Blank Verse

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Etymology and Meanings of Literary Device of Blank Verse

Adapted from unrhymed Greek and Latin heroic verse, the literary device of blank verse entered the English language through Italy in the 16th century along with other classical meters. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, introduced the meter, along with the sonnet and other Italian humanist verse forms, to England in the early 16th century.

Definition of Literary Device of Blank Verse

In literary terms, it means to use blank verse with iambic pentameter in poetry. A blank verse line has a total of 10 syllables in unstressed/stressed order.

Types of Blank Verse Poetry

There are total four types of blank verses with the following patterns of syllables as here stressed is (S) and unstressed syllable is (U).

  1. Iambic pentameter (U/S)
           Example:               U       S  U   S      U      S      U    S   U    S

                           When I do count the clock that tells the time

  1. Trochaic tetrameter (S/U)

Example: It is the reverse of the Iambic meter.

            S      U   S    U    S       U     S    U

Tell me not in  mournful   numbers

  1. Anapestic trimeter (U/U/S)

Example: It is total 9 syllables; first two unstressed and one stressed syllable.

  1. Dactylic hexameter (S/U/U)

Example: It has total 17 syllables; 6 stressed and 15 unstressed.

Literary Examples of Blank Verse

Example # 1

From “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth

Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! And again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur. – Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs.

These lines from the poem of William Wordsworth “Lines Written a Few Miles”show the use of iambic pentamer where five pairs of meters have been used with a U/S syllable pattern. It is a beautiful use of iambic pentamer. Just read the lines and see how they have used stressed syllables and unstressed syllables.

Example # 2

From “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” by S. T. Coleridge

Well, they are gone, and here must I remain,
This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost
Beauties and feelings, such as would have been
Most sweet to my remembrance even when age
had dimmed mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile.

These lines occur in the poem of Coleridge, “This-Lime Tree Bower My Prison.” It shows a beautiful use of iambic pentameter with a stressed and an unstressed syllable although it has no fixed rhyme scheme.

Example # 3

From “Spring Offensive” by Wilfred Owen

Halted against the shade of a last hill,

They fed, and, lying easy, were at ease

And, finding comfortable chests and knees

Carelessly slept.

                               But many there stood still

To face the stark, blank sky beyond the ridge,

Knowing their feet had come to the end of the world.

This black verse poem by Wilfred Owen shows the mixed use of iambic trochaic although the first three lines are in iambic pentameter. It is a beautiful blank verse example.

Example # 4

From “The Unknown Bird” by Edward Thomas

Three lovely notes he whistled, too soft to be heard

If others sang; but others never sang

In the great beech-wood all that May and June.

No one saw him: I alone could hear him

Though many listened. Was it but four years

Ago? or five? He never came again.

This poem also shows the beauty of blank verse although it uses an apestic trimeter. Yet, its main beauty lies in the use of blank verse.

Example # 5

From “Counter-Attack” By Siegfried Sassoon

We’d gained our first objective hours before

While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,

Pallid, unshaven and thirsty, blind with smoke.

Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,

With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,

And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.

These lines show the skill of Sassoon in using blank verse. The beauty of blank verse lies in the grandeur that the poetry shows through iambic pentameter with unstressed and stressed syllables.

How to Create Blank Verse

Creating blank verse poetry is not difficult. All you have to choose to practice all types of metrical patterns and then express your feelings in tightly knit iambic or anapestic meters. These two types of meters are easy to use.

Benefits of Using Blank Verse

It has the following benefits.

  1. It makes your poetic output grand in its quality.
  2. It creates musical quality and good notes.
  3. It is easy to read, easy to memorize, and easy to sing.
  4. Easy to use for identifying metrical pattern

Literary Device of Blank Verse in Literary Theory

  1. Blank verse is a poetic device and it is mostly used in the structural critique of a poem or poetry, yet its role in theories has not declined. It is mostly used in formalism rather than any other literary theory. In other theoretical perspectives, its role is minimal in interpreting cultural or social perspectives mostly on an indigenous and regional level and to some extent on the national level.

Suggested Readings

Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Geoffrey Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.

Shaw, Robert Burns. Blank Verse: A Guide to Its History and Use. Ohio University Press, 2007. Print. Weinfield, Henry. The Blank-Verse Tradition from Milton to Stevens: Freethinking and the Crisis of Modernity. Cambridge University Press, 2012. Print.

Suggested read: Literary Device Ballad


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Etymology and Meanings of Literary Device of Ballad

Etymologically, the term ballad has entered the English language from old French where it was ballada, a poem accompanied dancing. The term was derived from a Latin term, ballare which means to dance. A medieval Scottish term ballares also means to dance which is the source of ballet, another related term. In short, the term ballad finds its source in almost all ancient languages.

Definition of Literary Device of Ballad

As a literary term, a ballad is a type of song written in verse to be sung with musical instruments or without them. It is a narrative about some national, tribal, or regional topic or even a folk song. In Ireland and Britain, ballads were a popular form of poetry or song sung on different occasions.

Types of Literary Device of Ballads

There are five major types of literary device, ballads.

  1. Traditional ballads
  2. Broadside ballads
  3. Literary ballads
  4. Folk ballads
  5. Mythical ballads

Literary Examples of Literary Device of Ballad

Example # 1

From “As You Came from the Holy Land” by Sir Walter Ralegh

As you came from the holy land

Of Walsingham,

Met you not with my true love

By the way as you came?

“How shall I know your true love,

That have met many one,

I went to the holy land,

That have come, that have gone?”

These are the first two stanzas of the popular ballad of Sir Walter Ralegy “As You Came from the Holy Land.” It shows that this ballad is not only melodious but also very enchanting. It has a religious touch and could be with any musical instrument. Therefore, this is a good example of a ballad.

Example # 2

From “La Belle Dame sans Merci” by John Keats

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

       Alone and palely loitering?

The sedge has withered from the lake,

       And no birds sing.

This is the stanza of the poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by John Keats. Its rhyme scheme, meter, and notes show that it is a perfect type of ballad that could be sung on different occasions through different instruments.

Example # 3

“The Ballad of a Bachelor” by Ellis Parker Butler

Listen, ladies, while I sing
The ballad of John Henry King.

John Henry was a bachelor,
His age was thirty-three or four.

Two maids for his affection vied,
And each desired to be his bride,

And bravely did they strive to bring

Unto their feet John Henry King.

These lines occur in the ballad of Ellis Parker Butler. It also shows perfect rhyme scheme, rhythm as well as meter. Therefore, it is a good example of a national ballad having musical qualities.

Example # 4

From “Summoned by the King” by William Kite

“We are told to believe in the afterlife
Yet no one from death has returned
How can there be any life at all
Once the body has been burned”

“I watched my Father’s funeral fire
The flames lit up the sky
I know I shall not look upon him again
So is the after life a lie?”

These two stanzas occur in the ballad “Summoned by the King.” It has a good rhyme scheme of ABCB in both stanzas, and both are in a perfect rhythm. Therefore, this shows the skill of William Kite in writing a ballad.

Example # 5

From “Ballad of the Green Berets” by Barry Sadler and Robin Moore

Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men we’ll test today
But only three win the Green Beret.

This is the song of Green Beret, the US commando team. Barry Sadler and Robin Moore have given it a perfect rhythm as well as a rhyme to align it with the motto of the Green Beret. The repetition of “the Green Beret” in both stanzas has emphasized its thematic strand of nationalism.

How to Create Ballad

  1. Think about a story, having characters, dialogues, situations, themes, and background if you want a narrative.
  2. Create the dialogues each in a quatrain or heroic couplets.
  3. Create ABAB or some other good rhyme scheme.
  4. Use pentameter or hexameter.
  5. Read it aloud to align it with your and your readers’ feelings.

Benefits of Using Ballad

  1. It creates a thematic idea in the minds of the readers.
  2. It becomes easy to reach a wider audience having the same national or folk sentiments.
  3. It makes the writers convey their messages effectively and beautifully.
  4. It makes the readers absorb messages easily.

Literary Device of Ballad in Literary Theory

  1. As far as literary theories are concerned, ballads have been mostly written during the time of Romanticism. Therefore, any theoretical concept could be applied to interpret a ballad.
  2. Yet, formalism, readers’ response theory, deconstructionism, and structuralism are the most effective literary theories applied to ballads to properly understand their meanings.
  3. It, however, does not mean that other theoretical ideas could not be applied to the ballads. A critic could apply any theoretical idea but he should better first understand the purpose of a ballad, for it could belong to a race or an indigenous community, or a queer section of the section. In these cases, it would be better to critique them through indigenous critical theory, critical race theory, or queer theory respectively.

Suggested Readings

Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Geoffrey Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.

Bryant, Shasta M. The Spanish Ballad in English. University Press of Kentucky, 2014. Print. Child, Francis James. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Vol. 5. Courier Corporation, 2013. Print.

Suggested read: Literary Device: Analogy


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Etymology and Meanings of Literary Device of Antagonist

Etymologically, the term antagonist is a derivative of a French term called antagoniste which entered the English language in or around 1590. It means the person who contends with another person. Its trace goes to the Latin term antagonista and the Greek term antagonists which means an opponent, a rival, or a competitor, or a person who opposes the main character of a text.

Its verb in the Greek language is antagonizesthai which means to wage a struggle, or make efforts to win in a context. It mostly occurred and still occurs in battles or sports. However, it entered the sphere of human acts in the beginning of the 17th century and since then has been used in narratives for a character who opposes the protagonists, or the hero of the story.

Grammatically, it is a noun. Its verb is antagonize that means to make somebody become angry, touchy, furious, or irritating.

Definition of Literary Device of Antagonist

As a literary term, the antagonist is the principal rival, arch enemy, or foil of the main character, called the protagonist who is the source of goodness and virtue, while the antagonist is often the source of evil or bad actions happening in the storyline.

However, a protagonist could be an antagonist himself, or even the situation, or nature could be the antagonist of the protagonist in the case of which it is not bad things that nature is suggestive; rather it just obstructs the good intentions of the protagonist.

Common Examples of Literary Device of Antagonists

  1. Satan is a common antagonist of the entire mankind.
  2. Some animals such as a snake are painted in a bad light, making them antagonists.
  3. Some nouns are permanent antagonists such as criminals, thieves, burglars, etc.
  4. Conventional movies from Latin America, India, and even old English movies in the line of 007 have villains instead of antagonists.

Literary Examples of Antagonists

Example # 1

From All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque

He is right. We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.

This passage from the novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, shows Paul Baumer, the protagonist of the novel, ruminating over the comments of his colleague who think that he is right. They are no longer young. They have become adults and that they are now independent but the point is that they are independent only in war and war zone. They have no social experience. Therefore, this war or war-like social structure is the main antagonist working against the protagonist, Paul Baumer.

Example # 2

From Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

“I’ll try to catch him,” said Curley. His eyes passed over the new men and he stopped. He glanced coldly at George and then at Lennie. His arms gradually bent at the elbows and his hands closed into fists. He stiffened and went into a slight crouch. His glance was at once calculating and pugnacious. Lennie squirmed under the look and shifted his feet nervously. Curley stepped gingerly close to him. “You the new guys the old man was waitin’ for?”

This passage shows Curley, the antagonist of the novel, Of Mice and Men, by Steinbeck. He clearly looks at Lennie and George to see if he could take on both of them. His stiffening posture and crouching position point to his evil intentions. Therefore, it is clear that he is the antagonist of the novel.

Example # 3

From To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

There was indeed a caste system in Maycomb, but to my mind it worked this way: the older citizens, the present generation of people who had lived side by side for years and years, were utterly predictable to one another: they took for granted attitudes, character shadings, even gestures, as having been repeated in each generation and refined by time. Thus the dicta No
Crawford Minds His Own Business, Every Third Merriweather Is Morbid, The Truth Is Not in the Delafields, All the Bufords Walk Like That, were simply guides to daily living: never take a check from a Delafield without a discreet call to the bank; Miss Maudie Atkinson’s shoulder stoops because she was a Buford; if Mrs. Grace Merriweather sips gin out of Lydia E. Pinkham bottles it’s nothing unusual—her mother did the same.

This passage from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee presents Maycomb as a society facing fissures and crevices on account of the prevalent caste system in it. Therefore, almost all the families witness cracks despite having generations of people with good characters and grand portfolios. Therefore, despite good characters such as Mrs. Grace and Miss Maudie, society obstructs the protagonist, Scout. Therefore, society itself is the main antagonist of the novel.

Example # 4

From The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I know you think I am dead. But I am not. I been writing to you too, over they ears, but Albert said you’d never hear from me again and since I never heard from you all this time, I guess he was right. Now I only write at Christmas and Easter hoping my letter get lost among the Christmas and Easter greetings, or that Albert get the holiday spirit and have pity on us.

This passage occurs in Alice Walker’s popular novel, The Color Purple. As Nettie informs her sister that she has tried her best to reach out to her, she mentions who was causing the obstruction. This shows that his intention was to stop the sisters from meeting each other and causing a stop to his blackmail and bullying. Therefore, he is the main antagonist of the story.

Example # 5

Antagonist in The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

The story of the novel The Killer Angels shows Lee and Longstreet as antagonists in the entire battle, yet they are not outright antagonists. They are somewhat good as Lee is a good commander of his group. His admission of the failure of his responsibility during a charge shows this feature, yet he joins Longstreet characters in showing that they have been fighting for a failed cause. Therefore, they are antagonists of the story.

How to Create an Antagonist

  1. Make a plan for a protagonist and antagonist when weaving your story.
  2. Decide whether the protagonist is a society, abstract idea, or person.
  3. Create features of the antagonist opposite to the protagonist.
  4. Evaluate the role of the antagonist vis-à-vis the protagonist and sees its features distinctly opposite to that of the protagonist.

Benefits of Using Antagonist

  1. It makes readers aware of the bad side of life as well as the characters.
  2. It informs readers about virtue and evil.
  3. It makes the author present a balanced approach toward life.
  4. It helps the readers and the audiences to apply the same situation to life and be able to make an informed decision in their lives.

Literary Device of Antagonist in Literary Theory

  1. Antagonist in Postcolonialism: As a cultural critique, postcolonialism represents literature that sets it apart from other literary pieces in terms of power and indigenous awakening. That is why almost all the postcolonial literary pieces have one thing in common; they present colonialists or collaborators as antagonists of the protagonists. Therefore, an antagonist is an important part of the postcolonial literary pieces or critique.
  2. Antagonist and Archetypal Theory: Even in the archetypal literary theory, an antagonist plays their part in creating the archetypes and impacts the storyline as well as the readers and the audiences.
  3. Antagonist in Indigenous Critical Theory: Indigenous critical theory also takes an antagonist as a necessary element of the indigenous narratives though poetry and paintings could be exceptions. The reason is that indigenous theoretical assumptions stipulate the presence of paracolonialism which makes it mandatory to have an antagonist vis-à-vis a protagonist.
  4. Antagonist in Postmodernism: The term antagonist gets diluted in postmodernism on account of the cultural streak of turning every cultural or literary tradition or convention topsy turvy. Therefore, an antagonist could be a protagonist or vice versa, or even a single person simultaneously.
  5. Antagonist in Other Theoretical Perspectives: In fact, an antagonist has become such an integral part of social lifestyle and narratives that it is hard to eschew him/her in theoretical perspectives. However, in some theoretical perspectives, it could be explored on different levels such as in structuralism, poststructuralism, formalism, or new criticism.

Suggested Readings

Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Geoffrey Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning, 2014.

Bilof, Edwin G. “The Killer Angels: A Case Study of Historical Fiction in the Social Studies Curriculum.” The Social Studies 87.1 (1996): 19-23.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Random House, 2010.

Shaara, Michael. The killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War. Vol. 2. Ballantine Books, 2010. Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Vol. 1. Open Road Media, 2011.

You may also read (AllegoryOxymoron)


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Etymology and Meanings of Literary Device of Anaphora

Etymologically, literary device anaphora comprises two Greek terms; ana which means back, and pherein which means to bear. It later evolved into anaphora which means repetition. It entered the Latin language and thus came into use in the English language in the late 16th century.

Grammatically, it is a noun and its plural is anaphoras. It is the use of pronouns to avoid repetition, while in rhetoric it is the use of some words or a phrase in the beginning of every new clause or successive clauses.

In a literal sense, anaphora means using a word referring back to the same word used earlier in the sentence.

Definition of Literary Device of Anaphora

In literature, rhetoric, and composition, this term comprises a number of words or a phrase that occurs in the beginning of every new clause, or new sentence, or verse. It is used to stress upon the same idea through this repetition. It often occurs in conjunction with epistrophe which is contradictory to anaphor. It means the use of some words or phrases to occur at the end of a clause of a sentence and in successive clauses, sentences, or verses.

Examples of Literary Device of Anaphora in Literature and Lyrics

Example # 1

From “She Used to Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles

She is messy but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone but she used to be mine.

These are the last verses of Sara Bareilles’s lyric “She Used to be Mine” in which she has constantly used “She is…” in every verse. Although this repetition stresses upon the girl that she is referring to, it also highlights her manners and physical traits, creating a complete pen-picture of her friend.

Example # 2

From Animal Farm by George Orwell

We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty.

This passage occurs in Animal Farm, a novel by George Orwell. The Old Major constantly refers to “We are…” to stress upon the collectivity of the animals to make them rise up for rebellion against man’s oppression and injustice meted out to the animals. Therefore, this anaphoric use of “We are…” rhetorically helps him persuade the animals to listen to him.

Example # 3

From Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I like this day; I like that sky of steel; I like the sternnessand stillness of the world under this frost. I like Thornfield, its antiquity, its retirement, its old crowtrees and thorn-trees, its grey facade, and lines of dark windows reflecting that metal welkin: and yet how long have I abhorredthe very thought of it, shunned it like a great plague-house? How I do still abhor—

This passage occurs in Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte has used “I like…” as an anaphora in this passage to cleverly present the first-person emphasis on the character of Jane. There is also the use of “its” which shows the repetition in an anaphoric way. Both of these examples led credence to the effectiveness of anaphora in writing.

Example # 4

From Hard Times by Charles Dickens

The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside.

This passage occurs in Hard Times written by Charles Dickens. Dickens here uses “The emphasis was…” to refer to the stress of the speaker through his different things such as voice, face, and hair. In a sense, he is referring to paralinguistic features that help a rhetor use his/her body language to persuade his/her listeners or readers.

Example # 5

From “Possibilities” by Wislawa Szymborska

I prefer movies.

I prefer cats.

I prefer the oaks along the Warta.

I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.

I prefer myself liking people

to myself loving mankind.

I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.

I prefer the color green.

The use of “I prefer…” in these verses shows how much stress is upon the personal preference of the poet. This example from “Possibilities” by Szymborska shows the beautiful use of an anaphora.

From Night by Elie Wiesel

I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy. I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long. In the midst of these men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger.

Although there are several examples of anaphoras in Night by Elie Wiesel, this one is interesting in that it shows how “I no longer..” and “I was” occur at different intervals to stress upon the point of religion and its role in the Holocaust. Wiesel has beautifully used his theological discourse to stress upon his Jewish identity.

Example # 6

From The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisenor

It might have been the day that gray photograph was taken. It might have been the day she was holding cousin Totchy and baby Frank. It might have been the moment she pointed to the camera for the kids to look and they wouldn’t. Maybe the sky didn’t look the day she fell down. Maybe God was busy. It could be true she didn’t dive right one day and hurt her spine. Or maybe the story that she fell very hard from a high step stool, like Totchy said, is true.

This passage occurs in the novel by Sandra Cisenor, The House on Mango Street. She constantly starts her sentence with “It might have been…” and “Maybe…” She wants to stress upon the fallibility of her memory and her guess about her friends and their activities. This also stresses upon the major point that she is referring to with reference to Mango Street.

How to Create Anaphora

  1. Plan what you want to stress upon such as “As I said…”
  2. Create your plan to use it in the first part of every clause of a sentence.
  3. Use it in conversation when talking about the same issue you have planned such as “As I said you have knowledge of it and you know it better. As I said earlier that you will win and as I said you won it.”
  4. Create three to four anaphoras in your conversation every day.

Benefits of Using Literary Device of Anaphora

  1. It helps repeat the same point to stress upon some specific discourse.
  2. Constantly repetition at a specific point helps make a deep impact on the audience.
  3. It helps audiences remember points easily and absorb the major lesson of a literary piece.
  4. It helps the writers to persuade the audience easily.

Anaphora in Literary Theory

  1. Although the use of the literary device of anaphora in literary theory is a bit ambiguous, as a rhetorical term, it helps the writers clarify their messages and stress upon the main point. However, its interpretations from the readers’ point of view rely mainly on the context. Therefore, it mostly depends on its antecedent or what comes after it. Hence, it is a dietic use of anaphora that works better. It means it is based on the context in which it is used.
  2. The literary device of anaphora is mostly associated with power and discourse. That is why it often appears significant in indigenous studies, post-colonial theory, post-structuralism, and most importantly in formalism. It is even considered an important part of the syntactical features of discourse.
  3. Anaphora is part and parcel of rhetoric. It emphasizes a point and lends credence of the argument of the writer by presenting him/her with handy logos.

Suggestion Readings

Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Geoffrey Harpham. A Glossary Of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning, 2014.

Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary Of Literary Terms. Oxford University Press, 1996. Reinhart, Tanya Miriam. The Syntactic Domain of Anaphora. Diss. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1976.

Keep on learning: Literary Device: Characterization


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Etymology and Meanings of Literary Device of Analogy

Etymologically, the term analogy is a derivative of a Latin term, analogia, which also exists in the Greek language with the same spellings. It is made up of two-word ana- which means according to and logos which means ratio. In other words, it means proportion or correspondence. It is mostly used in mathematics in logical questions as Plato has used in the meanings of likeness or proportion between different things.

Semantically, it is used for comparison between two things on the basis of resemblance or similarities. It is a noun with plural analogies.

Definition of Literary Device of Analogy

As a literary term, analogy helps build a relationship based on the similarity between two ideas, concepts, characters, thematic strands, motifs, or even plots. This analogous relationship further helps build or create ideas.

Common Examples of Analogy

  1. The hammer is to nail as the comb is to hair.
  2. White is to black as up is to down.
  3. The mansion is to the shack as a yacht to a dinghy
  4. Bees is to hive as bears are to den.

Literary Examples of Analogy

Example # 1

From Macbeth by William Shakespeare

There if I grow,
The harvest is your own.

My plenteous joys,

Wanton in fullness, seek to hide themselves

In drop of sorrow.

These lines occur in Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Banquo speaks the first two lines, while the next three lines were spoken by King Duncan. Here Banquo is comparing himself to wheat, while the second the king is equating his joys with drops of water. This type of equation of things with different things is a literary analogy.

Example # 2

From First Inaugural Address by Franklin D. Roosevelt

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Roosevelt speaks these lines in his First Inaugural Address. Interestingly, this literary analogy compares fear with fear that does not exist and is nameless. However, he thinks that it could be converted into a different type of other feelings if an effort is made.

Example # 3

From Hamlet by William Shakespeare

So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a Satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember?

This beautiful analogy that Hamlet uses to compare Hyperion to Satyr. He thinks that King Claudius is to Hamlet as Hyperion is to Satyr. This analogy shows how Shakespeare has belittled Claudius when compared to Hamlet just to raise his status in terms of legitimacy.

Example # 4

From A Birthday by Christina Rossetti

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell.

These lines occur in the poem of Christina Rossetti, “A Birthday.” Although she has extensively used similes to show what her heart is this is also a good use of different analogies to show the people how she equates her heart with a singing bird or a rainbow shell.

Example # 5

From Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

George lay back on the sand and crossed his hands under his head, and Lennie imitated him, raising his head to see whether he was doing it right. “God, you’re a lot of trouble,” said George. “I could get along so easy and so nice if I didn’t have you on my tail. I could live so easy and maybe have a girl.”

Although both George and Lennie are just sitting, Lennie’s imitation of the acts of George shows that he wants to seek an analogy with him. He wants to look similar to him and then do what George is doing. This living analogy, however, does not suit him.

Example # 6

Analogy in “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe

The implicit analogy in the story is between the building and the cask of Amontillado. Both are very old, very tricky, and very intoxicating in that Fortunato does not suspect Montresor of taking him to the inner catacomb by deception. Rather, he thinks that he is a connoisseur of Amontillado as well as the catacomb where he finally finds himself trapped to death.

How to Create Analogy

  1. Plan a story and think about different analogies to include.
  2. Think about the relationship between the analogous things.
  3. Write a sentence or two to see whether the similarities exist.
  4. Use analogy to relate things. Most often, characters and their traits are related to each other through similes or metaphors.

Benefits of Using Analogy

  1. Analogies make things clear and distinct from each other.
  2. The use of analogies helps readers perceive different relationships.
  3. Analogies help the readers to understand things easily by grasping their dimensions and other structural features.
  4. Analogies help writers to convey their messages effectively by utilizing relationships of features, traits, and character traits.

Literary Device of Analogy in Literary Theory

  1. Although analogy as an important figure of speech is also an integral part of formalism literary theory, it is also important in readers’ response theory, structuralism as well as deconstruction literary theory.
  2. Analogy is also important in postcolonialism literary theory where it is used mostly to understand power, identity, and subjectivity as well as their relationships.
  3. Analogies are also used in indigenous critical theory, queer theory, critical race theory, and postmodern literary theory. Most of these include biological analogies, spiritual analogies, physical analogies, and mathematical analogies.

Suggested Readings

Aubusson, Peter J., Allan G. Harrison, and Stephen M. Ritchie. “Metaphor And Analogy.” Metaphor and Analogy in Science Education. Springer, Dordrecht, 2006. 1-9. Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Geoffrey Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.


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Etymology and Meanings of Literary Device Alliteration

The literary device, alliteration, mostly used in poetic diction, has originated from the Latin terms ad and litter, or alliteratio which relates to letters. It later turned into alliteration in the early 17th century.

Grammatically, the literary device alliteration is a singular noun with plural alliterations. In poetic diction or literary terms, it relates to the sound of the words, becoming an integral part of the metrical pattern in poetry.

Definition of Literary Device Alliteration

In literature or in poetic diction, the literary device alliteration means the use of initial consonant sounds in the words adjacent to each other. It often happens as the head rhyme or initial rhyme or even without any rhyme scheme. The words could occur in the middle of the verse or in the end or even in the beginning. There is no restriction on it. Even in narrative diction, such sounds occur at different intervals.

Common Examples of Literary Device Alliteration

  • Buy burgers
  • Big bunnies
  • Citing sites
  • Dirty disks
  • Red Rrobin
  • American appeal
  • Dirty dream
  • Coca-Cola

Besides these common alliterative combinations, writers use several other such combinations to create alliterative sounds. Yet, it often happens in lyrics more than poems and narrations.

Literary Examples of Alliteration

Example # 1

From “Bill Gets Burned” by Phelps Putnam

Bill Williams was in Hell without a guide
And wandering around alone and cold,
Hoping for fires, for he said, “The name
Of Hell is not enough to keep the old
Place dignified without a flame.”
Bill was a hero, so he wandered on.

This poem “Bill Gets Burned” by Phelps Putnam shows the use of alliteration in its third line where the sound of /f/ in the initials of two successive words shows how melodious it seems to the readers. Although the sound of /a/, too, occurs repeatedly in the initials of the three successive words in the second line, it is not an alliteration.

Example # 2

From Hamlet by William Shakespeare

There’s such divinity doth hedge a king
That treason can but peep to what it would.

Although there is another word between two words having the initial sound of /w/, it is a very good alliteration taken from Hamlet, a masterpiece of William Shakespeare.

Example # 3

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

These two verses occur in the popular Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet. Here both sounds /h/ and /p/ occurs in successive words, making these verses more melodious than the succeeding or preceding verses.

Example # 4

From Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

Though it be honest, it is never good
To bring bad news.

The occurrence of the /b/ sound in the initials of two successive words in these two verses shows how Shakespeare is adept in using alliteration to create a melody in his verses.

Example # 5

From “Will You Be There” by Michael Jackson

Weary, tell me will you hold me
When wrong, will you scold me
When lost will you find me?
But they told me a man should be faithful
And walk when not able
And fight till the end but I’m only human

These verses occur in Michael Jackson’s song, “Will You Be There” which shows the use of alliteration through the sounds of /w/, /m/, and again /w/ in three verses. Although the sound of /m/ occurs not in two successive words, the presence of a vowel between them does not pose any obstruction to create melodious impacts or change the metrical pattern.

Example # 6

From Trying to Get To You” by Elvis Presley

Well, there’s nothing that could hold me
Or that could keep me away from you
When your loving letter told me
That you really loved me true

The sound of /k/ occurs in the initials of two successive words in the second verse of this stanza taken from the song of Elis Presley “Trying to Get to You.” The readers immediately feel the rhythmic effects of this alliteration.

How to Create Alliteration

A writer can easily create alliterations in his writing disregarding the type of writing. However, an alliteration creates rhythm in poetic diction, though it creates almost the same musical quality in prose as well. The easiest way to include alliterative sounds in prose or poetry is to find the words that start with the same consonant sounds. Therefore, keep these points in mind when writing something.

  1. Plan what you are going to write in genre or form.
  2. Create Sounds having initial consonants in successive words.
  3.  Join words having the same initial consonants in a single sentence.
  4. Practice it daily and read it aloud. You will feel the impact of sounds in your writing.

Benefits of Using Alliteration

  1. Creating Rhythm
  2. Creating Mnemonic Examples
  3. Memory Assistance
  4. Creating Metrical Pattern

Literary Device Alliteration in Literary Theory

  1. Uses in Russian Formalism Literary Theory: Alliterations are an integral part of formalist criticism of poetry as they are poetic terms. They create melody and make audiences and readers enjoy the rhythm of poetry. However, their main task is to assist in creating thematic strands and help the poet reach the readers making them remember his message easily.
  2. Uses in Rhetoric: Alliterations help the writers to make their texts persuasive and rhetorically appealing. They help them make their readers pay attention and be convinced.
  3. Uses in Psychoanalytic Literary Theory: Alliterations help writers to create psychologically appealing sounds to make their message enter the psyche of the readers easily.
  4. Besides other theoretical perspectives, alliterations are also important in the reader’s response theory, Marxism, humanism, and any new theorization of some poetic idea as they are important to create rhythm, rhyme, and metrical patterns or understand them.

Suggested Readings

Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Geoffrey Harpham. A Glossary Of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning, 2014.

Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary Of Literary Terms. Oxford University Press, 1996. Blake, N. F. “Rhythmical Alliteration.” Modern Philology, vol. 67, no. 2, 1969, pp. 118–124. JSTOR, Accessed 16 June 2021.


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Etymology and Meanings of Literary Device of Allegory

Originally, the literary device of allegory seems to have been derived from two Greek terms alos which means other, and agoria which means speaking. After entering Latin and French language, it appeared in late Middle English as an allegory.

It means a story in narrative or verse having double meanings.

In grammar, it is a noun with plural allegories.

Definition of Literary Device of Allegory

An allegory in literature is a story or a poem having specific political and social messages behind the lines or at least there is one other message besides the given literal story. It could be a movie, too. Some other literary devices/terms close to allegory are story, tale, myth, legend, parable, and myth.

Common Examples of Literary Device Allegory

  1. Political stories in the shape of pygmies or animals such as Animal Farm by George Orwell
  2. Religious stories of the people having moral or religious lessons such as The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  3. Social stories such as The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  4. Moral stories such as Aesop’s Fables

Literary Examples of Allegory

Example # 1

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The story comprises the tale of a sailor, Ishmael, who takes the fancy of a giant whale that dodges them everywhere. However, when he meets Captain Ahab, both of them chase it despite having predictions of their bad luck. They meet several accidents and in the final battle, the captain loses his life, while Ishmael has a close shave. The story is, thus, not only a tale of man’s search for meanings, but also relates to the religious morality of avoiding revenge, arrogance, and self-centeredness. Therefore, it is a religious as well as metaphysical allegory.

Example # 2

The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

The story of The Faerie Queene comprises a total of six books with each having a story of a knight about a specific virtue. For example, the first book relates the story of the Redcrosse Knight, the second relates the story of Sir Guyon, the third relates the story of a lady knight, Britomart, the fourth a friendship story, while the last two books are about Sir Artegall and Sir Calidore. As it relates to virtue, religion, and politics simultaneously, it is a religious as well as political and social allegory.

Example # 3

“Rapppaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The story of “Rappaccini’s Daughter” comprises the beautiful daughter of Dr. Rappaccini and his beautiful garden of poisonous herbs. The young man, Giovanni, becomes the victim of the alliance of the father and daughter though Beatrice dies by the end, clearing her position in this saga. The story seems to be a religious allegory as Giovanni and Beatrice bear a resemblance with Adam and Eve and the garden of Dr. Rappaccini seems to be the Garden of Eden. Therefore, it seems a religious allegory.

Example # 4

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Despite having some truths in the storyline, The Old Man and The Sea has been categorized as a religious allegory as Santiago has been termed a Christ-like figure having endurance and patience to undergo extreme suffering to the point that defeats the Marlin, a fish that symbolizes worldly obstacles. Although the old man is not virtuous or deeply religious, he vows to say hymns and prayers when the fish faces defeat. This leads to several allegorical interpretations of the storyline.

How to Create an Allegory

Creating an allegory is not a difficult task for students. A story could comprise animals, insects, birds, living things, or even ideas having names and titles to demonstrate a moral or social lesson by the end. However, the most difficult thing is to associate the storyline with some ethical framework, for every region in the world having a specific social structure has a separate ethical or moral framework. Therefore, the universally successful allegories are those which comprise universal ethical ideas such as honesty, justice, temperance, and wisdom.  Therefore, when creating an allegorical novel or short story, keep in mind the following points.

  1. Create a plan having characters (animals, birds, human beings or ideas).
  2. Create a narrative structure.
  3. Beautify it with other devices using descriptive language.
  4. Clearly leave a moral/social/ethical message for the readers.
  5. Use universal morals such as courage, honesty or temperance, and justice.

Benefits of Using an Allegory

  1. Using an allegory in stories, poems and events is beneficial for writers, thinkers, and poets as direct criticism was not possible in the old regal and dictatorial regimes. Therefore, the writers used animals and birds for stories.
  2. They, using such characters, helped themselves to convey their messages and propagate their ideas to the public.
  3. They also used to hide criticism and avoid conflicts. Even now, the writers use allegories to avoid religious backlash, political violence, and government restrictions to convey their messages to the readers and audiences.

Allegory in Literary Theory

  1. Social, political, religious, and moral allegories have continued appearing on the scene such as Aesop’s Fables, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, morality plays, and travelogues of the 17th and 18th centuries. However, as it is written in a language understood differently, it means that the text presents another structural reality encoded in the story.
  2. Therefore, in the interpretation of literature, allegory is an important element of Russian formalism as well as the New Criticism including Structuralism and Post-Structuralism. Yet, it has not lost its significance in postmodernism and post-truth theoretical lenses applied to interpret modern narratives.
  3. Interestingly, Walter Benjamin has termed allegory as a proper theory having “pre-eminently a kind of experience.” He means that it exists and passes out having transitory nature having the experience of some event or incident as well as its intuition (Cowan 109-110). However, this theory is highly complex in aesthetic terms.

Suggesting Readings

Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Geoffrey Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.

Cowan, Bainard. “Walter Benjamin’s Theory of Allegory.” New German Critique, no. 22, 1981, pp. 109–122. JSTOR, Accessed 15 June 2021.

Auger, Peter. The Anthem Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory. Anthem Press, 2010. Print. Quilligan, Maureen. The Language of Allegory. Cornell University Press, 2018. Print.

Suggested read: Literary Device Blank Verse


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Etymology and Meanings of Poststructuralism Literary Theory

Etymologically, poststructuralism comprises two different terms post- as its prefix as it occurs in the beginning of the word, structuralism. Therefore, it means the time after structuralism. Dehyphenation of this word shows that now it is a complete word having its own semantic shades.

Grammatically, it is a noun and shows a type of philosophy, or system of thoughts, or ideas having its own principles.

Definition of “Poststructuralism” Literary Theory

In literary theory, poststructuralism, however, is still used with a hyphen that does not make any difference either. This literary theory is based on the ideas comprising rejection points of structuralism almost of the same theorists who form the group behind structuralism, or that they were late structuralists. It means they reject the self-sufficiency of the structuralist point of view, do not accept binary opposition, do not accept preassumed notions of the socially constructed reality, propagate texts having independent existence and readers having the independence of meaning-making.

Difference Between Structuralism and Poststructuralism Literary Theories

Structuralism uses underlying structures in literary texts including linguistics or anthropology to interpret cultural nuances. It also takes into account binary oppositions, while poststructuralism rejects these notions, taking into account the system of knowledge, text, or objects, excluding the creators and including the existing culture.

Origin of “Poststructuralism” Literary Theory

Although it seems that poststructuralism immediately emerged after structuralism, it actually emerged during the decade of the 50s and ruled the theoretical academic setting until the 80s. Although it stepped out of its philosophical realm, it touched critical theory in social sciences and entered the literary discipline, considering systematic studies of literary pieces as an important step forward. Almost all structuralists worked to launch the post-structural movement except a few figures, while the “gang of four” in structuralism (Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes) also joined post-structuralists except Levi-Strauss. Some others like Derrida, Kristeva, and Deleuze also joined them to cause some stir in the philosophical movement.

Principles of Poststructuralism Literary Theory

  1. Poststructuralists contend that an individual is a hotchpotch of conflicts and confusion due to classification based on several factors such as class, gender, and culture. Hence, every individual has a unique self that is based on a unique cultural background. It means that every reader is different, having different discursive or other impacts on the self.  
  2. The author holds secondary importance in the mean-making process.
  3. The reader gets top priority after a text comes into being. Every reader has his own meaning, depending on their level of understanding, culture, social situation, and upbringing.
  4. A text could have multiple purposes and objectives to achieve. It is not important o reach that objective.
  5. What is important is that a text could have various interpretations after it undergoes a critiquing process.
  6. Meanings are not fixed and permanent. They rather fluctuate from reader to reader and are not stable. There are also other sources of meanings such as culture, norms, mores, conventions, and even signs and symbols.
  7. Binary opposition is a myth. There are other important considerations to take care of.
  8. It has given rise to metalanguage or the discussion of the main elements of language and how it works.

Criticism Against Poststructuralism Literary Theory

Examples of Poststructuralism

Example # 1

From “Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes

In his story Sarrasine, Balzac, speaking of a castrato disguised as a woman, writes this  sentence: “It was Woman, with her sudden fears, her irrational whims, her instinctive fears, her unprovoked bravado, her daring and her delicious delicacy of feeling” Who is speaking in this way? Is it the story’s hero, concerned to ignore the castrato con-cealed beneath the woman? Is it the man Balzac, endowed by his personal experience with a philosophy of Woman? Is it the author Balzac, professing certain “literary” ideas of femininity? Is it universal wisdom? or romantic psychology? It will always be impossible to know, for the good reason that all writing is itself this special voice, consisting of several indiscernible voices, and that literature is precisely the invention of this voice, to which we cannot assign a specific origin: literature is that neuter, that composite, that oblique into which every subject escapes, the trap where all identity is lost, beginning with the very identity of the body that writes.

This essay by Barthes demonstrates the application of poststructuralism and its different aspects. The questions given after the main introduction show how Barthes thinks that the story by Balzac should show its meaning. It is not just the story; rather, it is Balzac himself, his philosophy, and different facets of his personality that peep through it. Therefore, poststructuralism breaks away from structuralism in this aspect.

Example # 2

From “The Sing, Structure and the Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” by Jacques Derrida

Perhaps something has occurred in the history of the concept of structure that could be called an “event,” if this loaded word did not entail a meaning which it is precisely the function of structural—or structurality—thought to reduce or to suspect. But let me use the term “event” anyway, employing it with caution and as if in quotation marks. In this sense, this event will have the exterior form of a rupture and a redoubling. It would be easy enough to show that the concept of structure and even the word “structure” itself are as old as the epistémé—that is to say, as old as western science and western philosophy—and that their roots thrust deep into the soil of ordinary language, into whose deepest recesses the epistémé plunges to gather them together once more, making them part of itself in a metaphorical displacement.

This passage from Derrida shows the application of signs, structure, and language. Specifically, his last comment about metaphorical language as part of episteme shows his understanding of structuralism and the limits of this philosophical concept when it comes to textbooks.

Example # 3

From “The Order of Discourse” by Michel Foucault

Here is the hypothesis which I would like to put forward tonight in order to fix the terrain – or perhaps the very provisional theatre – of the work I am doing; that in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade ponderous, formidable materiality. In a society like ours, the procedures of exclusion are well known. The most obvious and familiar is the prohibition. We know quite well that we do not have the right to say everything, that we cannot speak of just anything in any circumstances whatever, and that not everyone has the right to speak anything whatever.

This passage from Michel Foucault beautifully sums up his views about discourse or written words or narratives which is also considered literature. If this counts too much which means the control over literature, several tenets of structuralism lose their values such as; signs, their meanings, the author’s purpose, and cultural embeddedness. Therefore, this shows the arrival of post-structuralism. Several poems show this application as they are intended to have meanings packed in them for a specific purpose after which the real authors do not have control over their impacts.

Example # 4

From “The Laugh of the Medusa” by Helene Cixous, Translation by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen

Women must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement. The future must no longer be determined by the past. I do not deny that the effects of the past are still with us. But I refuse to strengthen them by repeating them, to confer upon them an irremovability the equivalent of destiny, to confuse the biological and the cultural. Anticipation is imperative. Since these relfections are taking shape in an area juset on the point of being discovered, they necessarily bear the mark of our time – a time during which the new breaks away from the old, and, more precisdely, the (feminine) new from the old (la nouvelle de l’ancien). Thus, as there are no grounds for establishing a dicourse, but rather an arid millennial ground to break, what I say has at least two sides and two aims: to break up, to destroy and to foresee the unforseeable, to project.

This passage occurs in the popular essay of Helen Cixious “The Laugh of Medusa.” Although it discusses femininity from a new perspective or femininity from the feminine perspective, it shows clearly the suggestion of Cixous about two sides and two aims that are to leave the past and see the future. This is what poststructuralism shows by keeping the past away from the future.

Keywords in Poststructuralism Literary Theory

Signified, transcendental signified, logocentrism, phonocentrism, arche-writing, supplement, differance, presence-absence, defer-differance, aporia/impasses, trace, code, denotation/connotation, encoding/decoding, salience, semiosis, semiosophere, umwelt

Suggested Readings

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things. Routledge, 2005.

Cixous, Hélène. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Feminisms Redux: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism (1975): 416-431.

Agger, Ben. “Critical Theory, Poststructuralism, Postmodernism: Their Sociological Relevance.” Annual Review of Sociology 17.1 (1991): 105-131. Derrida, Jacques. 1970. Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences. In The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man: The Structuralist Controversy, pp. 247-272, edited by Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato, John Hopkins University, London. 1970.


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Etymology and Meanings of “Structuralism” Literary Theory

Etymologically, the term structuralism comprises two terms structure and -ism. Structure means shape or form, while -ism refers to a type of philosophy, point of view, or theory on which it is based. Therefore, structuralism means a branch of philosophy based on the structure of things, ideas, and texts. Structuralism relates to psychology, linguistics, sociology, history, philosophy, archaeology, culture as well as anthropology.

Definition of “Structuralism” Literary Theory

In literature, structuralism literary theory shows a type of analysis that deals with recurring patterns of thinking and consequential behavior. It is mostly related to culture. In other words, as human thinking is based on structures, a literary piece could be analyzed from a structural point of view.

Origin of “Structuralism” Literary Theory

Structuralism is stated to have originated from the thoughts of Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss semiotician, and linguist. He also presented his views on the pattern of the Moscow and Prague schools of thought. They argue that there is a distinction between langue and parole (application of language in actual life) and that a sign refers to a signifier, or visual image as perceived. Signifiers are arbitrary due to differences in languages which means there are only positive terms. These structures determine human freedom and will.

Levi-Strauss and Roman Jakobson further added to this work by writing about elements of structures and their kinship. Jacques Lacan and Jean Piaget also commented on it from the psychological point of view as they term these structures as constructions or abstractions. It also touches the boundaries of Marxism due to Louis Althusser’s interpretation and enters the literary realm from these avenues.

Structuralism as a Literary Theory

As a literary theory, structuralism intends to identify and analyze structures in the texts. This could be about the genre, intertextuality, narrative structures, and motifs. In this connection, it enters the semiotic field in which readers have to interpret signs, symbols, and minor structures that occur in the text. Therefore, it is also called “grammar of literature” having different structures and parts to play their roles in the texts. In other words, it means to see basic elements such as myths, stories, and anecdotes, dotting the text and analyzing them for the specific roles they play.

Principles of Structuralism Literary Theory

  1. Every language has a different work for different objects and ideas which creates a difference in mind.
  2. There are two relationships: metaphorical and metonymic.
  3. Every idea, thing, or concept has a binary opposition such as leaving/arriving, coming/going, etc.
  4. Signs are made of a signified and a signifier.
  5. Every language has a different code that varies from culture to culture and from context to context.
  6. Signs have a multiplicity of meanings based on cultural contexts.
  7. The subject is contradictory to the individual which helps understand the conscious and unconscious.
  8. Every work is a social construction.
  9. As language is a social construction, every object, idea, and concept is a social construction.

Criticism Against Structuralism Literary Theory

  1. Structuralism ignores history during critique.
  2. It is not fluid and does not allow ideas to transform.
  3. It stresses more on introspection.
  4. It stresses too much on self-reflection or self-analysis.
  5. It considers language only comprises signs and literature a system of signs, and meanings only in a context.

Examples of Structuralist Criticism

Example # 1

From “Past, Present, Future” by Emily Bronte

Tell me, tell me, smiling child,
What the past is like to thee?
‘An Autumn evening soft and mild
With a wind that sighs mournfully.’
Tell me, what is the present hour?

Its structuralist critique first takes the issue of binary opposition and the use of referents. If the child is smiling, it means he must be weeping earlier. The same goes for the autumn that must have been spring and if the wind is mournful, earlier it must have been happy. In this context, it seems that the child is still smiling though he should have been weeping. This connects it with the idea of the past and present which leads to the future.

Example # 2

From Sonnet CXXVII by William Shakespeare

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slander’d with a bastard shame:

In a structuralist critique of these verses from Sonnet CXXVII, the binary opposition shows that old age to young, black to white, and fair to ugly. Further binary opposition points out that this is a love sonnet that has been written in the praise of beauty which should have been ugly in binary opposition. The metaphorical presentation of beauty shows this thematic strand of praise.

Example # 3

From One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Everybody on the ward can feel that it’s started. At eleven o’clock the doctor comes to the day-room door and calls over to McMurphy that he’d like to have him come down to his office for an interview. “I interview all new admissions on the second day.” McMurphy lays down his cards and stands up and walks over to the doctor. The doctor asks him how his night was, but McMurphy just mumbles an answer.

This passage from Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, could be critiqued from a structuralist point of view. Using semiotics, this text could be placed in the African American cultural setting to deduce the meanings of McMurphy and how he behaves. The terms worth considering in semiotics are “mumbles”, “night” and “doctor” which shows that he is suffering from some mental illness. The night could reflect his cultural background.

Example # 4

From “Postcard from god” by Imtiaz Dharker

Yes, I do feel like a visitor,
a tourist in this world
that I once made.
I rarely talk,
except to ask the way,
distrusting my interpreters,
tired out by the babble
of what they do not say.
I walk around through battered streets,
distinctly lost,
looking for landmarks
from another, promised past.

These verses are from the poem “Postcard from god.” Using binary opposition such as visitor/native, rarely/often, talk/silent, ask/tell, and lost/found, a structuralist critique of these lines could show how the poet feels after visiting different places as a tourist and what he wants to convey to his readers.

Example # 5

From “The Flying Cat” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Never, in all your career of worrying, did you imagine

What worries could occur concerning the flying cat.

You are traveling to a distant city.

The cat must travel in a small box with holes.

Using references of the structuralist approach, these verses could be interpreted from several points of view, specifically, the use of a second person, the flying cat and myths involved with it, the distant city and its stories, and finally why the cat is mentioned traveling in a small box. When the dots are connected, it seems that this involves not only myths but also social traditions.

Keywords in Structuralism Literary Theory

Structuralist approach, structuralists, proairetic, semiotic, hermeneutic, symbolic, symbols, referents, referring, reference, sign, signified, signifier

Suggested Readings

Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Geoffrey Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning, 2014.

Hawkes, Terence. Structuralism and Semiotics. Routledge, 2003. Giddens, Anthony. “Structuralism, post-structuralism.” Social Theory Today (1987): 195.


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Etymology and Meanings of “Psychoanalytic” Literary Theory

The term psychoanalytic comprises two words. Greek word psyche means soul or spirit and German analyse means analysis. Sigmund Freud, a great German psychiatrist used the term psychische analyse in 1894. Since then, it has become psychoanalysis. Now it is used for a theoretical perspective as psychanalytic theory or psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic literary theory in literature. Therefore, in literary theory psychoanalytic literary theory means a theory that involves elements of psychoanalysis present in the discourse or literary texts.

Definition of “Psychoanalytic” Literary Theory

Psychoanalytic literary theory could be defined as a type of critique or criticism involving the application of methods, concepts, or forms of psychoanalytic used by the practitioners of this concept and Sigmund Freud to interpret a text. Or in other words, it uses the psychoanalytic approach to show this side of the perspective in literary texts.

Origin of “Psychoanalytic” Literary Theory

Psychoanalytical, or psychoanalytic literary theory mainly occurs in the interpretations of Sigmund Freud. He has written about different concepts of psychoanalytic in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams. He argues that the motives of human beings have different drivers such as fears, desires, requirements, and conflicts. Therefore, such events occurring in one‘s childhood stay in their unconscious. Moreover, different such motives occur during human beings’ relationships with their near and dear ones, or the people living around them. Therefore, the concepts of ego, superego, and id occur recurrently in this type of critique as they relate to the human soul, unconscious, and consciousness.

Principles of Psychoanalytic Literary Theory

  1. As literary texts demonstrate human behavior governed by different motives, the main source of these motives is unconscious. It explains not only human thoughts but also behavior.
  2. The idea of unconsciousness is very problematic as it bears imprints of philosophy, society, theology, and all other such conceptual frameworks in which a human being lives. This entails self-knowledge, belief system, moral framework, and intentionality.
  3. Literary texts show an understanding of self as well as others in one’s self that is shaped by moral and political decisions.
  4. Human thoughts and actions are determined by these motives which are different in every case.
  5. A literary text exhibits the conscious, unconscious, id, ego, and superego of the author as well as his characters.
  6. The artistic construction, and insertion of different thematic strands and motifs occur in the literary works due to the author’s psychological situation.
  7. Literary works represent human mimetic or cathartic situations through metaphorical language.
  8. Literary works show juxtaposition as well as a symbolic representation of different ideas that the authors want to present.
  9. Some literary works also present dreamlike, obsessive situations of characters.
  10. Some prominent thematic strands include the Oedipus Complex, Electra Complex, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), general anxiety, repression, suicidal thoughts or fancies, or any other such ideas or notions related to the psychology of the characters or the authors.

Criticism Against Psychoanalytic Literary Theory

  1. A human being is not just a psychological being comprising only ego, superego, or id. There are various other social drivers of motives.
  2. There is too much stress upon the human soul and unconscious as well as childhood.
  3. A literary text has several thematic strands other than these psychological issues.
  4. There are various other differences such as cultural, social, financial, and spiritual besides psychological and these differences get mixed up in the discourse, making a text. Therefore, a text does not show just psychological issues.

Examples of Psychoanalytic Literary Theory

Example # 1

From Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, translated by David Grene

Give me a sword, I say,
to find this wife no wife, this mother’s womb,
this field of double sowing whence I sprang
and where I sowed my children! As he raved
some god showed him the way—none of us there.
Bellowing terribly and led by some
invisible guide he rushed on the two doors,—
wrenching the hollow bolts out of their sockets,
he charged inside. There, there, we saw his wife
hanging, the twisted rope around her neck.

These lines from Oedipus Rex spoken by Oedipus himself show his attitude toward his mother and wife or mother-wife, Jocasta. There are hints that could lead to psychoanalytic interpretation. Otherwise, there is no Oedipus Complex as such given in the same works in Oedipus Rex.

Example # 2

From Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth,
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on, and yet, within a month
Let me not think on ’t. Frailty, thy name is woman!

Hamlet speaks these lines in the play, Hamlet. He is generalizing the single action of his mother to state that all women are frail creatures. This attitude of Hamlet toward his mother has some hints that have led some critics to conclude that Hamlet has also an Oedipus Complex or has some elements of this psychoanalytic concept.

Example # 3

From The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

What do you have to eat?” the boy asked. “A pot of yellow rice with fish. Do you want some?” “No. I will eat at home. Do you want me to make the fire?” “No. I will make it later on. Or I may eat the rice cold.” “May I take the cast net?” “Of course.” There was no cast net and the boy remembered when they had sold it. But they went through this fiction every
day. There was no pot of yellow rice and fish and the boy knew this too.

In these lines, Santiago is conversing with Manolin, the young boy, his disciple, and who helps him during his hour of need. The conversation shows that the old man is seeing in Manolin his own reflection which has led the critics to interpret it from ego, superego, and id points of view.

Example # 4

From Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

‘Gregor,’ a voice called (it was his mother!) ‘it’s quarter to seven. Don’t you want to be on your way?’ The soft voice! Gregor was startled when he heard his voice answering. It was clearly and unmistakably his earlier voice, but in it was intermingled, as if from below, an irrepressibly painful squeaking which left the words positively distinct only in the first moment and distorted them in the reverberation, so that one didn’t know if one had heard correctly. Gregor wanted to answer in detail and explain everything, but in these circumstances he confined himself to saying, ‘Yes, yes, thank you mother. I’m getting up right away.’

These lines from Kafka’s novel, Metamorphosis, show elements of the psychoanalytic critical approach or theory. Gregor has just got up from his dream and has turned into a vermin which seems improbable. In fact, it could be a dream and the whole story could be a dream.

Example # 5

From Paradise Lost by John Milton

What time his Pride
Had cast him out from Heavín, with all his Host
Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in Glory above his Peers,
He trusted to have equalíd the most High.

This arrogance of Satan given in these lines shows how John Milton considers Satan. This is his own point of view which shows how much he has fought against Satan or his inner self to purify it. This has led critics to find more points of psychoanalytical theory in the speech of Satan.

Example # 6

September Twelfth, 2001” by X. J. Kennedy

Two caught on film who hurtle
from the eighty-second floor,
choosing between a fireball
and to jump holding hands,

aren’t us. I wake beside you,
stretch, scratch, taste the air,
the incredible joy of coffee
and the morning light.

This poem by Kennedy shows how he sees the fall of the couple from the TWC on 9/11. It has elements as he might have put himself in the shoes of that person or that he himself thinks that he could become a victim of such an incident. Therefore, the little time has had could be spent enjoying life.

Keywords in Psychoanalytic Literary Theory

Ego, Superego, Id, Unconscious, Sublimation, Repression, Oppression, Infantile Sexuality, Electra Complex, Oedipus Complex, Libido, Anal And Phallic, Freudian Slip, Dream Work, Displacement

Suggested Readings

Abrams, M.H. “Psychological and Psychoanalytic Criticism.” A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999. 247-253.

Biddle, Arthur W., and Toby Fulwiler. Reading, Writing, and the Study of Literature. NY: Random House, 1989. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. “On Dreams.” Excerpts. Art in Theory 1900-1990. Ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. Cambridge: Blackwell Pub., Inc., 1993. 26-34. Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory. 2nd ed. NY: Longman, 1998. Print.