AP Literary Terms
Abstract: An abstract style (in writing) is typically complex, discusses intangible qualities like good and evil, and seldom uses examples to support its points.
*Absurd Her The outlook of the absurd hero is this: determined to continue living with passion even though life appears to be meaningless. Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is sentenced to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain and then must watch its descent. He will never reach the top. Other examples of the absurd her Meursault in The StrangerRosencrantz and Guildenstern in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot.
*Academic: As an adjective describing style, this word means dry and theoretical writing. When a piece of writing seems to be sucking all the life out of its subject with analysis, the writing is academic.
*Accent: In poetry accent refers to the stressed portion of a word. In “To be, or not to be,” accents fall on the first “be” and “not.” It sounds silly any other way. But accent in poetry is also often a matter of opinion. Consider the rest of the first line of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, “That is the question.” The stresses in that portion of the line are open to a variety of interpretations.
*Ad hoc argument: Giving an after-the-fact explanation which doesn’t apply to other situations.
I was healed from cancer by God!
Really? Does that mean that God will heal all others with cancer?
Well... God works in mysterious ways.
*Aesthetic: an adjective meaning “appealing to the senses.” Aesthetic judgment is a phrase synonymous with artistic judgment. As a noun, an aesthetic is a coherent sense of taste. The kid whose room is painted black, who sleeps in a coffin, and listens to only funeral music has an aesthetic. The kid whose room is filled with pictures of kittens and daisies but who sleeps in a coffin and listens to polka music has confused aesthetic. The plural noun, aesthetics, is the study of beauty. Questions like what is beauty? Or, is the beautiful always good? Fall into the category of aesthetics.
*Allegory: An allegory is a story in which each aspect of the story has a symbolic meaning outside the tale itself. Many fables have an allegorical quality. For example, Aesop’s “Ant and the Grasshopper” isn’t merely a story of a hard working ant and a carefree grasshopper, but is also a story about different approaches to living- the thrifty and the devil-may-care. It can also be read as a story about the seasons of summer and winter, which represent a time of prosperity and a time of hardship, or even as representing youth and age. True allegories are even more hard and fast. Bunyan’s epic poem, Pilgrim’s Progress, is an allegory of the soul, in which each and every part of the tale represents some feature of the spiritual world and the struggles of an individual to lead a Christian life.
*Alliteration: The repetition of initial consonant sounds is called alliteration. In other words, consonant clusters coming closely cramped and compressed-no coincidence.
*Allusion: A reference to another work or famous figure is an allusion. A classical allusion is a reference to Greek and Roman Mythology such as, The Iliad. Allusions can be topical or popular as well. A topical allusion refers to a current event. A popular allusion refers to something from popular culture, such as a reference to a television show or a hit movie.
*Anachronism: The word anachronism is derived from Greek, It means, “misplaced in time.” If the actor playing Brutus in a production of Julius Caesar forgets to take off his wrist-watch, the effect will be anachronistic (and probably comic).
*Analogy: An analogy is a comparison. Usually analogies involve two or more symbolic parts, and are employed to clarify an action or a relationship. Just as the mother eagle shelters her young from the storm by spreading her great wing above their heads, so does the Acme Insurers of America spread an umbrella of coverage to protect its policy-holders from the storms of life.
*Anaphora: The deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of several successive verses, clauses, or paragraphs; for example, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills” (Winston S. Churchill).
*Anecdote: An anecdote is a short narrative, story.
*Antecedent: The word, phrase, or clause that determines what a pronoun refers to. As the children in The principle asked the children where they were going.
*Anthropomorphism: In literature, when inanimate objects are given human characteristics, anthropomorphism is at work. For example, In the forest, the darkness waited for me, I could hear its patient breathing…Anthropomorphism is often confused with personification. But personification required that the non-human quality or thing take on human shape.
*Anticlimax: An anticlimax occurs when an action produces far smaller results than one had been led to expect. Anticlimax is frequently comic. Sir, your snide manner and despicable arrogance have long been a source of disgust to me, but I’ve overlooked it until now. However, it has come to my attention that you have fallen so disgracefully deep into that mire of filth, which is your mind as to attempt to besmirch my wife’s honor and my good name. Sir, I challenge you to a game of badminton!
*Antiher A protagonist who is markedly unheroic: morally weak, cowardly, dishonest, or any number of unsavory qualities. The character lacks the qualities of the her skill, grace, honesty, courage, truth.
*Aphorism: A short and usually witty saying, such as: “A classic? That’s a book that people praise and don’t read.”- Mark Twain.
*Apostrophe: A figure of speech wherein the speaker talks directly to something that is nonhuman, or absent. For example, one might talk to a friend who has passed away.
*Apothegm: A terse, witty, instructive saying; a maxim. Examples: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” “All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.” "May the Force be with you."
*Archaism: The use of deliberately old-fashioned language. Authors sometimes use archaisms to create a feeling of antiquity. Tourist traps use archaisms with a vengeance, as in “Ye Olde Candle Shoppe”-Yeech!
*Aside: A speech (usually just a short comment) made by an actor to the audience, as though momentarily stepping outside of the action on stage. (See soliloquy.)
*Aspect: A trait or characteristic, as in “an aspect of the dew drop.”
*Assonance: The repeated use of vowel sounds, as in, “Old king Cole was a merry old soul.”
*Atmosphere: The emotional tone or background that surrounds a scene.
*Ballad: A long, narrative poem, usually in very regular meter and rhyme. A ballad typically has a naïve folksy quality, a characteristic that distinguishes it from epic poetry.
*Bathos, Pathos: When the writing of a scene evokes feelings of dignified pity and sympathy, pathos is at work. When writing strains for grandeur it can’t support and tries to create tears from every little hiccup, that’s bathos.
*Black Humor: This is the use of disturbing themes in comedy. In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the two tramps, Didi and Gogo, comically debate about ending their lives, and whether the branches of the tree will support their weight. This is black humor.
*Bombast: This is pretentious, exaggeratedly learned language. When one tries to be eloquent by using the largest, most uncommon words, one falls into bombast.
*Burlesque: A burlesque is a broad parody, one that takes a style or form, such as a tragic drama, and exaggerates it into ridiculousness. A parody usually takes on a specific work, such as Hamlet. For the purposes of the AP test, you can think of the terms parody and burlesque as interchangeable.
*Cacophony: In poetry, cacophony is using deliberately harsh, awkward sounds.
*Cadence: The beat or rhythm of poetry in a general sense. For example, iambic pentameter is the technical name for rhythm. One sample of predominately iambic pentameter verse could have a gentle, pulsing cadence, whereas another might have a conversational cadence, and still another might have a vigorous, marching cadence.
*Cant The name for a section division in a long work of poetry. A canto divides a long poem into parts the ways chapters divide a novel.
*Caricature: A portrait (verbal or otherwise) that exaggerates a facet of personality.
*Catharsis: This is a term drawn from Aristotle’s writing on tragedy. Catharsis refers to the “cleansing” of emotion an audience member experiences, having lived (vicariously) through the experiences presented on stage. A reader or audience member can feel great sorrow, pity, laughter..for example when Ophelia dies in Hamlet. A character can also have a cathartic experience..for example when Laertes realizes that it was wrong for him to trick/kill Hamlet.
*Chiasmus: a figure of speech by which the order of the terms in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second. This may involve a repetition of the same words. “Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure” --Byron. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty"-Keats. It is named after the Greek letter chi (x), indicating a “criss-cross” arrangement of terms.
*Chorus: In Greek drama, this is the group if citizens who stand outside the main action on stage and comment on it.
*Circular Reasoning: the practice of assuming something, in order to prove the very thing that you assumed. In Logic-speak, you assume that proposition A is true, and use that premise (directly or indirectly) to prove that proposition A is true. This is one of many logical fallacies that routinely get used in heated arguments, and is actually a special case of the fallacy of false assumptions.
*Classic: What a troublesome word! Don’t confuse classic with classical. Classic can mean typical, as in oh, that was a classic blunder. It can also mean an accepted masterpiece, for example, Death of a Salesman. But, classical refers to the arts of ancient Greece and Rome, and the qualities of those arts.
*Coinage (neologism) A coinage is a new word, usually one invented on the spot. People’s names often become grist for coinages, as in, “Oh, man, you just pulled a major Veesta.” Of course, you’d have to know Veesta to know what that means (a compliment or an insult).
*Colloquialism: This is a word or phrase used in everyday conversational English that isn’t a part of accepted “school-book” English. For example, I’m toasted. I’m a crispy- critter man. I’ve got this wicked headache. Alison’s idea is sweet!
*Complex / Dense: These two terms carry the similar meaning of suggesting that there is more than one possibility in the meaning of words (image, idea, opposition); there are subtleties and variations; there are multiple layers of interpretation; the meaning is both explicit and implicit.
*Conceit, controlling image: In poetry, conceit doesn’t mean stuck-up. It refers to a startling or unusual metaphor, or to a metaphor developed and expanded upon several lines. When the image dominates and shapes the entire work, it’s called a controlling image. A metaphysical conceit is reserved for metaphysical poems only.
*Connotation, denotation: The denotation of a word is it’s literal meaning. The connotations are everything else that the word suggests or implies. For example, in the phrase the dark forest, dark denotes a relative lack of light. The connotation is of danger, or perhaps mystery or quiet; we’d need more information to know for sure, and if we did know with complete certainty that wouldn’t be connotation, but denotation. In many cases connotation eventually so overwhelms a word that it takes over the denotation. For example livid is supposed to denote a dark purple-red color like that of a bruise, but it has been used so often in the context of extreme anger that many people have come to use livid as a synonym for rage, rather than a connotative description of it.
*Consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds within words (rather than at their beginnings, which is alliteration). A flock or sick, black-checkered, ducks.
*Couplet: A pair of lines that end in rhyme:
But as my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near
*Decorum: In order to observe decorum, a character’s speech must be styled according to her social station, and in accordance with the occasion. A bum should speak like a bum about bumly things, while a princess should speak only about higher topics (and in a delicate manner). In Neoclassical and Victorian literature the authors observe decorum, meaning they did not write about the indecorous. The bum wouldn’t even appear in this genre of literature.
*Diction,syntax: The author’s choice of word. Whether to use wept or cried is a question of diction. Syntax refers to the ordering and structuring. Whether to say, The pizza was smothered in cheese and pepperoni. I devoured it greedily, or Greedily, I devoured the cheese and pepperoni smothered pizza, is a question of syntax.
*Dirge: This is a song for the dead. Its tone is typically slow, heavy, depressed, and melancholy.
*Dissonance: This refers to the grating of incompatible sounds.
*Doggerel: Crude, simplistic verse, often in sing-song rhyme. Limericks are a kind of doggerel.
*Double entendre: An expression or term liable to more than one interpretation: ambiguity, equivocality, equivocation. Example: “Beards, they grow on you.”
*Dramatic Irony: When the audience knows something that the characters in the drama do not.
*Dramatic Monologue: When a single speaker in literature says something to a silent audience.
*Dynamic character: one who changes his/her beliefs, values, opinions in a story. A static character’s beliefs stay the same.
*Elegy: A type of poem that meditates on death or mortality in a serious, thoughtful manner. Elegies often use the recent death of a noted person or loved one as a starting point. They also memorialize specific dead people.
*Ellipsis: the omission of a word or words understood in the context. Example: If possible for if it is possible.
*Enjambment: The continuation of a syntactic unit from one line or couplet of a poem to the next with no pause.
*Epic: In a broad sense, an epic is simply a very long narrative poem on a serious theme in a dignified style. Epics typically deal with glorious or profound subject matter: a great war, a heroic journey, the fall of a man from Eden, a battle with supernatural forces, a trip to the underworld, etc. The mock-epic is a parody form that deals with mundane events and ironically treats them as worthy of epic poetry.
*Epitaph: Lines that commemorate the dead at their burial place. An epitaph is usually a line or handful of lines, often serious or religious, but sometimes witty and even irreverent.
*Equivocation: The same word is used with two different meanings. The sign said “fine for parking here,” and since it was fine, I parked there.
*Euphemism: A word or phrase that takes the place of a harsh, unpleasant, or impolite reality. The use of passed away for died, and let go for fired are two examples of euphemisms.
*Euphony: When sounds blend harmoniously, the result in euphony.
*Explicit: To say or write something directly and clearly (this is a rare happening in literature since the whole game is to be “implicit,” that, to suggest and imply).
*Farce: Today we use this word to refer to extremely broad humor. Writers of earlier times used farce as a more neutral term, meaning simply a funny play; a comedy. (And you should know that for writers of centuries past, comedy was the generic term for any play; it did not imply humor.)
*Feminine rhyme: Lines rhymed by their final two syllables. A pair of lines ending with running and gunning would be an example of feminine rhyme. Properly, in a feminine rhyme (and not simply a double rhyme) the penultimate syllables are stressed and the final syllables are unstressed.
*First person narrator: See point of view .
*Flashback: a section of a literary work that interrupts the sequence of events to relate an event from an earlier time.
*Foil: A secondary character whose purpose is to highlight the characteristics of a main character, usually by contrast. For example, an author will often give a cynical, quick-witted character a docile, naïve, sweet-tempered friend to serve as a foil.
*Foreshadowing: An event or statement in a narrative that in miniature suggests a larger event that comes later.
*Free verse: Poetry written without a regular rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
*Genre: A sub-category of literature. Science-fiction and detective stories are genres of fiction.
*Gothic, Gothic novel: Gothic is the sensibility derived from gothic novels. This form first showed up in the middle of the eighteenth century and had a hey-day of popularity for about sixty years. It hasn’t really ever gone away. The sensibility? Think mysterious gloomy castles perched high upon sheer cliffs. Paintings with sinister eyeballs that follow you around the room. Weird screams from the attic each night. Diaries with a final entry that traits off the page and reads something like, No, NO! IT COULDN’T BE!!
*Hero’s Journey: Most protagonists go through the typical four steps of a journey (Innocence, Initiation, Chaos, Resolution).
*Hubris: The excessive pride or ambition that leads to the main character’s downfall (another term from Aristotle’s discussion of tragedy).
*Hyperbole: exaggeration or deliberate overstatement.
*Imagery: a word or phrase that appeals to one or more of the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell.
*Implicit: To say or write something that suggest and implies but—gasp—never says it directly or clearly. “Meaning” is definitely present, but it’s in the imagery, or “between the lines.”
*In medias res: Latin for “in the midst of things.” One of the conversations of epic poetry is that the action begins in medias res. For example, when The Iliad begins, the Trojan war has already been going on for seven years.
*Interior Monologue: This is a term for novels and poetry, not dramatic literature. It refers to writing that records the mental talking that goes on inside a character’s head. It is related, but not identical to stream of consciousness. Interior monologue tends to be coherent, as though the character were actually talking. Stream of consciousness is looser and much more given to fleeting mental impressions.
*Inversion: Switching the customary order of elements in a sentence or phrase. When done badly it can give a stilted, artificial, look-at-me-I’m poetry feel to the verse, but poets do it all the time. This type of messing with syntax is called poetic license. I’ll have one large pizza with all the fixin’s- presto chango instant poetry- A pizza large I’ll have, one with the fixin’s all.
*Irony: One definition of irony is a statement that means the opposite of what it seems to mean, and while that isn’t a bad definition, it doesn’t get at the delicacy with which the authors on the AP test use irony. Simply saying the opposite of what one means is sarcasm. The hallmark of irony is an undertow of meaning, sliding against the literal meaning of the words. Jane Austin is famous for writing descriptions which seem perfectly pleasant, but to the sensitive reader have a deliciously mean snap to them. Irony insinuates. It whispers underneath the explicit statement, Do you understand what I really mean? Think of the way Marc Anthony says again and again of Brutus, “but he is an honorable man.” At first it doesn’t seem like much, but with each repetition the undertone of irony becomes ever more insistent.
*Juxtaposition: the act or instance of placing two things close together or side by side. This is often done in order to compare/contrast the two, to show similarities or differences, etc. In literature, a juxtaposition occurs when two images that are otherwise not commonly brought together appear side by side or structurally close together, thereby forcing the reader to stop and reconsider the meaning of the text through the contrasting images, ideas, motifs, etc. For example, “He was slouched alertly” is a juxtaposition.
*Lament: A poem of sadness or grief over the death of a loved one or over some other intense loss.
*Lampoon: A satire.
*Limerick: a humorous 5 line poem. Most follow the rhyme scheme of aabba.
Seniors take AP English to learn.
A book is to read and not to burn.
Your teacher is Mr. Evans.
At the end of the year, you’ll say “thank heavens.”
Do homework early so your stomach will not turn.
*Litotes: an understatement, where the speaker or writer uses a negative of a word ironically, to mean the opposite. Litotes is to be found in English literature right back to Anglo-Saxon times. She’s not the friendliest person I know. (she’s an unfriendly person)
*Loose and periodic sentences: A loose sentence is complete before its end. A periodic sentence is not grammatically complete until it has reached its final phrase. (The term loose does not in any way imply that the sentences are slack or shoddy.)
Loose sentence: Jack loved Barbara despite her irritating snorting laugh, her complaining, and her terrible taste in shoes.
Periodic sentence: Despite Barbara’s irritation at Jack’s peculiar habit of picking between his toes while watching MTV and his terrible haircut, she loved him.
*Lyric: A type of poetry that explores the poet’s personal interpretation of and feelings about the world (or the part that his poem is about). When the word lyric is used to describe a tone it refers to a sweet emotional melodiousness. *Masculine rhyme: A rhyme ending on the final stressed syllable (a.k.a., regular old rhyme).
*Means, Meaning: This is the big one, the one task you have to do all the time. You are discovering what makes sense, what’s important. There is literal meaning which is concrete and explicit, and there is emotional meaning.
*Melodrama: A form of cheesy theater in which the hero is very, very good, the villain mean and rotten, and the heroine oh-so-pure. (It sounds dumb, but melodramatic movies make tons of money every year.)
*Metaphor and simile: A metaphor is a comparison, or analogy that states on thing is another. His eyes were burning coals, or In the morning, the lake is covered in liquid gold. It’s a simple point, so keep it straight: a simile is just like a metaphor but softens the full out equations of things, often, but not always by using like or as. His eyes were like burning coals, or In the morning the lake is covered in what seems to be liquid gold.
*Metaphysical conceit: see conceit
*Metonym: A word that is used to stand for something else that it has attributes of or is associated with. For example, a herd of 50 cows could be called 50 head of cattle. This is Greek for “name change,” and denotes a closely related word for something. For example, a crown is a metonym for a king, and a cane, a metonym for old age. Also, books are metonyms for knowledge. Metonyms work to give you a more abstract stance, while still stating your concrete thought. The Oval Office=the activity of the presidency.
*Mood: the atmosphere of a story. The feeling created in the reader by a literary work. See tone.
*Nemesis: The protagonist’s arch enemy or supreme and persistent difficulty.
*Neologism: See coinage
*Non-Sequitur. The term non sequitur literally means "it does not follow".
*Objectivity and Subjectivity: An objective treatment of subject matter is an impersonal or outside view of events. A subjective treatment uses the interior or personal view of a single observer and is typically colored with that observer’s emotional responses.
*Onomatopoeia: Words that sound like what they mean. Examples: Boom. Splat. Babble. Gargle. Sizzle. Buzz. Roar.
*Opposition: This is one of the most useful concepts in analyzing literature. It means that you have a pair of elements that contrast sharply. It is not necessarily “conflict” but rather a pairing of images (or setting or appeals, etc.) whereby each becomes more striking and informative because it’s placed in contrast to the other one. This kind of opposition creates mystery and tension. Oppositions can be obvious. Oppositions can also lead to irony but not necessarily so.
*Oxymoron: A phrase composed of opposites; a contradiction. Bright Black. A calm frenzy. Jumbo Shrimp. Dark Light. A truthful lie.
*Parable: Like a fable, or an allegory, a parable is a story that instructs.
*Paradox: A situation or statement that seems to contradict itself, but on closer inspection, does not. Here are two examples: “A single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”
Joseph Stalin “To become rich, I became poor.” -Andy Evans
*Parallelism: Repeated syntactical similarities used for effect.
*Paraphrase: To restate phrases and sentences in your own words, to re-phrase. Paraphrase is not analysis or interpretation, so don’t fall into thinking that traps so many students. Paraphrasing is just a way of showing that you comprehend what you’ve just read-that you can now put it in your own words, no more, no less.
*Parenthetical phrase: A phrase set off by commas that interrupts the flow of a sentence with some commentary or added detail. Jack’s three dogs, including that miserable, little spaniel, were with him that day.
*Parody: The work that results when a specific work is exaggerated to ridiculousness.
*Pastoral: A poem set in tranquil nature or even more specifically, one about shepherds.
*Pathetic fallacy: the description of inanimate natural objects in a manner that endows them with human emotions, thoughts, sensations and feelings.
The pathetic fallacy is not a logical fallacy since it does not imply a mistake in reasoning. As a rhetorical figure it bears some resemblance to personification, although it is less formal. Examples: “The stars will awaken / Though the moon sleep a full hour later” -Percy Bysshe Shelley. “The fruitful field / Laughs with abundance” -William Cowper. “Lo, the most excellent sun so calm and haughty” -Walt Whitman.
*Pathos: See bathos.
*Periodic sentence: See loose sentence.
*Persona: The narrator in a non first-person novel. In a third person novel, even though the author isn’t a character, you get some idea of the author’s personality. However, it isn’t really the author’s personality because the author is manipulating your impressions there as in other parts of the book. This shadow-author is called the author’s persona.
*Personification: When an inanimate object takes on human shape. The darkness of the forest became the figure of a beautiful, pale-skinned woman in night-black clothes.
*Plaint: A poem or speech expressing sorrow.
*Platitude: A trite or banal remark or statement, especially one expressed as if it were original or significant.
*Point of View: The point of view is the perspective from which the action of a novel (or narrative poem) is presented, whether the action is presented by one character or from different vantage points over the course of the novel. Be sensitive to point of view, because ETS likes to ask questions about it and they also like to mention point of view in the essay questions.
---The omniscient narrator: This is a third person narrator who sees, like God, into each character’s mind and understands all the action going on.
---The limited omniscient narrator: This is a third person narrator who generally reports only what one character (usually the main character) sees, and who only reports the thoughts of that one privileged character.
---The objective, or camera eye narrator: This is a third person narrator who only reports on what would be visible to a camera. The objective narrator does not know what the character is thinking unless the character speaks of it.
---The first person narrator: This a narrator who is a character in the story and tells the tale from his or her point of view. When the first person narrator is crazy, a liar, very young, or for some reason not entirely credible the narrator is unreliable.
---The Stream of consciousness technique: This method is like first person narration but instead of the character telling the story, the author places the reader inside the main character’s head and makes the reader privy to all of the character’s thoughts as they scroll through her consciousness.
*Polysyndeton is the use of several conjunctions in close succession, especially where some might be omitted (as in "he ran and jumped and laughed for joy"). It is a stylistic scheme used to slow the rhythm of prose and can add an air of solemnity to a passage. Polysyndeton is used extensively in the King James Version of the Bible. For example:
“And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.” Genesis 7:22–24
*Prelude: An introductory poem to a longer work of verse.
*Protagonist: The main character of a novel or play.
*Pun: The usually humorous use of a word in such a way to suggest more meanings.
*Refrain: A line or set of lines repeated several times over a course of a poem.
*Repetition: a sound, a word, a phrase, a sentence, or a verse that is repeated.
*Requiem: A song of prayer for the dead.
*Rhapsody: An intensely passionate verse or section of verse, usually of love or praise.
*Rhetorical Question: A question that suggests an answer. In theory, the effect of a rhetorical question is that it causes the listener to feel she has come up with the answer herself. Well, we can fight it out, or we can run-so are we cowards? For example, “Why are you so stupid?” is likely to be a statement regarding one’s opinion of the person addressed rather than a genuine request to know. Similarly, when someone responds to a tragic event by saying, “Why me, God?!” it is more likely to be an accusation or an expression of feeling than a realistic request for information.
*Satire: This is an important term for the AP test. ETS is fond of satirical writing, again because it lends itself well to multiple-choice questions. Satire exposes common character flaws to the cold light of humor. In general, satire attempts to improve things by pointing out people’s mistakes in hope that once exposed, such behavior will become less common. The great satirical subjects are hypocrisy, vanity, and greed, especially where those all to common characteristics have become institutionalized in society.
*Setting: the time and place of a story.
*Simile: see metaphor
*Soliloquy: A speech spoken by a character alone on stage. A soliloquy is meant to convey the impression that the audience is listening to the character’s thoughts. Unlike an aside, a soliloquy is not meant to imply that the actor acknowledges the audience’s presence.
*Sophistry: Plausible but fallacious argumentation. A plausible but misleading or fallacious argument.
*Stanza: A group of lines roughly analogous in function in verse to the paragraph’s function in prose.
*Stock characters: Standard or clichéd character types: the drunk, the miser, the foolish girl, etc.
*Stream of consciousness: see point of view
*Subjective: see objectivity
*Subjunctive Mood: If I were you, I’d learn this one! That’s a small joke because the grammatical situation involves the words “if” and “were.” What you do is set up a hypothetical situation, a kind of wishful thing: if I were you, if he were honest, if she were rich. You can also get away from the person and into the “it”: I wish it were true, would it were so (that even sounds like Shakespeare and poetry).
*Suggest: To imply, infer, indicate. This is another one of those basic tools of literature. It goes along with the concept of implicit. As the reader, you have to do all the work to pull out the meaning.
*Summary: A simple retelling of what you’ve just read. It’s mechanical, superficial, and a step beyond the paraphrase in that it covers much more material and is more general. You can summarize a whole chapter or a whole story, whereas you paraphrase word-by-word and line-by-line. Summary includes all the facts.
*Suspension of disbelief: The demand made of a theater audience to accept the limitations of staging and supply the details with their imagination. Also, the acceptance on an audience’s or reader’s part of the incidents of plot in a play or story. If there are too many coincidences or improbable occurrences, the viewer/reader can no longer suspend disbelief and subsequently loses interest.
*Syllogistic reasoning: taking two statements, which are assumed to be true, (i.e. syllogisms) and evaluating a conclusion (also a syllogism).
*Symbolism: A device in literature where an object represents an idea.
*Synecdoche: (si-NECK-de-key). a figure of speech in which a part stands for a whole, or vice versa. “lend me your ears.” In other words, give me your attention. “All hands on decks” means all people. There were some “new faces” at the meeting (new people).
*Synesthesia: When two (or more) sensory details are combined. Example: Keren had a “prickly laugh” (touch, sound). Will wore a “loud shirt” (sight, sound).
*Syntax: see diction
*Technique: The methods, the tools, the “how-she-does-it” ways of the author. The elements are not techniques. In poetry, onomatopoeia is a technique within the element of rhythm. In drama, blocking is a technique, and lighting. Concrete details are not techniques, but tone is. Main idea is not a technique, but opposition is.
*Theme: The main idea of the overall work; the central idea. It is the topic of discourse or discussion.
*Thesis: The main position of an argument. The central contention that will be supported.
*Tone: the writer’s attitude toward his or her audience and subject. A writer can be formal or informal, sarcastic or bitter or playful. Often confused with mood.
*Tragic flaw: In a tragedy, this is the weakness of character in an otherwise good (or even great) individual that ultimately leads to his demise.
*Travesty: A grotesque parody
*Truism: A way-too obvious truth
*Unreliable narrator: see point of view
*Utopia: An idealized place. Imaginary communities in which people are able to live in happiness, prosperity, and peace. Several works of fiction have been written about utopias.
*Zeugma: The use of a word to modify two or more words but used for different meanings. He closed the door and his heart on his lost love.