LITERARY DEVICES Copyright © 2007 by Jay Braiman www.mrbraiman.com Literary devices refers to specific aspects of literature, in the sense of its universal function as an art form which expresses ideas through language, which we can recognize, identify, interpret and/or analyze. Literary devices collectively comprise the art form’s components; the means by which authors create meaning through language, and by which readers gain understanding of and appreciation for their works. They also provide a conceptual framework for comparing individual literary works to others, both within and across genres. Both literary elements and literary techniques can rightly be called literary devices. Literary elements refers to particular identifiable characteristics of a whole text. They are not “used,” per se, by authors; they represent the elements of storytelling which are common to all literary and narrative forms. For example, every story has a theme, every story has a setting, every story has a conflict, every story is written from a particular point-of-view, etc. In order to be discussed legitimately as part of a textual analysis, literary elements must be specifically identified for that particular text. Literary techniques refers to any specific, deliberate constructions or choices of language which an author uses to convey meaning in a particular way. An author’s use of a literary technique usually occurs with a single word or phrase, or a particular group of words or phrases, at one single point in a text. Unlike literary elements, literary techniques are not necessarily present in every text; they represent deliberate, conscious choices by individual authors. “Literary terms” refers to the words themselves with which we identify and designate literary elements and techniques. They are not found in literature and they are not “used” by authors.
Allegory: Where every aspect of a story is representative, usually symbolic, of something else, usually a larger abstract concept or important historical/geopolitical event. Lord of the Flies provides a compelling allegory of human nature, illustrating the three sides of the psyche through its sharply-defined main characters. Alliteration: The repetition of consonant sounds within close proximity, usually in consecutive words within the same sentence or line. Antagonist: Counterpart to the main character and source of a story’s main conflict. The person may not be “bad” or “evil” by any conventional moral standard, but he/she opposes the protagonist in a significant way. (Although it is technically a literary element, the term is only useful for identification, as part of a discussion or analysis of character; it cannot generally be analyzed by itself.)
Anthropomorphism: Where animals or inanimate objects are portrayed in a story as people, such as by walking, talking, or being given arms, legs, facial features, human locomotion or other anthropoid form. (This technique is often incorrectly called personification.) • The King and Queen of Hearts and their playing-card courtiers comprise only one example of Carroll’s extensive use of anthropomorphism in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Blank verse: Non-rhyming poetry, usually written in iambic pentameter. • Most of Shakespeare’s dialogue is written in blank verse, though it does occasionally rhyme. Character: The people who inhabit and take part in a story. When discussing character, as distinct from characterization, look to the essential function of the character, or of all the characters as a group, in the story as a whole. • Rather than focus on one particular character, Lord assembles a series of brief vignettes and anecdotes involving multiple characters, in order to give the reader the broadest possible spectrum of human behavior. Golding uses his main characters to represent the different parts of the human psyche, to illustrate mankind’s internal struggle between desire, intellect, and conscience.
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