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Literary Devices:. The techniques of the writer Take careful notes on each with examples to prepare for final exam. Alliteration. Repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of a group of words. Ex: Sally sells sea-shells… Ex: Poe’s “The Raven”—see image. Allusion.

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literary devices

Literary Devices:

The techniques of the writer

Take careful notes on each with examples to prepare for final exam.

  • Repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of a group of words.
  • Ex: Sally sells sea-shells…
  • Ex: Poe’s “The Raven”—see image.
  • An indirect reference in a work to a historical event, place, person, object or another artistic or literary work.
  • Ex. mythological allusion: In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says the following of Rosaline: “She'll not be hit with Cupid's arrow.”
  • Ex. Biblical allusion: Execution of Jefferson parallels Christ’s crucifixion.
antagonist protagonist
  • Protagonist: the main character of the narrative with whom the audience is most sympathetic. (ex: Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • Antagonist: a character who works against the protagonist. The antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. It could be death, the devil, an illness, or any challenge that prevents the main character from living “happily ever after.” (ex: Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • When speaker addresses someone absentor dead or an inanimate object for dramatic effect.
  • Ex: Juliet says, "O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die.”
  • Ex: Antony says, "O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers! Thou art the ruins of the noblest man that ever lived in the tide of times.”
  • an actor’s speech, directed to the audience, that is not supposed to be heard by other actors on stage.
  • briefly tells us the character’s thoughts
  • Ex: Romeo and Juliet: “Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?”
  • a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood
  • Also called coming-of-age story
  • Examples: First four books of The Odyssey, To Kill a Mockingbird, Anthem, Obsasan
blank verse
Blank Verse
  • Unrhymed iambic pentameter.
  • closest to the natural rhythms of English speech and therefore is the most common pattern found in traditional English poetry.
  • Shakespeare’s plays rely heavily on blank verse.
  • A combination of pity and fear that the audience experiences as an emotional response to a tragic character’s reversal of fortune.
  • It has been described as a "purification" or a "purging" of such emotions.
  • Examples: when the protagonist in a tragedy realizes he caused all his own problems—Antigone and Oedipus.
  • The high point in the action of a narrative to which the rising action leads. This is the part which determines the outcome of the conflict.
  • Ex: In Girl with the Pearl Earring, it is when Griet has to run from her master’s home when Catherina discovers the painting her husband secretly made of Griet.
  • Ex: In Oedipus, it is when we learn that Oedipus has finally confirmed the horrible truth of his birth.
  • The method a writer uses to reveal the personality of a character in a literary work. Methods may include:
  • character’s appearance or actions
  • what the character says or thinks about himself or herself
  • what others reveal about the character
  • how he or she interacts with other characters
  • Ex: In The Odyssey, when Polyphemus says he is not afraid of Zeus, that the cyclops is more powerful, we learn that he doesn’t respect the gods, which is anathema to the Greeks.
  • man vs. man: conflict between individuals

Ex: The Odyssey: Odysseus vs. Polyphemus

  • man vs. society, man vs. nature: between the character and circumstances intervening between him and a goal he has set himself

Ex: Old Man and the Sea: Santiago vs. nature

Ex: A Raisin in the Sun: Walter vs. society

  • man vs. self: conflict of opposing tendencies within a single individual's mind. Also called internal conflict.

Ex: The Pearl: Kino facing his own greed and obsession.

  • Consecutive rhyming lines of iambic pentameter (ten syllable line of verse with the beat on every second syllable.)
  • Ex:Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

“And after this let Caesar seat him sure,

For we will shake him, or worse days endure.”


  • the final outcome of the narrative, usually the resolution of the conflict
  • Ex: In A Raisin in the Sun, when the Younger family is preparing to move into the new neighborhood in Act III.
  • Ex: In A Doll’s House, when Nora tells Torvald she must leave him.
dialect vernacular
  • the language of a particular district, class, or group of persons.
  • It encompasses the sounds, grammar, and diction employed by a specific people as distinguished from other persons either geographically or socially.
  • It is used by authors for characterization.
  • Ex: Southern dialect in To Kill a Mockinbird: “chillun” and “yawl” (Maycomb, Alabama)
  • Ex: Creoledialect in A LessonBeforeDying: TanteLou” and sin box”(Bayonne, Loisiana)
  • a sudden realization--a flash of recognition in which someone or something is seen in a new light.
  • Ex: In A Separate Peace, when Gene realizes Finny was never jealous of him at all and he was too paranoid to realize that and had tried to hurt him.
  • Ex: In Antigone, after Tiresias convinces Creon of the error of his ways and Creon finally realizes he should let Antigone go—he has mistreated her, upset his son and angered the gods.
  • Long narrative poem recounting heroic deeds over a long span of time and space (a literary genre).
  • Ex: The Odyssey,The Illiad,Beowulf
figurative language
Figurative language
  • words, and groups of words, that exaggerate or alter the usual meanings of the component words
  • Non-literal language that includes figures of speech such as metaphors, hyperboles, similes, symbols, idioms, etc.
  • An interruption of the chronological sequence in a narrative to show or recount an earlier occurrence.
  • Often used in order to provide background for the current narration. By giving material that occurred prior to the present event, the writer provides the reader with insight into a character's motivation and or background to a conflict.
  • Ex: Odyssey: Odysseus tells the story of his journey to the Phaecians, recounting the details of his interactions with the Cyclops, Circe, the Sirens, etc.
  • Ex: The Joy Luck Club: the stories of each daughter growing up in California are interspersed with the stories of their mothers in China.
  • A foil is a character who serves as a contrast to another, often more primary character, in order to point out specific traits of the primary character.
  • Ex: Romeo and Juliet: Mercutio and Benvolio
  • Ex: Things Fall Apart:Unoka and Okonkwo
free verse
Free verse
  • Form of poetry that refrains from meter or rhyme.
  • Ex: William Carlos Williams :

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

  • (in Greek tragedy) Excessive pride or defiance of the gods
  • Ex: Antigone: Creon disobeys the gods and doesn’t heed warning from Tiresias regarding the burial of Polynices.
  • Ex: The Odyssey: Odysseus shouts insults at the cyclopse.
  • a figure of speech that is an exaggerated description or statement
  • Ex: “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”
  • Ex: Romeo and Juliet: “thou wilt quarrel with a man that hath a hair more, or a hair less, in his beard, than thou hast: thou wilt quarrel with a man for cracking nuts, having no other reason but because thou hast hazel eyes.”
iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter
  • a common meter in poetry consisting often syllables, each pair containing an unaccented syllable and an accented syllable, for a total of five beats per line.
  • Usually used in Shakespeare’s plays.
  • Ex: “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
  • - / - / - / - / - / -
  • I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
iambic pentameter cont
Iambic pentameter (cont.)
  • A ten-syllable line consisting of five iambs is said to be in iambic pentameter ("penta" = five).  Its stress pattern (five pairs of unstressed/stressed syllables) is conventionally represented U /U / U /U / U / Example: "The course of true love never did run true" (MND I.i.134).  As you read this line aloud, listen for the stress pattern: da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM (i.e. the COURSE of TRUE love NEver DID run TRUE).
  • all the sensory perceptions referred to in a poem or narrative.
  • Imagery is not limited to visual imagery; it also includes auditory (sound), tactile (touch), thermal (heat and cold), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), and kinesthetic sensation (movement).
  • Ex: Imagery of war in All Quiet on the Western Front:
  • "We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell-hole; we see men without mouths, jaws, faces; we find one man who has held the artery of his arm in his teeth for two hours in order not to bleed to death. The sun goes down, night comes, the shells whine, life is at an end" (158).
  • Dramatic irony: the contrast between what the character(s) and audience are aware of.

Ex: Oedipus: “Upon the murderer I invoke this curse.”

  • Verbal irony: When a character or narrator says the opposite of what he/she means. Verbal irony also occurs when a character says something in jest that, in actuality, is true.

Ex: In Julius Caesar, Marc Antony’s reference to Brutus being an honorable man is an example of verbal irony.

  • Situational irony: when actions have an effect that is opposite from what was intended, so that the outcome is contrary to what was expected.

Ex: In Romeo and Juliet: When Romeo’s attempt to make peace by not fighting Tybalt only leads to more deaths.

  • rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly by referring to

things around it or which it is associated, as in describing someone's clothing to characterize the individual.

  • Ex: Calling royalty the "crown”
  • Ex: “The pen is mightier than the sword”—

(pen refers to the written word and sword refers to violence or physical force.)

  • A figurative comparison of two seemingly dissimilar things.
  • In connecting one object, event, or place, to another, a metaphor can uncover new and intriguing qualities of the original thing that we may not normally notice or even consider important.
  • Ex: A Doll’s House: “Our home has been nothing but a play-room. I've been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Papa's doll—child.”
  • a recurring objector image in a work of literature. A motif may also be two contrasting elements in a work.
  • Ex: Romeo and Juliet: references to light/dark, night/day, sun/moon
  • Ex: Of Mice and Men: images of softness, such as the mouse, the puppy, etc.
  • one who tells a story, the speaker or the “voice” of a narrative. The narrator is our window into the book. The narrator may be trusted or may be unreliable in some way.
  • First person narrator: The story is told by (a) a participant in the action that takes place in the storyor (b) an observer—a character indirectly involved in the action of a story

Ex: Lesson Before Dying, A Separate Peace

  • Second person narrator: employs the pronoun “you, ” directing the reader.

Ex: guidebooks,role-playing games,“Choose Your Own Adventure” series.

  • Third person narrator: all-knowing narrator who is not a character in the story and who can move from place to place and pass back and forth through time, slipping into and out of characters. In some cases, the narrator is talking in the third person, but is only able to know the thoughts of one character—third person limited.

Ex: Things Fall Apart, The Sound of Waves

  • figure of speech that combines contradictory terms.

Ex: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

  • a brief and often simple narrative that illustrates a moral or religious lesson.
  • Ex: The Pearl
  • a statement that initially appears to be contradictory but then, on closer inspection, turns out to make sense.
  • Ex: Julius Caesar:

Caesar says, ” Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.”

pathetic fallacy
Pathetic fallacy
  • attributing human emotion or responses to nature, inanimate objects, or animals.

Ex: “a cruel wind”

Ex: Romeo and Juliet: “lazy-pacing clouds”

Ex: Samuel Coleridge poem--

persuasive rhetorical appeals
Persuasive/rhetorical appeals
  • Pathos: emotional (sympathy) appeal—

Ex: Julius Caesar “How dearly Caesar loved him! This was the most unkindest cut of all.”

  • Logos: logical appeal

Ex: Lesson Before Dying: “Do you see anyone here who could plan a murder, a robbery, can plan, can plan at all?”

  • Ethos: ethical (moral) appeal

Ex: To Kill a Mockingbird: The responsibility for the jury is to make a "pauper is an equal of a Rockefeller" and an "ignorant man the equal of any president."

  • figure of speech (generally considered a type of metaphor) in which an inanimate object or abstraction is given human qualities or abilities.
  • Ex: Romeo and Juliet: “The night before thy wedding day. Hath death lain with thy wife. There she lies,flower as she was, deflowered by him.”
  • a short often memorable saying embodying that comments on a general truth or lesson to be learned.
  • Ex: "Absence makes the heart grow fonder” or “all that glitters isn’t gold.”
  • Ex: Things Fall Apart: “If one finger brought oil it soiled the others."
  • A play on words that relies on a word’s having more than one meaning or sounding like another word.
  • Ex: Romeo and Juliet (III.i.101), the dying Mercutio puns, "Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man."
rhyme scheme
Rhyme scheme
  • Rhyme is the repeated end sounds of words for an echo effect. When it is regularly repeated over the course of a poem or stanza and obeys a precise and predictable formal pattern, it is called a rhyme scheme. It is indicated by letters for each sound.

Two households, both alike in dignity, a

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, b

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, a

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. b

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes c

A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; d

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows c

Do with their death bury their parents' strife. d

The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love, e

And the continuance of their parents' rage, f

Which, but their children's end, nought could remove, e

Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage; f

The which if you with patient ears attend, g

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. g

rite of passage
Rite of passage
  • An incident which creates tremendous growth signifying a transition from adolescence to adulthood.
  • Ex: A Separate Peace– Gene and Finny’s first jump off the tree
  • Ex: Things Fall Apart– Okonkwo’s first yam planting
  • Time and place of a literary work
  • Ex: A Raisin in the Sun—early 50s, South Side of Chicago.
  • Ex: All Quiet on the Western Front– German-French front of World War I in 1917-1918.
  • device often used in drama in which a character speaks to himself or herself, relating his or her thoughts and feelings, thus sharing them with the audience.
  • Other characters however are not aware of what is being said.
  • Ex: Antony's soliloquy over Caesar's body: "Oh pardon me, though bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers!”
  • Ex: Romeo’s soliloquy as he attempts to get another glimpse of Juliet: “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.”
  • Fourteen line poem of rhyming iambic pentameter. Sonnets end with a couplet.
  • Ex: prologues to Act I and II of Romeo and Juliet
  • an arrangement of a certain number of lines, usually four or more, sometimes having a fixed length, meter, or rhyme scheme, forming a division of a poem.
  • an object, sign, or image that is used to stand for something else, as a flag may be used to symbolize a nation.
  • Ex: Anthem: the light bulb is a symbol for the illumination of knowledge and science which can benefit humanity
  • Ex: Old Man and the Sea: the sharks are a symbol of antagonistic forces in life which we must boldly fight
  • Figure of speech in which a term in which part of something is used to refer to the whole thing.
  • A type of metonymy.
  • Ex: Calling your car “my wheels.”
  • Ex: Macbeth: to servant--"Take thy face hence."
  • Narrator’s attitude toward the people, places, and events in a work as revealed by the elements of the author’s style.
  • Tone may be characterized as serious or ironic, sad or happy, private or public, angry or affectionate, bitter or nostalgic, or any other attitudes and feelings that human beings experience.
  • Ex:
  • Ex: Inherit the Wind: Hornbeck’s sarcastic tone: “Hello, Devil. Welcome to Hell.”
  • Author’s central concept, idea or message in a literary work.
  • Ex: Anthem: individualism and importance of asserting one’s identity as unique and distinct from others.
  • Ex: Oedipus: even the greatest among us are capable of tragic errors and may fall prey to fate.
  • A drama or literary work in which the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a consequence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances.
  • Aristotle said that tragedy depicts the downfall of a noble hero or heroine, usually through some combination of hubris, fate, and the will of the gods. The tragic hero's powerful wish to achieve some goal inevitably encounters limits, usually those of human frailty (flaws in reason, hubris, society), the gods (through oracles, prophets, fate), or nature.
  • Aristotle says that the tragic hero should have a flaw which causes him or her to make a tragic error (hamartia).
  • Ex: Romeo and Juliet, The Pearl, Julius Caesar, Inherit the Wind, Things Fall Apart, Oedipus, Antigone