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Literary Analysis . Analyze: to examine critically, so as to bring out the essential elements or give the essence of. In other words, read between the lines and look deeper into what the author is trying to convey through their words.

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Literary Analysis

  • Analyze: to examine critically, so as to bring out the essential elements or give the essence of.

  • In other words, read between the lines and look deeper into what the author is trying to convey through their words.

  • As a literary analyst, you must “go deep” when trying to decipher what the author is truly saying about life’s universal truths.

  • Consider: psychology, philosophy, history and all things subjective in life.

  • Literature is rarely black and white. It asks you to bring your own interpretation to it along with your own background, experiences, influences and ideas.

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How to analyze literature

  • Analyzing literature demands effort, dedication, and patience.

  • There are a series of literary terms and questions one must ask when analyzing.

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Look at the Title

  • How does it relate to the literary work?

  • Why do you think the author picked the title?

  • Do any of the characters relate in any way to the title?

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Author’s Background

  • Are they male or female?

  • What would this bring to the text?

  • Are they from any specific culture (African-American, Latino, Asian)?

  • Were they living in a specific time period?

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Search for Connections

  • How does this work relate to what is going on in history?

  • How does this work relate to society or an aspect of society?

  • Does it make a political or moral statement?

  • Does the work comment on social issues (slavery, poverty, mental health)?

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Point of View








Looking at and Applying Literary Terms

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  • A genre is a category or type of literature. Literature is commonly divided into three major genres: Poetry, Prose, and Drama.

  • Poetry: Epic, Lyric, Narrative, etc.

  • Prose: Fiction (Novels & Short Stories), Nonfiction (Biography, Autobiography, Letters, Essays, & Reports).

  • Drama: Tragedy & Comedy

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Genre Questions

  • Why is the type of literature important?

  • Does the type of literature impact the writing style or setting?

  • Does this genre make a statement simply by its format?

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  • Plot refers to the series of events, or actions, that take place in a work of fiction. A plot, which usually unfolds in chronological order, has five main parts:

  • Exposition

  • Rising Action

  • Climax

  • Falling Action

  • Resolution/Denouement

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  • Background information that establishes setting, introduces the main character or characters, and presents the basic situation.

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Rising Action

  • The main character faces or tries to solve a problem. This results in conflicts that grow more intense.

  • There is an inciting incident, which introduces the central conflict.

  • The conflict then increases during the development until it reaches a high point of interest, otherwise known as the…

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  • The point of highest tension in the story.

  • This is the point where the protagonist and his antagonist are at last face to face, and one has to win.

  • All action in the story points toward the climax.

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Falling Action

  • This part of the story explores the consequences of the climatic decision.

  • The climax has occurred and all tension is relaxed.

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  • The story’s central problem is resolved.

  • A general insight or change is conveyed.

  • Denouement is French for “unknotting.” This is known as the unraveling of a plot’s complications at the end of a story or play.

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Plot Questions

  • How does the story unfold (fast or slow paced)?

  • How do the events lead to the climax?

  • How do the events build on each other?

  • Why are these events important?

  • How are these events told (dialogue, flashbacks, foreshadowing)?

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  • Setting is the “time” and “place” in which a literary work takes place.

  • Time refers not only the historical period of the selection – past, present, future – but also a specific year, season, or time of day.

  • Place refers not only the geographic location –a region, country, state, or town – but also the social, economic, or cultural environment.

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Setting Questions

  • Does the setting dictate how the story is told?

  • Does the setting influence the characters?

  • Does the setting affect the reader’s perception of the text as a whole?

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  • A character is a person, animal, or imaginary creature in a literary work.

  • Authors create characters by describing physical appearance, gestures, thoughts and feelings, speech and behavior, and interactions with other characters.

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Character Types

  • Protagonist

  • Antagonist

  • Dynamic

  • Round

  • Static

  • Flat

  • Stereotype

  • Stock

  • Foil

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  • The main character of a story who is usually sympathetic and respectable, but is not always heroic.

  • He/she typically encounters some problem or obstacle early in the plot.

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  • Can be a person, a group of people, a force of nature, or something within the protagonist’s personality that is the source of conflict with the protagonist.

  • The antagonist opposes the protagonist.

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Dynamic Characters

  • Undergo significant development or change during the story.

  • Experience personal growth and understand things better by the end of the story.

  • Change as a result of their experiences.

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Round Characters

  • Complex characters, often major characters, who grow and change.

  • Have many sides to their personalities.

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Static Characters

  • Usually minor characters who remain unchanged throughout the work.

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Flat Characters

  • Fictional characters (not always minor character) who are relatively simplistic.

  • Presented as having few, though sometimes dominant, traits which prevent them from changing during the course of the story.

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  • A characterization based on conscious, or unconscious, assumptions (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, occupation, marital status) and are predictably accompanied by certain character traits, actions, and values.

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Stock Character

  • A character type who appears in a variety of fiction and/or plays (e.g. the wicked stepmother, the villain in the black hat, the nagging wife, the absent minded professor).

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  • A character in a work whose behavior and values contrast with those of another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight their distinctive qualities.

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  • Characterization is the creation of the image of imaginary persons in drama, narrative poetry, novels and short stories.

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Direct Characterization

  • When the author directly tells the reader a quality about the character straight out.

  • Example: George is hyper and obviously has a great deal of energy.

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Indirect Characterization

  • When the author lets you draw your own conclusions about the character on the basis of information he/she gives you. There are five methods of indirect characterization…

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1) Speech

  • Example: “How yadoin’ partner?”

  • What is the author telling you indirectly about the character through his/her speech?

  • Is he/she educated? Polite?

  • Does the author indicate where the character might originate from or some other aspect of his/her personal history?

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2) Appearance

  • Example: “His tattered clothes were torn and filthy.”

  • What can you assume about this character based on the author’s description of him/her?

  • Is he rich or poor? Responsible or lazy?

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3) Actions

  • Example: “She waited patiently until it was her turn. She made sure to thank the salesperson when his business was complete.”

  • What does this action suggest about the character?

  • Is she thoughtful? Manipulative?

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4) Private Thoughts

  • Example: “As he stood in line, he thought to himself, ‘This cashier is incompetent and needs to be fired.’”

  • Do his thoughts reveal something about his character?

  • Is this person angry or sad?

  • Why is he so quick to make judgments?

  • Is he unrealistic and/or demanding? Or is he simply having a bad day?

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5) Others’ Responses to the Character

  • Example: “When he walked into the room, everyone rolled their eyes and tried to scatter.”

  • Is this character respected? Feared? Why don’t people want to be near him?

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  • Conflict refers to the struggle between two opposing forces.

  • Conflict is an everyday part of life.

  • The challenges we face on a daily basis force us to question who we are as individuals.

  • We either learn and evolve from conflict or remain ignorant and repeat the same mistakes.

  • Without conflict, there is no growth in life.

  • In literature, the author intentionally provides conflict in order to keep the plot interesting. Without conflict, there can be no story.

  • There are two forms of conflict: Internal & External

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Internal Conflict

  • A struggle which takes place in a person or character’s mind and through which he/she reaches a new understanding or dynamic change.

  • Sometimes referred to as Person vs. Self.

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External Conflict

  • When a person struggles with an outside force. There are three different forms. It is possible for more than one kind to occur at a time.

  • Person vs. Person: a character’s problem with another character.

  • Person vs. Society: a character’s problem with the laws or beliefs of a group of people.

  • Person vs. Nature: a character’s problem with a force of nature or some other aspect of the environment.

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Point of View

  • Also referred to as “POV”, it is the perspective from which an author presents a story. POV is shaped by the author’s choice of narrator.

  • Narrator: The person who tells the story. The story may be told from the “first person POV” or the “third person POV.”

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First Person POV

  • Opposite of “omniscient POV”. Stories use pronouns: I, me, our, we, or my.

  • The narrator is a character in the story, and is usually, but not always, the main character.

  • A first person narrator may be biased in their view of characters or events. This type of character is called an “unreliable narrator”.

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Third Person POV

  • Third Person Omniscient POV: Stories use pronouns: he, she, they.

  • Omniscient means “all knowing.”

  • The narrator knows everything that is going on and can see into the minds of all characters.

  • The narrator is outside the story altogether and tells us as much or as little as he/she wants to.

  • Third Person Limited POV: Many stories “limit” the narrator’s knowledge to the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist.

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  • A symbol is something concrete, like a person, place, thing, or event, used to stand for something abstract, such as an idea or emotion, in a literary work. Symbols can (and often do) have different meanings for different people.

  • Example: Compare the symbolic meaning of the American flag to an American citizen with its meaning to an Iranian citizen.

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  • A “sunset” (concrete) can symbolize an upcoming death or change (abstract) in a character’s life.

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  • A “snake” (concrete) can symbolize a form or evil (abstract) in literature.

  • Biblical symbolism is prominent in many literary works.

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  • An “apple” (concrete) in literature can symbolize many elements: knowledge, sin, love, fertility, and temptation (abstract).

  • Its round shape indicates eternity & also the earth.

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  • A motif is any recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative aspects such as theme or mood.

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  • The use of color as a motif is common in both literature and poetry. It can occasionally be used ironically.

  • The color “red” (concrete) can represent love, passion, or sexuality (abstract).

  • The color “white” can represent virginity, purity, and goodness.

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  • Repeated occurrence of water in a literary selection can represent many things including change, cleansing, renewal, and destruction.

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Symbol & Motif Questions

  • Because symbols and motifs can mean different things to different people, you must read the author’s words and explanations closely to figure them out.

  • Does the symbol reemerge continuously?

  • Does the story deal with abstract ideas like love or death?

  • Does the symbol bring up images in the reader’s mind?

  • Does the object typically have a specific meaning & is universally used?

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  • Provides hints or clues early in a story that anticipate what is to come later.

  • Foreshadowing increases suspense, contributes to the mood, and makes the ending seem believable.

  • Example: If a story begins with a line like, “It was a dark and stormy night,” chances are the author is foreshadowing events of darkness or death later in the story.

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  • Irony is a contrast between what is expected and what actually exists or happens.

  • There are four different types of irony: verbal, situational, dramatic and cosmic.

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Verbal Irony

  • When someone says one thing but means another. This is usually associated with sarcasm.

  • Example: If you fail a test, and your teacher says, “Hey, great job.”

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Situational Irony

  • Occurs when a character, or the reader, expects one thing to happen but something entirely different occurs.

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Dramatic Irony

  • Describes a situation in which the audience or reader of a play knows more about a character’s situation than he/she does.

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Cosmic Irony

  • The belief that the universe is so large and man is so small that the universe is indifferent to human existence. As a result, our lives and actions have no relevance or meaning.

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Examples of Irony

Write out 1 example of irony for each of the following:

  • Verbal

  • Situational

  • Dramatic

  • Cosmic

    Be prepared to share with the class…

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Irony Questions

  • Is the outcome to teach the reader a lesson?

  • Is the outcome showing an extreme result?

  • Is the outcome meant to make the reader pause and think?

  • Is the outcome meant to be funny?

  • How do these reactions add to or take away from the story?

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  • Has anyone ever told you to, “Watch your tone of voice!”

  • Tone can change the meaning of what you say.

  • Take for example the statement, “You’re a big help!” Is this a compliment or a cruel, sarcastic remark?

  • Tone is conveyed through the author’s words and details.

  • Tone of voice in speech may be friendly, detached, arrogant, intimate, sarcastic, etc.

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  • Mood (also referred to as “atmosphere”) is the feeling that a literary work conveys to readers.  Mood is created through the use of plot, character, the author’s descriptions, etc.

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Tone and Mood Questions

  • How is the author telling this story?

  • Why does the reader have certain emotions at certain times?

  • Is the subject matter serious, but presented in a humorous way? Why?

  • Is the subject matter trivial, but presented seriously? Why?

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  • Theme is the author’s statement or main idea in a literary work. It is a “universal truth” the author wants his/her story to convey to the reader.

  • Authors can use any of the previously mentioned elements to express the themes of the work (e.g. plot, characters, conflict, symbol, etc.)

  • While some themes are easy to recognize, others are not. The reader is often left to extract the author’s message from the story’s elements.

  • There is no absolute number of themes within any given work. The reader must determine the themes for himself/herself.

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Finding Themes in a Literary Work

  • Consider the title.

  • Consider any repeating patterns and symbols.

  • Ask yourself how the protagonist has changed during the course of the story.

  • A theme should be present throughout the course of the work and, at least in part, explain its purpose.

  • View the theme as a mystery that needs to be solved. They are hidden beneath the author’s words can be unlocked only by closely examining the author’s choice of words and use of literary elements.