Literature Key Terms and Definitions

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Figurative language: Use of words in ways they are not normally used in order to create a distinct, imaginative effect or impression. For example, in the expression “He sang at the top of his lungs,” the suggested meaning of the words is understood—not their literal meaning. Hyperbole: A figure of speech that deliberately exaggerates a description about something or somebody to create a desired effect. Irony: A circumstance in which there is a contra¬diction or difference between what is intended or expected to occur and what actually occurs. Metaphor: An implied comparison between one object and another that is different from it. Metonymy: A figure of speech, a kind of meta¬phor, formed when a characteristic of a thing is used to represent the whole thing. Onomatopoeia: A word whose sound sug¬gests its meaning or sense—for example sizzle, meow. Oxymoron: An expression in which two con¬tradictory terms are brought together to emphasize an idea or a feeling in a striking or shocking manner. For example, a wise fool or cruel kindness. Persona: Literally, a mask. In literature, the per¬son who is the narrator in a story or the speaker in a poem. The main voice in fiction or poetry is usually not the author’s voice, although it may reflect the author’s views. The main voice comes from the persona the author creates to narrate or speak. In most cases, this speaker is a character in the story or the poem, but sometimes a persona can be an outside voice, a speaker who is looking at the action but is not part of it. Personification: A figure of speech formed when qualities normally associated with a per¬son are attributed to abstract things or inani¬mate objects. Simile: A direct comparison of two objects that are similar in at least one respect, using like or as to link the similarities. Symbol: An object, person, or action that conveys two meanings: its literal meaning and something it stands for as well. Ballad: A story that is sung. In ancient oral tra¬ditions, ballads were used to celebrate shared experiences involving adventure, war, love, death, and the supernatural. Dramatic monologue: A poem in which only one person speaks to one or more silent listen¬ers, creating dramatic tension. Elegy: A lyric poem that expresses thoughts about death, usually initiated by the death of a person highly regarded by the poet. The tone in the elegy is somber. English sonnet: A poem with 14 lines, three quatrains and a couplet, a carefully developed thought pattern, and the rhyme scheme abab, cdce, efef, gg; Also called the Shakespearean sonnet. Enjambment: The continuation of a thought in a line of poetry into the succeeding line, unin¬terrupted by punctuation. Epic: A long narrative poem written in elevated style and having a central heroic figure on whose adventures significant patterns in a cul¬ture are established. Free verse: Poetry in which lines have irregular rhythm and lack rhyme. Haiku: A Japanese poetic form with a compact 17-syllable structure, consisting of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, respectively. A haiku poem creates a clear picture that stimu¬lates a distinct emotion or spiritual insight. There is no set rhyme pattern in haiku. Iambic foot: Consists of an unemphasized sylla¬ble followed by an emphasized syllable. When a line has five of these feet, the meter is identi¬fied as iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter: A line with ten syllables, arranged in a pattern in which an unempha¬sized syllable is followed by an emphasized one. Italian sonnet: A poem with 14 lines, consisting of an octave and a sestet, a carefully developed thought pattern, and the rhyme scheme abba, abba, cde, cde (or cd, cd, cd); also called the Petrarchan sonnet. Limerick: A form of narrative poetry, a jingle usually created with humorous intent. Its struc¬ture consists of five lines: The first two lines and the third and fourth lines have rhyming end words, and the first and last lines usually end with the same...
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