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  1. Allegory
  2. Alliteration
  3. Allusion
  4. Ambiguity
  5. Analogue
  6. Anapest
  7. Anecdote
  8. Antagonist
  9. Aphorism
  10. Apostrophe
  11. Aside
  12. Assonance
  13. Autobiography
  14. Ballad
  15. Biography
  16. Blank Verse
  17. Cacaphony/Euphony
  18. Caesura
  19. Canto
  20. Carpe Diem
  21. Catastrophe
  22. Character
  23. Characterization
  24. Classicism
  25. Climax
  26. Comedy
  27. Conceit
  28. Conclusion
  29. Concrete Poetry
  30. Conflict
  31. Connotation and Denotation
  32. Consonance
  33. Couplet
  34. Dactyl
  35. Denouement
  36. Dialogue
  37. Diction
  38. Didactic Literature
  39. Dramatic Monologue
  40. Elegy
  41. Epic
  42. Epigraph
  43. Epithet
  44. Euphemism
  45. Exposition
Allegory
A story illustrating an idea or a moral principle in which objects take on symbolic meanings. In Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy," Dante, symbolizing mankind, is taken by Virgil the poet on a journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise in order to teach him the nature of sin and its punishments, and the way to salvation. Return to Menu

Alliteration
Used for poetic effect, a repitition of the initial sounds of several words in a group. The following line from Robert Frost's poem "Acquainted with the Night provides us with an example of alliteration,": I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet." The repitition of the s sound creates a sense of quiet, reinforcing the meaning of the line. Return to Menu

Allusion
A reference in one literary work to a character or theme found in another literary work. T. S. Eliot, in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" alludes (refers) to the biblical figure John the Baptist in the line Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter, . . . In the New Testament, John the Baptist's head was presented to King Herod on a platter. Return to Menu

Ambiguity
A statement which can contain two or more meanings. For example, when the oracle at Delphi told Croesus that if he waged war on Cyrus he would destroy a great empire, Croesus thought the oracle meant his enemy's empire. In fact, the empire Croesus destroyed by going to war was his own. Return to Menu

Analogue
A comparison between two similar things. In literature, a work which resembles another work either fully or in part. If a work resembles another because it is derived from the other, the original work is called the source, not an analogue of the later work.

Anapest
In a line of poetry, two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable forming the pattern for the line or perhaps for the entire poem. The following example is by Robert Frost:

See Meter for more information.
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Anecdote
A very short tale told by a character in a literary work. In Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," "The Miller's Tale" and "The Carpenter's Tale" are examples. Return to Menu

Antagonist
A person or force which opposes the protagonist in a literary work. In Stephen Vincent Benet's "The Devil and Daniel Webster," Mr. Scratch is Daniel Webster's antagonst at the trial of Jabez Stone. The cold, in Jack London's "To Build a Fire" is the antagonist that defeats the man on the trail.
See Protagonist for more information.
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Aphorism
A brief statement which expresses an observation on life, usually intended as a wise observation. Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac" contains numerous examples, one of which is Drive thy business; let it not drive thee. which means that one should not allow the demands of business to take control of one's moral or worldly commitments. Return to Menu

Apostrophe
A figure of speech wherein the speaker speaks directly to something nonhuman. In these lines from John Donne's poem "The Sun Rising" the poet scolds the sun for interrupting his nighttime activities:
      Busy old fool, unruly sun,
      Why dost thou thus,
      Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
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Aside
A device in which a character in a drama makes a short speech which is heard by the audience but not by other characters in the play. In William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," the Chamberlain, Polonius, confronts Hamlet. In a dialogue concerning Polonius' daughter, Ophelia, Polonius speaks this aside:
How say you by that? Still harping on my daughter.
Yet he knew me not at first; 'a said I was a fishmonger.
'A is far gone. And truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for love,
very near this. I'll speak to him again.-
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Assonance
The repetition of vowel sounds in a literary work, especially in a poem. Edgar Allen Poe's "The Bells" conains numerous examples. Consider these from stanza 2:
Hear the mellow wedding bells-
and
From the molten-golden notes,
The repetition of the short e and long o sounds denotes a heavier, more serious bell than the bell encountered in the first stanza where the assonance included the i sound in examples such as tinkle, sprinkle, and twinkle. Return to Menu

Autobiography
The story of a person's life written by himself or herself. William Colin Powell's "My American Journey" is an example. Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, of which "Big Two-Hearted River" is a sample, are considered autobiographical. Return to Menu

Ballad
A story in poetic form, often about tragic love and usually sung. Ballads were passed down from generation to generation by singers. Two old Scottish ballads are "Sir Patrick Spens" and "Bonnie Barbara Allan." Coleridges, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is a 19th century English ballad. Return to Menu

Biography
The story of a person's life written by someone other than the subject of the work. Katherine Drinker Bowen's "Yankee from Olympus" which details the life and work of the great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is an example. A biographical work is supposed to be rigorously factual. However, since the biographer may by biased for or against the subject of the biography, critics, and sometimes the subject of the biography himself or herself, may come forward to challenge the trustworthiness of the material. Return to Menu

Blank Verse
A poem written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. Consider the following from "The Ball Poem" by John Berryman:
      What is the boy now, who has lost his ball,
      What, what is he to do? I saw it go
      Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
      Merrily over-there it is in the water!
See Iamb and Foot and Meter for more information.
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Cacaphony/Euphony
Cacaphony is an unpleasant combination of sounds. Euphony, the opposite, is a pleasant combination of sounds. These sound effects can be used intentionally to create an effect, or they may appear unintentionally. The cacaphony in Matthew Arnold's lines "And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know,/Self-school'd, self-scann'd, self-honor'd, self-secure,/Didst tread on earth unguess'd at," is probably unintentional. Return to Menu

Caesura
A pause within a line of poetry which may or may not affect the metrical count (see #62. meter). In scansion, a caesura is usually indicated by the following symbol (//). Here's an example by Alexander Pope:
Know then thyself,//presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind//is Man
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Canto
A subdivision of an epic poem. Each of the three books of Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy" is divided into cantos. For example, in each of the cantos of "The Inferno," Dante meets the souls of people who were once alive and who have been condemned to punishment for sin. Return to Menu

Carpe Diem
A Latin phrase which translated means "Sieze (Catch) the day," meaning "Make the most of today." The phrase originated as the title of a poem by the RomanHorace (65 B.C.E.-8B.C.E.) and caught on as a theme with such English poets as Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell. Consider these lines from Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time":
      Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
            Old Time is still a-flying:
      And this same flower that smiles today,
            To-morrow will be dying.
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Catastrophe
The scene in a tragedy which includes the death or moral destruction of the protagonist. In the catastrophe at the end of Sophocles' "Oedipus the King," Oedipus, discovering the tragic truth about his origin and his deeds, plucks out his eyes and is condemned to spend the rest of his days a wandering beggar. The catastrophe in Shakespearean tragedy occurs in Act 5 of each drama, and always includes the death of the protagonist. Consider the fates of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, and Othello. Return to Menu

Character
A person, or any thing presented as a person, e. g., a spirit, object, animal, or natural force, in a literary work. In a cartoon scene, firemen may be putting out a fire which a coyote has deliberately started, while a hydrant observes the scene fearfully. The firemen, the coyote and the hydrant would all be considered characters in the story. If a billowy figure complete with eyes, nose, and mouth representing the wind thwarts the efforts of the firemen, the wind, too, qualifies as a character. Animals who figure importantly in movies of live drama are considered characters. Mr. Ed, Lassie, and Tarzan's monkey Cheetah are examples. Return to Menu

Characterization
The method a writer uses to reveal the personality of a character in a literary work: Methods may include (1) by what the character says about himself or herself; (2) by what others reveal about the character; and (3) by the character's own actions. Return to Menu

Classicism
A movement or tendency in art, music, and literature to retain the characteristics found in work originating in classical Greece and Rome. It differs from Romanticism in that while Romanticism dwells on the emotional impact of a work, classicism concerns itself with form and discipline. Return to Menu

Climax
The decisive moment in a drama, the climax is the turning point of the play to which the rising action leads. This is the crucial part of the drama, the part which determines the outcome of the conflict. In Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" the climax occurs at the end of Marc Antony's speech to the Roman public. In the climax to the film "Star Wars," the empire's death star is ready to destroy the rebel base. Luke Skywalker and rebel pilots attack the base, and after the deaths of some rebel pilots, Skywalker successfully fires his missile into the death star's vulnerable spot and destroys the death star, saving the rebel forces.
See Plot for more information.
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Comedy
A literary work which is amusing and ends happily. Modern comedies tend to be funny, while Shakespearean comedies simply end well. Shakespearean comedy also contains items such as misunderstandings and mistaken identity to heighten the comic effect. Comedies may contain lovers, those who interfere with lovers, and entertaining scoundrels. In modern Situation Comedies, characters are thrown into absurd situations and are forced to deal with those situations, all the while reciting clever lines for the amusement of a live or television or movie audience. Return to Menu

Conceit
A far-fetched simile or metaphor, a literary conceit occurs when the speaker compares two highly dissimilar things. In the following example from Act V of Shakespeare's "Richard II," the imprisoned King Richard compares his cell to the world in the following line:
I have been studying how I may compare
this prison where I live unto the world:
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Conclusion
Also called the Resolution" the conclusion is the point in a drama to which the entire play has been leading. It is the logical outcome of everything that has come before it. The conclusion stems from the nature of the characters. Therefore, the decision of Dr. Stockmann to remain in the town at the conclusion of "An Enemy of the People" is consistent with his conviction that he is right and has been right all along.
...I'll be hanged if we are going away! We are going to stay where we are, Katherine . . . This is the field of battle ...this is where the fight will be. This is where I shall triumph!
See Plot for more information.
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Concrete Poetry
A poem that visually resembles something found in the physical world. A poem about a wormy apple written so that the words form the shape of an apple, as in the following, is an example.

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Conflict
In the plot of a drama, conflict occurs when the protagonist is opposed by some person or force in the play. In Henry Ibsen's drama "An Enemy of the People" Dr. Thomas Stockmann's life is complicated by his finding that the public baths, a major source of income for the community, are polluted. In trying to close the baths, the doctor comes into conflict with those who profit from them, significantly, his own brother, the mayor of the town.
Another example occurs in the film "Star Wars." Having learned that Princess Lea is being held prisoner by the evil Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker sets out to rescue her. In doing so, he becomes involved in the conflict between the empire and the rebels which Lea spoke of in her holograph message in the drama's exposition. Since Luke is the protgonist of "Star Wars," the conflict in the drama crystallizes to that between Luke and Darth Vader.
See Antagonist, Exposition, and Plot for more information.
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Connotation and Denotation
The denotation of a word is its dictionary definition. The word wall, therefore, denotes an upright structure which encloses something or serves as a boundary. The connotation of a word is its emotional content. In this sense, the word wall can also mean an attitude or actions which prevent becoming emotionally close to a person. In Robert Frosts "Mending Wall," two neighbors walk a property line each on his own side of a wall of loose stones. As they walk, they pick up and replace stones that have fallen. Frost thinks it's unnecessary to replace the stones since thay have no cows to damage each other's property. The neighbor only says "Good fences make good neighbors." The wall, in this case, is both a boundary (denotation) and a barrier that prevents Frost and his neighbor from getting to know each other, a force prohibiting involvement (connotation).
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Consonance
The repetition of consonant sounds with differing vowel sounds in words near each other in a line or lines of poetry. Consider the following example from Theodore Roethke's "Night Journey:"
      We rush into a rain
      That rattles double glass.
The repetition of the r sound in rush, rain, and rattles, occurring so close to each other in these two lines, would be considered consonance. Since a poem is generally much shorter than a short story or novel, the poet must be economical in his/her use of words and devices. Nothing can be wasted; nothing in a well-crafted poem is there by accident. Therefore, since devices such as consonance and alliteration, rhyme and meter have been used by the poet for effect, the reader must stop and consider what effect the inclusion of these devices has on the poem. Return to Menu


Couplet
A stanza of two lines, usually rhyming. The following by Andrew Marvell is an example of a rhymed couplet:

      Had we but world enough and time,
      This coyness, lady, were no crime.
See Stanza for more information.
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Dactyl
In poetry, a metrical pattern consisting of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables as in the following example from "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred Lord Tennyson:
Note that the metrical pattern in the fourth foot consists of one stressed and one unstressed syllable, rather than the one stressed and two unstressed syllables necessary to qualify the foot as dactyllic. A metrical pattern need not be consistent throughout a line or poem for the work to be labeled as composed in an identifiable meter. However, if enough of the work is written in an identifiable metrical pattern for the reader to get a sense of a dominant pattern, then the reader is justified in labeling the pattern.
See Meter for more information.
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Denouement
Pronounced Dee-noo-ma, the denouement is that part of a drama which follows the climax and leads to the resolution.
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Dialogue
In drama, a conversation between characters. One interesting type of dialogue, stichomythia, occurs when the dialogue takes the form of a verbal duel between characters, as in the following between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude. (William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" - Act 3, scene 4)
QUEEN: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
HAMLET: Mother, you have my father much offended.
QUEEN: Come, Come, you answer with an idle tongue.
HAMLET: Go, Go, You question with a wicked tongue.
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Diction
An author's choice of words. Since words have specific meanings, and since one's choice of words can affect feelings, a writer's choice of words can have great impact in a literary work. The writer, therefore, must choose his words carefully. Discussing his novel "A Farewell to Arms" during an interview, Ernest Hemingway stated that he had to rewrite the ending thirty-nine times. When asked what the most difficult thing about finishing the novel was, Hemingway answered, "Getting the words right." Return to Menu

Didactic Literature
Literature disigned explicitly to instruct as in these lines from Jacque Prevert's "To Paint the Portrait of a Bird."
      Paint first a cage
      with an open door
      paint then
      something pretty
      something simple
      something handsome
      something useful
      for the bird
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Dramatic Monologue
In literature, the occurrence of a single speaker saying something to a silent audience. Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess" is an example wherein the duke, speaking to a non-responding representative of the family of a prospective new duchess, reveals not only the reasons for his disapproval of the behavior of his former duchess, but aspects of his own personality as well. Return to Menu

Elegy
A lyric poem lamenting death. These lines from Joachim Du Bellay's "Elegy on His Cat" are an example:
      I have not lost my rings, my purse,
      My gold, my gems-my loss is worse,
      One that the stoutest heart must move.
      My pet, my joy, my little love,
      My tiny kitten, my Belaud,
      I lost, alas, three days ago.
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Epic
In literature generally, a major work dealing with an important theme. "Gone with the Wind," a film set in the antebellum (pre-Civil War) and Civil War South, is considered an epic motion picture. In poetry, a long work dealing with the actions of gods and heroes. John Milton's "Paradise Lost" is a book length epic poem consisting of twelve subdivisions called books. Homer's "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" are epic poems, the former concerning the Greek invasion of Troy; the latter dealing with the Greek victory over the Trojans and the ten-year journey of Odysseus to reach his island home.
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Epigraph
A brief quotation which appears at the beginning of a literary work. The following is the epigraph from T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Quoted from Dante Allighieri's epic poem "The Inferno," the speaker, Guido di Montefeltrano, believing Dante to be another soul condemned to Hell, replies thus to a question:
      If I believed my answer were being given
      to someone who could ever return to the world,
      this flame (his voice is represented by a moving flame) would shake no more.
      But since no one has ever returned
      alive from this depth, if what I hear is true,
      I will answer you without fear of infamy.
The epigraph here reveals one of the themes of the poem, Prufrocks urgent desire not to be revealed. Return to Menu

Epithet
In literature, a word of phrase preceding or following a name which serves to describe the character. Consider the following from Book 1 of Homer's "The Iliad:"
Zeus-loved Achilles, you bid me explain
The wrath of far-smiting Apollo.
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Euphemism
A mild word of phrase which substitutes for another which would be undesirable because it is too direct, unpleasant, or offensive. The word "joint" is a euphemism for the word "prison." Return to Menu

Exposition
In drama, the presentation of essential information regarding what has occurred prior to the beginning of the play. In the exposition to William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," two servants of the house of Capulet discuss the feud between their master and the house of Montague, thereby letting the audience know that such a feud exists and that it will play an important role in influencing the plot.
In the exposition to the film "Star Wars," Luke Skywalker sees a 3D holograph projection of the Princess Lea warning that she is a prisoner of Darth Vader and begging for help.
See Plot for more information.
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Email: Joel Sommer Littauer