In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus’s conflicts with Polyphemus, Scylla and Charybdis, and the suitors are all external.
In W.D. Wetherell’s “The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant,” the narrator is torn between reeling in a fish (and losing the potential affections of Sheila) and letting it go (and losing the catch of a lifetime), causing an internal conflict.
Connotation—the implications, inferences, or suggestive power of words, phrases, or figures of speech
The word din suggests noise that does not let up, to the point of being maddening or
deafening. Elie Wiesel, from NIGHT
Consonance—The use at the end of verses of words in which the final consonant in the stressed syllable
agree but the vowels that precede them differ.
… like a pair of thick socks... Jimmy Santiago Baca, “I Am Offering This Poem”
Denotation—the exact or dictionary meaning of a word without its emotional or suggestive associations
The denotation of the word politician is one who is professionally engaged in politics.
Description—a portrait, in words, of a person, place, or object. Descriptive writing use images that appeal to
the five senses.
The last graveyard flowers were blooming, and their smell drifted across the cotton field and
through every room of our house, speaking softly the names of our dead. James Hurst,
“The Scarlet Ibis”
Dialect—a form of language spoken by people in a particular region or group. Dialects differ in pronunciations,
grammar, and word choice. Writers use dialect to make their characters seem realistic.
The following lines from “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns make use of Scottish dialect:
Till a’ seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun!
Dialogue—the conversation between people in poetry, plays, and stories. It is a basic source of the study of
characters and of an author’s style. Although important in all types of literature, dialogue is
perhaps most crucial in drama.
Diction—the choice and arrangement of words in phrases and images or in larger units such as poetic lines
and sentences. Poetic diction has been interpreted as the use of artificial and specialized language
for the purpose of distinguishing poetry from prose or ordinary speech.
Exposition—The exposition is the portion of the story which reveals important character background, setting,
and initial conflict information.
Figurative Language (figures of speech)—writing or speech that is not meant to be taken literally. The many
types of figurative language include metaphor, simile, and
He ran like a hare down the street.
Figurative meaning—is the suggested by the connotations of words and by the images employed by an
Flashback—is a scene in a short story, novel, play, or narrative poem that interrupts the action to show an
event that happened earlier.
In “And Sarah Laughed,” the author Joanne Greenberg uses flashback when she relates Sarah’s memory of the day she first discovered that her baby was unable to hear.
Foreshadowing—is the author’s use of clues to hint at what might happen next in the story. It is used to build
the reader’s sense of expectations or to create suspense.
In Gerald Haslam’s “The Horned Toad,” the death of the toad and its burial in its natural environment foreshadow the death and burial of Grandma in the open country where she’d spent most of her life.
Hyperbole—A figure of speech in which conscious exaggeration is used without the intent of literal
persuasion. It may be used to heighten effect, or it may be used to produce comic effect.
Exaggeration or overstatement of an idea, attitude, emotion, or detail in a literary work.
“A hundred strong men strained beneath his coffin.” “The Funeral,” Gordon Parks
Idiom—an expression whose meaning is different from the sum of the meanings of its individual words.
Burning the midnight oil means “staying up late ar night.”
Imagery—Words and phrases create vivid sensory experiences for the reader. Though sight imagery is most
common, imagery may appeal to any of the senses. Good writers often attempt to appeal to
Robert Lowell “Our Lady of Walsingham”
There once the penitents took off their shoes
And then waked barefoot the remaining mile;
And the small tress, a stream and hedgerows file
Slowly along the munching English lane,
Like cows to the old shrine, until you lose
Track of your dragging pain.
The stream flows down under the druid tree,
Shiloah’s whirlpools gurgle and make glad
The castle of God.
Irony—the general name given to literary techniques that involve surprising, interesting, or amusing
1—verbal irony—words are used to suggest the opposite of their usual meanings.
2—dramatic irony—there is a contradiction between what a character thinks and what the
Protagonist—The protagonist is the character in opposition to the antagonist, the chief character in a drama
or work of fiction.
Pun—a play on the meaning of words.
coals, colliers, choler, collar from ACT I, scene 1. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Refrain—Refrain is a group of words forming a phrase or a sentence and consisting of one or more lines
repeated at intervals in a poem, usually at the end of a stanza.
Sir Thomas Wyatt—
Disdain me not without desert,
Nor leave me not so suddenly;
Since well ye wot that in my heart
I mean ye not but honestly.
Disdain me not.
Refuse me not without cause why,
Nor think me not to be unjust;
Since that by lot of fantasy
This careful knot need knit I must.
Refuse me not…
Repetition—the use, more than once, of any element of language—a sound, word, phrase, clause, or
Rhetoric—describes the principles governing the art of writing effectively, eloquently, and persuasively
Rhetorical Devices—the skill of using spoken or written communication effectively; the art of guiding the
reader or listener to agreement with the writer or speaker.
1—analogy—making clear a concept or idea by showing its similar to a more familiar
2—analysis of cause—identifying the forces responsible for an effect.
3—alternatives—considering of other options.
4—appeal—an address to the audience usually through the pronoun YOU or WE used
to link the speaker or writer to listener or reader.
5—assertion—to suggest for consideration as true or possible.
6—antithesis—a statement of purpose opposed to an earlier assertion or thesis.
7—anticipate an objection—to anticipate an objection, addressing it before anyone
else can raise the objection.
8—ad hominem—to attack another person’s argument as weak because of a human
falling that is not logically part of the argument.
9—ad misericordiam—an appeal for sympathy.
10—ad populum—appeal to the crowd.
11—ad vericundiam—an appeal to authority.
12—composition—arguing that a group must have the same qualities or characteristics
as its members.
13—concession—an acknowledgment of objections to a proposal.
14—consequences of events—listing or indicating what resulted from a particular
event or condition.
15—contradictory premises—the main premises contradict each other.
16—correction of erroneous views of statement—pointing out where another
person’s observations need
modification or correction.
17—corrective measures—proposing measures to eliminate undesirable conditions.
18—description—the enumeration of characteristics of objects that belong to the same
19—definition—to define a concept like “excessive violence” to help resolve a question
by narrowing or clarifying meaning.
20—deduction—arguing from a general point to a particular point or application.
21—direct address—to speak to directly, remove any separation between speaker and
22—division—arguing that an individual must have the same qualities or characteristics
of the group.
23—dicto simpliciter—an argument based on n unqualified generalization.
24—either/or fallacy—requires absolutes which do not allow for intermediate cases;
very clear statements or choices.
25—emotional appeal—a speaker’s or writer’s effort to engage feelings in the audience
26—equivocation—using the same term with a different meaning in the same
27—extended metaphor—a protracted metaphor which makes a series of parallel
comparisons throughout the speech or writing.
28—false analogy—wrongful comparisons of dissimilar situations, conditions, or events.
29—faulty dilemma—the major premise presents a choice that does not exhaust the
30—guilt or innocence by association—providing examples that prove the guilt or
innocence of a person based on his/her
actions, beliefs, or motivations.
31—hypothesis contrary to the fact—beginning with a premise that is not necessarily
true and then drawing conclusions from it.
32—inquiry as introduction—setting an essay in motion by raising a question and
suggesting that the answer may be interesting or
33—illustration of ways to correct a condition—create specific examples to correct a
condition or situation and give very
clear, concise details.
34—non-sequitur—the conclusion does not follow in logic from the preceding
35—over generalizing or hasty generalization—too few or too many instances are
presented to reach an accurate
36—premise and the common ground—the terms of the premise must be accepted as
true by the reader or the audience.
37—rebuttal—final opposition to an assertion; disprove or refute the ideas or opinions of
38—reduce to the absurd—to show the foolishness of an argument by taking the
argument to its logical conclusion.
39—rhetorical question—to ask a question of an audience or reader to engage them
without having a response from the audience or reader.
40—self-evident truth—proceeding from an unwarranted assumption to a foregone
conclusion (time is money)
41—specious reasoning—having only apparent logic; not truly logical but presented to
be as such.
42—thesis—a statement of purpose or intent.
43—under/over statement—to say considerably more or less than a condition
warrants; usually applied for ironic or unexpected contrast.
Rhetorical Shift—a shift from tone, attitude, etc. Some signal words for a shift include: however, but, even
and personal disapproval is given. Sarcasm is personal, jeering, intended to hurt, and is intended
as a sneering taunt.
Sensory Language—writing or speech that appeals to one or more of the five senses.
Setting—the time and place of the action. The setting includes all the details of a place and time—the year,
the time of day, even the weather. The place may be a specific country, state, region, community,
neighborhood, building, institution, or home. Details such as dialect, clothing, customs, and modes of
transportation are often used to establish the setting.
Shift—a change in tone, mood, setting, or characterization that affects the movement of the selection.
Simile---a comparison between two unlike things using the words like or as
The rugby ball was like a giant egg, which he held carefully while he ran.
Speaker—the imaginary voice assumed by the writer of a poem.
Stanza—a group of poetic lines arranged into a pattern generally suggested by a rhyme scheme. Stanzas are
roughly the equivalent of paragraphs in prose.
Stream of consciousness---an author’s representation of the flow of inner thoughts, feelings, and memories
of a character, regardless of logical order and transitions. This approach is
based on the assumption that our half-conscious and even conscious thoughts
and feeling do not come to us in neat patterns or in carefully constructed plots.
William Faulkner The Sound and the Fury—Caddy uncaught me and we crawled through. Uncle Maury said to not let anybody see us, so we better stoop over, Caddy said. Stoop over, Benjy. Like this, see. We stooped over and crossed the garden, where the flowers rasped and rattled against us. The ground was hard. We climbed the fence, where the pigs were grunting and snuffing. I expect they're sorry because one of them got killed today, Caddy said. The ground was hard, churned and knotted. Keep your hands in your pockets, Caddy said. Or they'll get froze. You dont want your hands froze on Christmas, do you.
Structure—the basic organization or arrangement of events, details, words, or parts in a literary work.
Style—an author’s choice of words and their arrangements in various patterns of syntax, imagery, and rhythm
Suspense—a feeling of anxious uncertainty about the outcome of events in a literary work.
Symbol—Symbol is any object, happening, person, or place which stands not only for itself but also for
The lamb is a symbol of innocence in William Blake’s “The Lamb.”
To Mr. Shimada and his faithful employees in Yoshiko Uchida’s “Of Dry Goods and Black Bow Ties,” the bow tie is a symbol of dignity, honesty, and respectability.
Technique—any resources or any combinations of means used by an author to shape his material, such as
his choice and arrangement of words (style), his organization of his material (structure), or his
handling of characters (characterization).
Theme—The main idea of message a writer expresses in a work of literature. It is a writer’s perception about
life or humanity shared with a reader. Themes are seldom stated directly and may reveal
themselves only through careful reading and analysis.
A theme of Doris Lessing’s “A Mild Attck of the Locusts” is that life goes on.
Tone—Tone is the attitude a writer takes toward a subject. It might be humorous, serious, bitter, angry, or
detached among other possibilities.
The tone of Thomas Hardy’s “Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave?” is one of bittersweet humor.
Understatement—the deliberate playing down of an emotion, thought, judgment, or situation. When emotion
is involved, an author will sometimes employ understatement to imply that the emotion is
too powerful or too vast to express. The lack of stress creates an ironic difference
between what the author actually says and what the circumstances would really allow him
In “Field Trip, Naomi Shihab Nye uses understatement when she says that the woman who cut off her finger was “distracted.”
Quinn, Edward. A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Thematic Terms. Checkmark Books: New York, 1999.
Abrams, M.H. A Glossay of Literary Terms: Sixth Edition. Harcourt Brace: New York, 1993.
Hibbard, Allison, C. Hugh Holman, and William Flint Thrall. A Handbook to Literature. The Odyssey Press: New York, 1960.
Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory: Fourth Edition. Penguin Books: London, 1998.