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Literary Deliberations for You

Literary Analysis: Using Elements of Literature

Students are asked to write literary analysis essays because this type of assignment encourages you to think about how and why a poem, short story, novel, or play was written.  To successfully analyze literature, you’ll need to remember that authors make specific choices for particular reasons.  Your essay should point out the author’s choices and attempt to explain their significance.

Another way to look at a literary analysis is to consider a piece of literature from your own perspective.  Rather than thinking about the author’s intentions, you can develop an argument based on any single term (or combination of terms) listed below.  You’ll just need to use the original text to defend and explain your argument to the reader.

Allegory – narrative form in which the characters are representative of some larger humanistic trait (i.e. greed, vanity, or bravery) and attempt to convey some larger lesson or meaning to life. Although allegory was originally and traditionally character based, modern allegories tend to parallel story and theme.

  • William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily- the decline of the Old South
  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- man’s struggle to contain his inner primal instincts
  • District 9- South African Apartheid
  • X Men- the evils of prejudice
  • Harry Potter- the dangers of seeking “racial purity”

Character – representation of a person, place, or thing performing traditionally human activities or functions in a work of fiction

  • Protagonist – The character the story revolves around.
  • Antagonist – A character or force that opposes the protagonist.
  • Minor character – Often provides support and illuminates the protagonist.
  • Static character – A character that remains the same.
  • Dynamic character – A character that changes in some important way.
  • Characterization – The choices an author makes to reveal a character’s personality, such as appearance, actions, dialogue, and motivations.

Look for: Connections, links, and clues between and about characters. Ask yourself what the function and significance of each character is. Make this determination based upon the character’s history, what the reader is told (and not told), and what other characters say about themselves and others.

Connotation – implied meaning of word. BEWARE! Connotations can change over time.

  • confidence/ arrogance
  • mouse/ rat
  • cautious/ scared
  • curious/ nosey
  • frugal/ cheap

Denotation – dictionary definition of a word

Diction – word choice that both conveys and emphasizes the meaning or theme of a poem through distinctions in sound, look, rhythm, syllable, letters, and definition

Figurative language – the use of words to express meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words themselves

  • Metaphor – contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme without using like or as
    • You are the sunshine of my life.
  • Simile – contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme using like or as
    • What happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun
  • Hyperbole – exaggeration
    • I have a million things to do today.
  • Personification – giving non-human objects human characteristics
    • America has thrown her hat into the ring, and will be joining forces with the British.

Foot – grouping of stressed and unstressed syllables used in line or poem

  • Iamb – unstressed syllable followed by stressed
    • Made famous by the Shakespearian sonnet, closest to the natural rhythm of human speech
      • How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
  • Spondee – stressed stressed
    • Used to add emphasis and break up monotonous rhythm
      • Blood boil, mind-meld, well- loved
  • Trochee – stressed unstressed
    • Often used in children’s rhymes and to help with memorization, gives poem a hurried feeling
      • While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
  • Anapest – unstressed unstressed stressed
    • Often used in longer poems or “rhymed stories”
      • Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
  • Dactyls – stressed unstressed unstressed
    • Often used in classical Greek or Latin text, later revived by the Romantics, then again by the Beatles, often thought to create a heartbeat or pulse in a poem
      • Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
        With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

The iamb stumbles through my books; trochees rush and tumble; while anapest runs like a hurrying brook; dactyls are stately and classical.

Imagery – the author’s attempt to create a mental picture (or reference point) in the mind of the reader. Remember, though the most immediate forms of imagery are visual, strong and effective imagery can be used to invoke an emotional, sensational (taste, touch, smell etc) or even physical response.

Meter – measure or structuring of rhythm in a poem

Plot – the arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story

  • Foreshadowing – When the writer clues the reader in to something that will eventually occur in the story; it may be explicit (obvious) or implied (disguised).
  • Suspense – The tension that the author uses to create a feeling of discomfort about the unknown
  • Conflict – Struggle between opposing forces.
  • Exposition – Background information regarding the setting, characters, plot.
  • Rising Action – The process the story follows as it builds to its main conflict
  • Crisis – A significant turning point in the story that determines how it must end
  • Resolution/Denouement – The way the story turns out.

Point of View – pertains to who tells the story and how it is told. The point of view of a story can sometimes indirectly establish the author’s intentions.

  • Narrator – The person telling the story who may or may not be a character in the story.
  • First-person – Narrator participates in action but sometimes has limited knowledge/vision.
  • Second person – Narrator addresses the reader directly as though she is part of the story. (i.e. “You walk into your bedroom.  You see clutter everywhere and…”)
  • Third Person (Objective) – Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character’s perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.
  • Omniscient – All-knowing narrator (multiple perspectives). The narrator knows what each character is thinking and feeling, not just what they are doing throughout the story.  This type of narrator usually jumps around within the text, following one character for a few pages or chapters, and then switching to another character for a few pages, chapters, etc. Omniscient narrators also sometimes step out of a particular character’s mind to evaluate him or her in some meaningful way.

Rhythm – often thought of as a poem’s timing. Rhythm is the juxtaposition of stressed and unstressed beats in a poem, and is often used to give the reader a lens through which to move through the work. (See meter and foot)

Setting – the place or location of the action.  The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. Example – In Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the crumbling old mansion reflects the decaying state of both the family and the narrator’s mind. We also see this type of emphasis on setting in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.

Speaker – the person delivering the poem. Remember, a poem does not have to have a speaker, and the speaker and the poet are not necessarily one in the same.

Structure (fiction) – The way that the writer arranges the plot of a story.

Look for: Repeated elements in action, gesture, dialogue, description, as well as shifts in direction, focus, time, place, etc.

Structure (poetry) – The pattern of organization of a poem. For example, a Shakespearean sonnet is a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Because the sonnet is strictly constrained, it is considered a closed or fixed form. An open or free form poem has looser form, or perhaps one of the author’s invention, but it is important to remember that these poems  are not necessarily formless.

Symbolism – when an object is meant to be representative of something or an idea greater than the object itself.

  • Cross – representative of Christ or Christianity
  • Bald Eagle – America or Patriotism
  • Owl – wisdom or knowledge
  • Yellow – implies cowardice or rot

Tone – the implied attitude towards the subject of the poem. Is it hopeful, pessimistic, dreary, worried? A poet conveys tone by combining all of the elements listed above to create a precise impression on the reader.

https://www.roanestate.edu/owl/ElementsLit.html


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8 Steps to More Concise Writing

You know you must streamline your writing, but the devil’s in the details. Here are some specifics about what to look for:

1. Remove Redundancy

Avoid double-teaming terms like “a period of one week,” “end result,” “free gift,” and “personal opinion.” Watch for phrases that echo the quality in question: “oval in shape,” “larger in size,” “shorter in duration,” and the like. Omit redundant words that are already implied as part of an abbreviated term, such as machine in “ATM machine.”

2. Reduce Phrases to Words

Replace a descriptive phrase following a noun with a one-word adjective that precedes the noun: “People who experienced at traveling know better than to label their luggage,” for example, can be revised to “Experienced travelers know better than to label their luggage.

A modifying phrase, similarly, can be reduced to a simple adverb: “Sympathizing with her concerns, he nodded in response to her complaint,” for instance, is more concisely expressed as “He nodded sympathetically in response to her complaint.”

Delete extraneous phrases such as “which is” and “who were,” as shown here: “We drove down Lombard Street, which is considered the crookedest street in the world” is easily simplified to “We drove down Lombard Street, considered the crookedest street in the world.”

3. Omit Gratuitous Intensifiers and Qualifiers

Use adverbs that intensify or qualify in moderation: “They had an extremely unpleasant experience” isn’t accurate unless a subsequent explanation justifies the intensifier extremely, and “I was somewhat taken aback” isn’t necessarily an improvement on “I was taken aback.”

4. Expunge Expletives

“There are” or “there is” is a weak way to start a sentence. “There is a telling passage toward the end of the story” lacks the focus of (and the more vivid verb in) the sentence “A telling passage occurs near the end of the essay.”

5. Negate Nominalizations

“The report gave an analysis of the accident” uses a phrase where a single word suffices. (This is known as a nominalization, or smothering a verb.) When you see a “(verb) a/an (noun)” construction, convert the noun into a verb and replace the phrase with it. In this case, “The report analyzed the accident” is the more concise result. As with deletion of expletives, a stronger verb is an additional benefit.

6. Delete Superfluous Phrases

“At the present time,” “for all intents and purposes,” and “in the event that” are just a few of many meaningless phrases that clutter sentences. Trim them to tighten your writing.

7. Avoid Cliches

Likewise, “face the music,” “litmus test,” “tried and true” and other timeworn phrases add nothing to your writing but words; they’re useful only for padding a word count, but instructors and editors (and readers) will notice.

8. Eschew Euphemisms

Generally, words that disguise concepts degrade language, which is all about expressing, not repressing, meaning. For example, “collateral damage,” in reference to warfare (and, by extension, to all interpersonal relationships), invites derision. However, use of some euphemisms, such as those for human disabilities, is a well-meaning effort to preserve the dignity of the disabled, though some people argue that such cosmetic wording actually harms people by diminishing the seriousness of their condition, or that it is for the benefit not of the disabled but of people who would rather not be reminded of the disabled.

by Mark Nichol