and 5; anapestic diameter for lines 3 and 4). Limericks are almost always used for comedy, and it’s usually pretty rude comedy at that – they deal with bodily functions, etc., and could be considered “toilet humor.”

Lingo is language or vocabulary that is specific to a certain subject, group of people, or region; including slang and jargon. The term lingo is relatively vague—it can mean any type of nonstandard language, and varies between professions, age groups, sexes, nationalities, ethnicities, location, and so on.

  • Literary Device

In literature, any technique used to help the author achieve his or her purpose is called a literary device .

Litotes is an understatement in which a positive statement is expressed by negating its opposite. The classic example of litotes is the phrase “not bad.” By negating the word “bad,” you’re saying that something is good, or at least OK.

  • Malapropism

Malapropisms are incorrect words used in place of correct words; these can be unintentional or intentional, but both cases have a comedic effect.

A maxim is a brief statement that contains a little piece of wisdom or a general rule of behavior.

Metanoia is a self-correction. It’s when a writer or speaker deliberately goes back and modifies a statement that they just made, usually either to strengthen it or soften it in some way.

A metaphor is a common figure of speech that makes a comparison by directly relating one thing to another unrelated thing (though these things may share some similarities).

Unlike similes, metaphors do not use words such as “like” or “as” to make comparisons.

Metonymy is a figure of speech that replaces words with related or associated words.  A metonym is typically a part of a larger whole, for example, when we say “wheels,” we are figuratively referring to a “car” and not literally only the wheels.

A mnemonic, also known as a memory aid, is a tool that helps you remember an idea or phrase with a pattern of letters, numbers, or relatable associations.  Mnemonic devices include special rhymes and poems, acronyms, images, songs, outlines, and other tools.

A monologue is a speech given by a single character in a story.

A motif is a symbolic image or idea that appears frequently in a story. Motifs can be symbols , sounds, actions, ideas, or words.

Mystery is a genre of literature whose stories focus on a mysterious crime, situation or circumstance that needs to be solved.

A narrative is a story. The term can be used as a noun or an adjective. As a noun, narrative refers to the story being told. As an adjective, it describes the form or style of the story being told.

A nemesis is an enemy, often a villain. A character’s nemesis isn’t just any ordinary enemy, though – the nemesis is the ultimate enemy, the arch-foe that overshadows all the others in power or importance.

Neologism is new word or phrase that is not yet used regularly by most speakers and writers.

In the strict definition, an ode is a classical poem that has a specific structure and is aimed at an object or person.  In the loose definition, an ode is any work of art or literature that expresses high praise.

  • Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia refers to words whose pronunciations imitate the sounds they describe.  A dog’s bark sounds like “woof,” so “woof” is an example of onomatopoeia.

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that puts together opposite elements. The combination of these contradicting elements serves to reveal a paradox, confuse, or give the reader a laugh.

A palindrome is a type of word play in which a word or phrase spelled forward is the same word or phrase spelled backward.

A parable is a short story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.

A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself, or that must be both true and untrue at the same time.

  • Parallelism

Parallelism, also known as parallel structure, is when phrases in a sentence have similar or the same grammatical structure.

A paraphrase is a restatement or rewording of text in order to borrow, clarify, or expand on information without plagiarizing.

A parody is a work that’s created by imitating an existing original work in order to make fun of or comment on an aspect of the original.

Pastiche is a creative work that imitates another author or genre. It’s a way of paying homage , or honor, to great works of the past.

  • Pathetic Fallacy

The pathetic fallacy is a figure of speech in which the natural world (or some part of it) is treated as though it had human emotions.

Peripeteia is a sudden change in a story which results in a negative reversal of circumstances. Peripeteia is also known as the turning point, the place in which the tragic protagonist’s fortune changes from good to bad.

Persona can refer to the characters in any dramatic or literary work.  But it has another special meaning in literary studies, where it refers to the voice of a particular kind of character—the character who is also the narrator within a literary work written from the first-person point of view.

  • Personification

Personification is a kind of metaphor in which you describe an inanimate object, abstract thing, or non-human animal in human terms.

Plagiarism is the act of using someone else’s ideas, words, or thoughts as your own, without giving credit to the other person. When you give credit to the original author (by giving the person’s name, name of the article, and where it was posted or printed), you are citing the source.

A platitude repeats obvious, simple, and easily understood statements that have little meaning or emotional weight.

A pleonasm is when one uses too many words to express a message. A pleonasm can either be a mistake or a tool for emphasis.

In a narrative or creative writing, a plot is the sequence of events that make up a story, whether it”s told, written, filmed, or sung. The plot is the story, and more specifically, how the story develops, unfolds, and moves in time.

Poetry is a type of literature based on the interplay of words and rhythm. It often employs rhyme and meter (a set of rules governing the number and arrangement of syllables in each line). In poetry, words are strung together to form sounds, images, and ideas that might be too complex or abstract to describe directly.

Polyptoton is the repetition of a root word in a variety of ways , such as the words “enjoy” and “enjoyable.” Polyptoton is a unique form of wordplay that provides the sentence with repetition in sound and rhythm.

A prologue is a short introductory section that gives background information or sets the stage for the story to come.

Prose is just non-verse writing. Pretty much anything other than poetry counts as prose.

  • Protagonist

Protagonist is just another word for “main character.” The story circles around this character’s experiences, and the audience is invited to see the world from his or her perspective.

A proverb is a short saying or piece of folk wisdom that emerges from the general culture rather than being written by a single, individual author.

A pun is a joke based on the interplay of homophones — words with the same pronunciation but different meanings.

A quest is a journey that someone takes in order to achieve a goal or complete an important task. Accordingly, the term comes from the Medieval Latin questa, meaning “search” or “inquiry.”

A rebus is a code or reference where pictures, letters, or symbols represent certain words or phrases. Perhaps the simplest and most common rebus in use today is “IOU” for “I owe you.”

  • Red Herring

A red herring is a misleading clue. It’s a trick used by storytellers to keep the reader guessing about what’s really going on.

Quite simply, repetition is the repeating of a word or phrase. It is a common rhetorical device used to add emphasis and stress in writing and speech.

The resolution, also known as the denouement, is the conclusion of the story’s plot structure where any unanswered questions are answered, or “loose ends are tied.”

Rhetoric is the ancient art of persuasion, in the broadest sense. It is the way you present and make your views convincing or attractive to your audience.

  • Rhetorical Device

A rhetorical device is any way of using language that helps an author or speaker achieve a particular purpose. Usually, the purpose is persuasion , since rhetoric is typically defined as the art of persuasion.

  • Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is a question that is not asked in order to receive an answer, but rather just to make a point.

In the strictest academic terms, a romance is a narrative genre in literature that involves a mysterious, adventurous, or spiritual a story line where the focus is on a quest that involves bravery and strong values, not a love interest. However, modern definitions of romance also include stories that have a relationship issue as the main focus.

Sarcasm is a form of verbal irony that mocks, ridicules, or expresses contempt. You’re saying the opposite of what you mean (verbal irony) and doing it in a particularly hostile tone.

The formal definition of satire is “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices.” It’s an extremely broad category.

  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that somehow causes itself to come true. The characters may try to prevent their fate, but in the end their actions simply cause that fate to come about.

Setting is the time and place (or when and where) of the story. It may also include the environment of the story, which can be made up of the physical location, climate, weather, or social and cultural surroundings.

A simile is a literary term where you use “like” or “as” to compare two different things, implying that they have some quality in common.

A soliloquy is a kind of monologue , or an extended speech by one character. In a soliloquy, though, the speech is not given to another character, and there is no one around to hear it.

A sonnet is a fourteen line poem with a fixed rhyme scheme. Often, sonnets use iambic pentameter: five sets of unstressed syllables followed by stressed syllables for a ten-syllable line.

In poetry, a stanza is a dividing and organizing technique which places a group of lines in a poem together, separated from other groups of lines by line spacing or indentation. There are many important pieces that together make up a writer’s style; like tone, word choice, grammar, language, descriptive technique, and so on.

Style is the way in which an author writes and/or tells a story. It’s what sets one author apart from another and creates the “voice” that audiences hear when they read.

The subtext is the unspoken or less obvious meaning or message in a literary composition, drama, speech, or conversation.

Surrealism is a literary and artistic movement in which the goal is to create something bizarre and disjointed, but still somehow understandable.

A symbol is any image or thing that stands for something else. It could be as simple as a letter, which is a symbol for a given sound (or set of sounds).

A synecdoche is figure of speech which allows a part of something to stand for a whole, or the whole to stand for a part.

A synonym is a word that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. When words or phrases have the same meaning, we say that they are synonymous of each other.

A synopsis is a brief summary that gives audiences an idea of what a composition is about. It provides an overview of the storyline or main points and other defining factors of the work, which may include style, genre, persons or characters of note, setting, and so on.

Tautology is defining or explaining something by saying exactly the same thing again in different words.

Theme is the central idea, topic, or point of a story, essay, or narrative.

A thriller is a genre of literature, film, and television whose primary feature is that it induces strong feelings of excitement, anxiety, tension, suspense, fear, and other similar emotions in its readers or viewers—in other words, media that thrills the audience.

A thesis is the main argument or point of view of an essay, nonfiction piece or narrative—not just the topic of the writing, but the main claim that the author is making about that topic.

Tone refers to the “feel” of a piece of writing. It’s any or all of the stylistic qualities of the writing, such as formality, dialect, and atmosphere.

The word trope can refer to any type of figure of speech, theme, image, character, or plot element that is used many times.  Any kind of literary device or any specific example can be a trope.

  • Understatement

Understatement is when a writer presents a situation or thing as if it is less important or serious than it is in reality.

Utopia is a paradise. A perfect society in which everything works and everyone is happy – or at least is supposed to be.

  • Verisimilitude

Verisimilitude simply means ‘the quality of resembling reality’ and a work of art, or any part of a work of art, has verisimilitude if it seems believably realistic. A verisimilitudinous story has details, subjects, and characters that seem similar or true to real life.

A villain is the bad guy, the one who comes up with diabolical plots to somehow cause harm or ruin. It is one of the archetype characters in many stories.

Wit is a biting or insightful kind of humor. It includes sharp comebacks, clever banter, and dry, one-line jokes. It is often cynical or insulting, which is what provides it with its characteristic sharpness.

Zeugma is when you use a word in a sentence once, while conveying two different meanings at the same time.

List of Terms

  • Anachronism
  • APA Citation
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Deuteragonist
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Flash-forward
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Science Fiction
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Urban Legend
  • Essay Guide
  • Cite This Website

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  2. Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic (FULL Audiobook)

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COMMENTS

  1. Essay: Definition and Examples

    Essays do not require research as most academic reports and papers do; however, they should cite any literary works that are used within the paper. When thinking of essays, we normally think of the five-paragraph essay: Paragraph 1 is the introduction, paragraphs 2-4 are the body covering three main ideas, and paragraph 5 is the conclusion.

  2. Essay in Literature: Definition & Examples

    An essay (ES-ey) is a nonfiction composition that explores a concept, argument, idea, or opinion from the personal perspective of the writer. Essays are usually a few pages, but they can also be book-length. Unlike other forms of nonfiction writing, like textbooks or biographies, an essay doesn't inherently require research. Literary essayists are conveying ideas in a more informal way.

  3. Essay

    Definition of Essay. Essay is derived from the French word essayer, which means "to attempt," or "to try."An essay is a short form of literary composition based on a single subject matter, and often gives the personal opinion of the author. A famous English essayist, Aldous Huxley defines essays as, "a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything.

  4. Essay

    essay, an analytic, interpretative, or critical literary composition usually much shorter and less systematic and formal than a dissertation or thesis and usually dealing with its subject from a limited and often personal point of view. Some early treatises—such as those of Cicero on the pleasantness of old age or on the art of "divination ...

  5. Essay Examples and Definition

    Definition of Essay An essay is a short piece writing, either formal or informal, which expresses the author's argument about a particular subject. A formal essay has a serious purpose and highly structured organization, while an informal essay may contain humor, personal recollections and anecdotes, and any sort of organization or form which ...

  6. How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

    A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis, nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.

  7. Essay

    He notes that "the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything", and adds that "by tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece". Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference".

  8. Guide to Literary Terms Essay

    Essay. Last Updated May 25, 2023. An essay is a short work in which the writer discusses a particular subject. Essays are generally works of prose in which writers share information or perspective ...

  9. Essay Guide

    Persuasive Essay. A persuasive essay takes a point of view on an issue and tries to convince the audience to agree with the stated point of view. 2. Narrative Essay. By definition, a narrative is a series of connected events - in other words, a story. An essay is a piece of writing that focuses on a specific topic.

  10. The 31 Literary Devices You Must Know

    Example: One of the most famous literary examples of juxtaposition is the opening passage from Charles Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope ...

  11. Literary Terms

    eNotes provides 141 guides to literary terms, including the definition and usage of each term, and examples of how different literary terms are used in famous works of writing. eNotes also houses ...

  12. Literary Terms: Definition and Examples of Literary Terms

    Literary terms refer to the technique, style, and formatting used by writers and speakers to masterfully emphasize, embellish, or strengthen their compositions. Literary terms can refer to playful techniques employed by comedians to make us laugh or witty tricks wordsmiths use to coin new words or phrases. They can also include the tools of ...

  13. Examples and Definition of Argumentative Essay

    Definition of Argumentative Essay. An argumentative essay is a type of essay that presents arguments about both sides of an issue. It could be that both sides are presented equally balanced, or it could be that one side is presented more forcefully than the other. It all depends on the writer, and what side he supports the most.

  14. Literary Terms

    Literary Terms. Included below is a list of literary terms that can help you interpret, critique, and respond to a variety of different written works. This list is by no means comprehensive, but instead offers a primer to the language frequently used by scholars and students researching literary works. This list and the terms included in it can ...

  15. Literary Devices and Terms

    Literary Devices & Terms. Literary devices and terms are the techniques and elements—from figures of speech to narrative devices to poetic meters—that writers use to create narrative literature, poetry, speeches, or any other form of writing. All.

  16. What is Literary Writing?

    The term 'literary writing' calls to mind works by writers such as Shakespeare, Milton, or Wordsworth; definitive examples of all that the term implies. We instinctively associate the term with characteristics such as artistic merit, creative genius, and the expression of mankind's noblest qualities. In this essay I will explore some of the ...

  17. Glossary of literary terms

    Literature. This glossary of literary terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts used in the discussion, classification, analysis, and criticism of all types of literature, such as poetry, novels, and picture books, as well as of grammar, syntax, and language techniques. For a more complete glossary of terms relating to poetry in ...

  18. Finding the Glow Within: What Biology and Fiction Writing Have In

    Biology is the study of life—of finding unusual beauty in the ordinary. So, too, is writing.Article continues below Why do we find glowing lights pretty? From natural occurrences like fireflies and bioluminescent ocean waves, to manmade ones like holiday lights and sprawling evening cityscapes, there is an allure in all the sparkle, glitter, glow.

  19. Descriptive Essay

    A descriptive essay is an essay that describes something - an object or person, an event or place, an experience or emotion, or an idea. The goal of this kind of essay is to provide readers with enough detailed descriptions for them to be able to picture or imagine the chosen topic. II. Examples of Descriptive Essays.

  20. Alice Munro: Literary World Rocked by Daughter's Abuse Revelation

    T ributes flowed in from across the literary world after the death in May at age 92 of Nobel Prize-winning Canadian writer Alice Munro, who is credited with perfecting the contemporary short story ...

  21. Supreme Court Chevron decision: What it means for federal regulations

    Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said federal judges "must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority." The ruling does not call into question prior cases that relied on the Chevron doctrine, Roberts wrote.

  22. Miles Franklin Literary Award 2024 shortlist: Book experts on the

    The shortlist for the 2024 Miles Franklin Literary Award has now been announced, with six authors selected from the longlist to vie for Australia's most prestigious literary award. Key facts

  23. Book Review: 'Loving Sylvia Plath' attends to polarizing writer's

    A popular form of writing nowadays is one that involves re-examining the lives of people, often members of marginalized groups, who have otherwise been flattened or short-changed by history

  24. Narrative Essay

    By definition, a narrative is a series of connected events - in other words, a story. An essay is a piece of writing that focuses on a specific topic. So, a narrative essay is a piece of writing that focuses on a particular story. In practice, a narrative essay is a story about a personal experience. These essays examine how certain events ...

  25. The Enormous Risks a Second Trump Term Poses to Our Economy

    Mr. Rubin is a senior counselor to Centerview Partners and was the U.S. Treasury secretary from 1995 to 1999. Mr. Chenault is the chairman and managing director of General Catalyst and a former ...

  26. Opinion

    Dr. Bedard is a physician and writes about medicine and criminal justice. Last week, President Biden tried to acknowledge and mitigate concerns about his capacity to stay on in the most important ...

  27. Thesis: Definition and Examples

    Clear definition and great examples of Thesis. This article will show you the importance of Thesis and how to use it. The thesis, also known as a thesis statement, is the sentence that introduces the main argument or point of view of a composition (formal essay, nonfiction piece, or narrative). ... For examples of theses in literature, consider ...

  28. Supreme Court Says Trump Has Some Immunity in Election Case

    The ruling makes a distinction between official actions of a president, which have immunity, and those of a private citizen. In dissent, the court's liberals lament a vast expansion of ...

  29. Glossary of Literary Terms

    An essay is a form of writing in paragraph form that uses informal language, although it can be written formally. Essays may be written in first-person point of view (I, ours, mine), but third-person (people, he, she) is preferable in most academic essays. Etymology. Etymology is the investigation of word histories. Every word in every language ...