Muse: A Literary Device in Literature

Muse, as a literary device, refers to an inspirational source that stimulates and guides the creative process of a writer or artist.

Muse: Etymology, Literal and Conceptual Meanings
Muse: Etymology/Term

The term “muse” traces its origins to Greek mythology, where the Muses were goddesses of inspiration in various arts and sciences. The word “muse” itself comes from the Greek verb “mousa,” meaning “to think” or “to meditate.” In ancient Greek and Roman traditions, artists, poets, and thinkers invoked the Muses for inspiration in their creative endeavors. Over time, the concept of a muse has evolved beyond its mythological roots and is now commonly used to denote a source of inspiration or a guiding influence for artistic and intellectual pursuits.

Literal Meaning:
Literal AspectDescription
Mythological BeingsIn ancient mythology, Muses were divine entities believed to inspire creativity in artists and scholars. They were often associated with specific domains such as music, poetry, and dance.
Invocation for InspirationArtists historically invoked the Muses, seeking divine inspiration and guidance for their creative works. This literal practice reflected a belief in external sources of inspiration.
Conceptual Meaning:
Conceptual AspectDescription
Source of InspirationIn a broader sense, a muse is considered any person, idea, or entity that serves as a source of inspiration for creative endeavors. It can be a person, a place, a concept, or even an emotion that fuels artistic or intellectual expression.
Creative CatalystThe term is used metaphorically to represent the force that sparks creativity and innovation, encouraging individuals to explore new ideas and push the boundaries of their artistic or intellectual pursuits.

The dual nature of the muses, encompassing both its mythological origins and its contemporary conceptual use, highlights the enduring and versatile nature of the term in the realm of creative expression.

Muse: Definition as a Literary Device

Muse, as a literary device, refers to an inspirational source that stimulates and guides the creative process of a writer or artist. It embodies the external or internal force that sparks imagination and innovation, prompting the creation of literary works or artistic endeavors. Writers often invoke the concept of a muse to signify the motivating influence or inspiration behind their creative output.

Muse in Literature: Examples
  1. Homer’s Invocation in “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”: The ancient Greek poet Homer frequently invoked the Muses at the beginning of his epic poems, seeking their inspiration to tell the tales of heroes and adventures.
  2. John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”: Keats addresses the nightingale as a muse, drawing inspiration from its song to contemplate the nature of art, mortality, and the fleeting beauty of life.
  3. Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy”: In this monumental work, Dante journeys through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, guided by his muse, Beatrice, who symbolizes divine love and inspires his quest for salvation.
  4. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”): The speaker likens the beauty of the beloved to that of a summer day, immortalizing their allure with the aid of the muse, elevating the poem to a timeless expression of love.
  5. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”: Poe’s melancholic and mysterious poem features a raven as a muse, driving the narrator to despair with its repetitive refrain of “Nevermore.”
  6. Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”: Woolf’s novel, inspired by her lover Vita Sackville-West, playfully explores themes of gender and identity across different centuries, with Vita serving as a muse for the protagonist, Orlando.
  7. Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”: Often considered a muse for social justice, Dylan’s lyrics in this song became an anthem for the civil rights movement, encapsulating the spirit of the era.
  8. Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”: Plath, drawing from her own struggles, employs a muse-like figure in the form of Lady Lazarus, exploring themes of death, rebirth, and resilience.
  9. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese”: Browning’s collection of sonnets, inspired by her love for Robert Browning, serves as an intimate and personal exploration of love, with Robert acting as a muse.
  10. Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”: Ginsberg’s poem, a cornerstone of the Beat Generation, serves as a muse-driven outcry against societal conformity and an exploration of the counterculture movement of the 1950s.
Muse in Literature: Relevance in Literary Theories
Literary TheoryRelevance to Muse in Literature
RomanticismEmphasizes the role of the muses as a source of inspiration for poets and artists, highlighting the connection between nature, emotions, and creative expression.
Reader-Response TheoryExplores how readers interact with the text and engage with the muses as a symbolic or inspirational figure, influencing their interpretation and emotional response.
Feminist CriticismExamines the historical portrayal of muses, often women, and questions power dynamics and gender roles within creative relationships, exploring agency and representation.
Psychoanalytic CriticismAnalyzes the muse as a manifestation of the artist’s subconscious desires or fears, delving into the psychological aspects of creativity and inspiration.
Postcolonial TheoryInterrogates the muse as a cultural or colonial symbol, exploring how representations of indigenous muses may reinforce or challenge colonial narratives in literature.
StructuralismViews the muse as a recurring motif or symbol, analyzing its structural significance within a literary work and how it contributes to the overall meaning and cohesion.
PostmodernismQuestions traditional notions of the museس, encouraging a fragmented and deconstructed approach to inspiration, challenging fixed meanings and conventions.
EcocriticismQuestions traditional notions of the muses, encouraging a fragmented and deconstructed approach to inspiration, challenging fixed meanings and conventions.
Marxist CriticismExamines the socio-economic implications of the muse-artist dynamic, considering how power structures influence creative production and representation.
Queer TheoryInvestigates the muse in LGBTQ+ literature, questioning normative ideas of inspiration and exploring how queer identities may shape or challenge traditional muse relationships.
Muse in Literature: Relevant Terms
InspirationThe process of being mentally stimulated to create, often by a muse or external influence.
CreativityThe ability to generate novel ideas, artistic expressions, or imaginative works, often fueled by a muse.
Artistic CatalystA force or entity that stimulates and propels artistic creation, acting as a muse for the artist.
Aesthetic SparkThe moment of inspiration that triggers the artistic process and influences the overall aesthetic of a work.
ImaginationThe faculty of forming new ideas, images, or concepts, crucial in the creative process guided by a muse.
Expressive InfluenceThe impact a muse has on the artist’s expressive choices, shaping the tone, style, and content of their work.
Ephemeral MuseA fleeting or transient source of inspiration that may come and go, influencing artistic endeavors temporarily.
Catalytic EnergyThe dynamic force that muse provides, catalyzing energy and motivation for the artist to engage in creative activities.
Artistic ReverieA dreamlike state or imaginative trance induced by a muses, fostering a deep connection between the artist and their work.
Inspirational FlowThe seamless and continuous stream of creative ideas that arises when an artist is in harmony with their muses.
Muse in Literature: Suggested Readings
  1. Woolf, Virginia. Orlando. Harcourt, Inc., 1928.
  2. Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, et al., W.W. Norton & Company, 2018, pp. 910-912.
  3. Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy. Translated by Mark Musa, Penguin Classics, 2003.
  4. Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The Norton Shakespeare, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, et al., W.W. Norton & Company, 2015, p. 1443.
  5. Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1990.
  6. Ginsberg, Allen. “Howl.” Howl and Other Poems, City Lights Books, 1956.
  7. Plath, Sylvia. “Lady Lazarus.” Ariel, Harper & Row, 1965.
  8. Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Sonnets from the Portuguese. Dover Publications, 1992.
  9. Atwood, Margaret. The Blind Assassin. Anchor Books, 2001.
  10. Dylan, Bob. “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Columbia Records, 1963.

Multivocal Narration: A Literary Device

Multivocal narration is a literary device characterized by the use of multiple voices, perspectives, or narrators within a single narrative framework.

Multivocal Narration: Etymology/Term, Literal and Conceptual Meanings
Multivocal Narration: Etymology/Term

The term “multivocal narration” originates from the combination of two key elements: “multi,” indicating many or multiple, and “vocal,” referring to voices or perspectives. Together, the term encapsulates a narrative technique that involves the incorporation of diverse voices or viewpoints within a single storytelling framework. This approach goes beyond the conventional singular narrative voice, allowing for a richer and more varied storytelling experience.

Literal Meaning:
  • Multiple Voices: Multivocal narration involves the inclusion of various voices or perspectives within a narrative. This can manifest through different characters, narrators, or even unconventional storytelling elements such as letters, diary entries, or interviews.
  • Diverse Narrators: The literal meaning extends to having a multitude of narrators contributing to the overall narrative, each offering their unique insights, experiences, or interpretations of events.
  • Polyphonic Structure: The structure of multivocal narration is polyphonic, resembling a symphony of voices rather than a single melody. This complexity adds depth and nuance to the storytelling.
Conceptual Meaning:
  • Multiplicity of Truths: In a conceptual sense, multivocal narration challenges the notion of a single, objective truth in storytelling. Instead, it acknowledges that different perspectives can coexist, each contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of the narrative.
  • Reader Engagement: The concept emphasizes reader engagement as individuals must navigate through the various voices presented. This engagement encourages a more active and participatory reading experience.
  • Cultural and Social Commentary: Multivocal narration often serves as a vehicle for exploring diverse cultural, social, or ideological perspectives. It allows for a nuanced exploration of themes and issues by presenting a range of viewpoints.
Multivocal Narration: Definition as a Literary Device

Multivocal narration is a literary device characterized by the use of multiple voices, perspectives, or narrators within a single narrative framework. It diverges from the traditional singular narrative approach, offering a more intricate and diverse storytelling experience. This technique enhances complexity, engages readers with varied viewpoints, and often explores the subjective nature of truth and interpretation.

Multivocal Narration: Types and Examples
Type of Multivocal NarrationDescriptionExamples
Multiple NarratorsVarious characters or entities take turns narrating parts of the story.“The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner
Epistolary FormatThe narrative unfolds through a collection of letters, diary entries, or documents.“Dracula” by Bram Stoker
Interviews/TestimoniesNarration is presented as a series of interviews or testimonies from different characters.“Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine
Inner MonologuesReaders gain insight into the thoughts and perspectives of multiple characters.“Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf
Collage or Fragmented StyleFragments of narrative, often non-linear, are pieced together to form a cohesive whole.“If on a winter’s night a traveler” by Italo Calvino
Unreliable NarratorsNarrators with conflicting or biased viewpoints challenge the reliability of the narrative.“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

Each type of multivocal narration offers a unique approach to storytelling, enriching the narrative texture and providing readers with a multifaceted understanding of the events and characters within the story.Bottom of Form

Multivocal Narration in Literature: Examples
  1. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: This classic novel employs multiple narrators, each revealing distinct perspectives and timelines, offering a complex portrayal of a Southern family’s decline.
  2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: This intricate narrative weaves together six different stories from various time periods and genres, showcasing a diverse range of voices and styles.
  3. If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino: Calvino’s novel explores the relationship between readers and books through a collage of narrative fragments, creating a unique and interactive reading experience.
  4. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: Woolf uses inner monologues to delve into the minds of multiple characters over the course of a single day in post-World War I London.
  5. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: Faulkner employs fifteen different narrators to tell the story of the Bundren family’s journey to bury their mother, showcasing a diverse range of perspectives.
  6. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine: This poetic work combines various voices and visual elements to explore racial and social issues, blurring the lines between poetry, essay, and art.
  7. Dracula by Bram Stoker: Using an epistolary format, Stoker tells the story through a collection of letters, journal entries, and newspaper articles, providing multiple viewpoints on the vampire narrative.
  8. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: Chaucer’s masterpiece features a diverse group of pilgrims, each sharing their own tale during their journey, offering a rich tapestry of medieval storytelling.
  9. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: The novel is narrated by the four daughters and wife of an evangelical Baptist who takes his family to the Belgian Congo, providing a multifaceted view of cultural clashes and family dynamics.
  10. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: Roy employs a non-linear narrative and multiple perspectives to tell the story of two twins growing up in post-colonial India, exploring themes of caste, love, and loss.
Multivocal Narration in Literature: Relevance in Literary Theories
Multivocal Narration in LiteratureRelevance in Literary Theories
Multiple NarratorsNarrative Perspective: Examines how different voices contribute to the overall narrative, impacting the reader’s understanding of events and characters.
Epistolary FormatReader-Response Theory: Explores how the interactive nature of reading letters and documents engages readers, shaping their interpretation of the narrative.
Interviews/TestimoniesPostcolonial Theory: Utilizes diverse voices to represent varied cultural perspectives and experiences, often challenging dominant narratives.
Inner MonologuesStream of Consciousness: Investigates the inner thoughts and consciousness of characters, contributing to the exploration of individual psychology.
Collage or Fragmented StylePostmodernism: Reflects the fragmented nature of contemporary experience, challenging traditional narrative structures and inviting reader participation.
Unreliable NarratorsNarratology: Examines the impact of unreliable narrators on the construction of narrative meaning, questioning the reliability of storytelling.

Each type of multivocal narration intersects with different literary theories, offering scholars and readers various lenses through which to analyze and interpret the complexities of storytelling.

Multivocal Narration in Literature: Relevant Terms
PolyphonyThe simultaneous presence of multiple voices or perspectives in a narrative.
SubjectivityThe individual viewpoints and interpretations of characters within a story.
IntertextualityThe relationship and references between different texts within a narrative.
Narrative PluralityThe existence of multiple narratives or storylines within a single work.
FocalizationThe point of view from which the narrative is presented through a character.
HeteroglossiaThe coexistence of diverse linguistic styles or registers within a narrative.
Reader ResponseThe theory exploring how readers’ interpretations contribute to the meaning.
DeconstructionThe literary theory challenging fixed meanings and questioning binary oppositions.
DialogismThe idea that every utterance or text engages in a dialogue with other texts.
Constructed RealitiesThe notion that reality in literature is shaped and constructed through language.
Multivocal Narration in Literature: Suggested Readings
  1. Atwood, Margaret. The Blind Assassin. Knopf, 2000.
  2. Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. Vintage, 1990.
  3. Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas. Random House, 2004.
  4. Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. Random House, 1997.
  5. Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Oxford University Press, 1990.
Literary Theory:

Metacommentary: A Research Term

Metacommentary is a literary device characterized by self-reflective comments or observations within a narrative, where the author or narrator steps outside the story to provide insights, reflections, or commentary on the unfolding events, characters, or the storytelling process itself.

Metacommentary: Etymology, Literal and Conceptual Meanings

The term “metacommentary” derives from the combination of two components: “meta,” meaning beyond or transcending, and “commentary,” referring to explanatory remarks or observations. In literature, metacommentary encompasses self-referential comments made within a narrative that reflect on the storytelling process, guiding readers to interpret or question elements within the text.

Literal Meaning:
  • Self-Reflective Remarks: Metacommentary involves explicit commentary or reflections within the narrative that draw attention to the act of storytelling or the elements of the story.
  • Authorial Intrusion: Authors may directly address the reader, providing insights into their intentions, choices, or thoughts about the narrative.
  • Narrative Reflections: Characters may engage in metacommentary by discussing the events, structure, or themes of the story within the narrative itself.
Conceptual Meaning:
  • Enhancing Interpretation: Metacommentary deepens the reader’s understanding by offering additional perspectives, interpretations, or insights into the narrative.
  • Questioning Narrativity: It prompts readers to question the nature of storytelling, inviting them to consider the constructed nature of narratives and the role of the author.
  • Reader Engagement: Metacommentary can engage readers in a more interactive reading experience, breaking down the traditional boundaries between author and audience.
  • Layered Storytelling: It adds layers to the narrative, creating a meta-textual dimension that enriches the overall literary experience.

The combination of its literal and conceptual meanings makes metacommentary a versatile device used by authors to enrich their narratives and engage readers in a reflective exploration of the storytelling process.

Metacommentary: Definition as a Literary Device

Metacommentary is a literary device characterized by self-reflective comments or observations within a narrative, where the author or narrator steps outside the story to provide insights, reflections, or commentary on the unfolding events, characters, or the storytelling process itself. This technique serves to engage readers in a deeper understanding of the text by offering explicit guidance, interpretations, or reflections that transcend the immediate narrative content. Metacommentary often invites readers to reflect on the constructed nature of storytelling, fostering a more interactive and thought-provoking reading experience.

Metacommentary: Examples in Everyday Life
Type of MetacommentaryDefinitionExample
Authorial ReflectionComments made directly by the author about the narrative.In a novel, the author interrupts the story to reflect on the choices made in character development.
Character CommentaryCharacters within the narrative reflect on the story’s events.A protagonist pauses to ponder the significance of their actions, providing commentary on the unfolding plot.
Narrative StructureReflections on the organization or construction of the story.A narrator discusses the use of flashbacks and their impact on the reader’s understanding of the central conflict.
Reader-Writer InteractionDirect address or engagement with the reader.The author speaks directly to the reader, inviting them to question assumptions or anticipate plot twists.
Metafictional ElementsInclusion of elements acknowledging the fictionality of the narrative.Characters becoming aware they are in a story or references to the act of writing within the text.
Interpretative GuidanceAuthorial comments guiding the reader’s interpretation.The author provides hints or suggestions on how certain events should be interpreted, influencing the reader’s perspective.

These types of metacommentary showcase the diversity of ways in which authors employ self-reflective elements to enhance the narrative and engage readers in a more interactive and thoughtful reading experience.

Metacommentary in Literature: Examples
  1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605):
    • Cervantes includes a prologue in which he discusses the act of writing and the challenges of creating a compelling story. This metacommentary sets the tone for the novel’s exploration of fiction and reality.
  2. If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino (1979):
    • Calvino’s novel is a self-aware exploration of reading and storytelling. The author directly addresses the reader, discussing the nature of novels and the expectations readers bring to a book.
  3. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (1962):
    • Nabokov’s novel is presented as a poem written by a character, with a commentary by another character. The commentary serves as a metacommentary, offering conflicting perspectives on the poem and its meaning.
  4. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969):
    • Vonnegut uses metacommentary to discuss his own experiences as a soldier in World War II and the challenges of writing about traumatic events. This adds a layer of personal reflection to the novel.
  5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000):
    • This experimental novel incorporates metacommentary through footnotes, different fonts, and visual elements. The narrator frequently reflects on the process of writing and the impact of the story on the reader.
  6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925):
    • Fitzgerald’s use of Nick Carraway as a narrator who reflects on his own role in the story provides a subtle form of metacommentary, as Nick comments on the events and characters around him.
  7. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century):
    • Chaucer’s characters often engage in metacommentary, discussing the nature of storytelling and the intentions behind their tales during the pilgrimage.
  8. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996):
    • Wallace employs footnotes and endnotes extensively to provide additional commentary and insights, creating a complex metacommentary layer that adds depth to the narrative.
  9. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985):
    • Atwood uses a framing device where the main narrative is presented as a historical document with a subsequent academic discussion, allowing for metacommentary on the society depicted.
Metacommentary: Main Elements and Examples in Critiques
Element of MetacommentaryDefinitionExample in Critique
Authorial ReflectionComments made by the author reflecting on the writing process.The critic notes how the author’s introspective comments enhance the reader’s understanding of the narrative choices.
Textual Analysis CommentaryReflections on the structure, style, or themes within the text.The critic explores how the author’s commentary on narrative elements deepens the reader’s engagement with the novel’s underlying meanings.
Reader-Writer InteractionDirect engagement between the author and the anticipated reader.The critique acknowledges instances where the author directly addresses the reader, inviting them to participate in the interpretive process.
Interpretation GuidanceAuthor’s guidance on how certain elements should be interpreted.The critic observes moments where the author explicitly guides readers in understanding specific scenes, characters, or symbolic elements.
Metafictional ElementsInclusion of elements acknowledging the fictionality of the narrative.Critique points out instances where the author deliberately blurs the line between fiction and reality, fostering a self-aware narrative.
Narrative Purpose ReflectionReflection on the author’s intentions behind the narrative choices.The critic evaluates how the author’s metacommentary provides insights into the overarching purpose and thematic concerns of the work.

These elements and examples illustrate how metacommentary is analyzed in literary critiques, showcasing its role in enhancing the reader’s experience and providing additional layers of meaning within a text.

Metacommentary in Literature: Relevance in Literary Theories
  • Reader-Response Theory:
    • Metacommentary engages readers in an active role, prompting them to respond to the author’s reflections and interpretations.
    • The reader’s understanding is shaped not only by the narrative but also by the author’s explicit comments, influencing the overall reading experience.
  • Structuralism:
    • Metacommentary can be seen as a structural element, a layer that adds complexity to the overall narrative framework.
    • Structuralist analysis may explore how metacommentary shapes the organization and interpretation of the text.
  • Postmodernism:
    • Postmodern literary works often embrace metacommentary, challenging traditional notions of authorship, narrative stability, and reader expectations.
    • The self-awareness of metacommentary aligns with postmodern concerns about the constructed nature of narratives and the blurring of fiction and reality.
  • Feminist Criticism:
    • Metacommentary may be examined for gendered perspectives, considering how authors reflect on or challenge traditional gender roles within their narratives.
    • Feminist critics may explore how metacommentary intersects with issues of power, agency, and representation.
  • Psychoanalytic Criticism:
    • Metacommentary may provide insights into the author’s subconscious, revealing hidden desires, conflicts, or personal reflections.
    • Psychoanalytic analysis may delve into the psychological dimensions of metacommentary and its impact on the narrative.
  • Postcolonial Criticism:
    • In postcolonial literature, metacommentary may be explored for its reflections on cultural identity, colonial history, and the act of storytelling as a form of resistance.
    • Postcolonial theorists may examine how metacommentary intersects with issues of language, representation, and cultural agency.
  • New Criticism:
    • Metacommentary can be examined as part of the text’s internal dynamics, analyzing how it contributes to the overall meaning and coherence of the literary work.
    • New Critics may explore the interplay between metacommentary and other textual elements to uncover hidden layers of significance.
  • Deconstruction:
    • Deconstructionist analysis may focus on the instability of meaning within metacommentary, questioning how these self-reflective elements contribute to the text’s openness to multiple interpretations.
    • The deconstructionist lens may emphasize the play of language and the subversion of conventional literary norms within metacommentary.
  • Marxist Criticism:
    • Metacommentary may be examined for its reflections on societal structures, power dynamics, and class relations within the narrative.
    • Marxist critics may explore how metacommentary engages with or challenges dominant ideologies and social norms.
  • Cultural Studies:
    • Metacommentary is relevant to cultural studies as it reflects the author’s engagement with cultural discourses, norms, and values.
    • Cultural studies may explore how metacommentary contributes to the negotiation and representation of cultural identities within literature.
Metacommentary in Literature: Relevant Terms
Authorial ReflectionComments made by the author about the narrative or writing process.
Textual Analysis CommentaryReflections on the structure, style, or themes within the text.
Reader-Writer InteractionDirect engagement between the author and the anticipated reader.
Interpretation GuidanceAuthor’s guidance on how certain elements should be interpreted.
Metafictional ElementsInclusion of elements acknowledging the fictionality of the narrative.
Narrative Purpose ReflectionReflection on the author’s intentions behind the narrative choices.
Introspective DiscourseReflective language or dialogue within the narrative.
Reflective NarratorA narrator who explicitly reflects on the events of the story.
Intratextual CommentaryComments or reflections embedded within the text itself.
Self-Aware StorytellingNarration that acknowledges its own constructed nature.
Metacommentary in Literature: Suggested Readings
  1. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
  2. Calvino, Italo. If on a winter’s night a traveler. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.
  3. Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote. Publisher, 1605.
  4. Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Publisher, 14th century.
  5. Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. Pantheon, 2000.
  6. Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Wiley, 1983.
  7. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner, 1925.
  8. Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. Publisher, 1962.
  9. Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007.
  10. Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. Routledge, 2006.
  11. Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. Delacorte Press, 1969.
  12. Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. Little, Brown and Company, 1996.

Invocation: A Literary Device

Invocation, as a literary device, is the act of calling upon a muse, deity, or higher power at the beginning of a creative work to seek inspiration and guidance.

Invocation: Etymology, Literal and Conceptual Meanings

The term “invocation” has its roots in Latin, derived from the verb “invocare,” meaning “to call upon” or “to invoke.” It entered English in the late 15th century and has since been used to describe the act of summoning, appealing to, or calling upon a deity, spirit, or higher power for assistance, guidance, or inspiration.

Literal Meaning:
  • In a literal sense, invocation involves the act of calling upon a divine entity or supernatural force.
  • This can manifest through prayers, rituals, or ceremonial utterances, with the intention of seeking the presence, blessing, or aid of the invoked being.
  • In religious and spiritual contexts, invocations serve to establish a connection between the invoker and the divine, acting as a conduit for communication and assistance.
Conceptual Meaning:
  • Beyond its literal application, invocation holds conceptual significance across various fields.
  • In literature, it signifies the tradition of commencing a poem, story, or work of art with an appeal for inspiration, a practice rooted in classical poetry.
  • In legal contexts, invocation may refer to the act of calling upon a law, precedent, or legal principle to support a specific argument or claim.
  • The term can also be applied more broadly, indicating the earnest request or summoning of support, aid, or intervention, extending its usage beyond religious or literary realms.
Invocation: Definition as a Literary Device

Invocation, as a literary device, is the act of calling upon a muse, deity, or higher power at the beginning of a creative work to seek inspiration and guidance. It is a tradition often found in classical poetry, where writers invoke external sources to aid in the artistic process. The purpose of an invocation is to establish a connection with the divine, acknowledging the sources of inspiration and inviting their influence on the unfolding narrative or composition.

Invocation: Types and Examples
Type of InvocationDefinitionExample
Religious InvocationCalls upon a deity or divine being for guidance, blessings, or protection.“O Muse! Sing to me of the man of twists and turns…” – Homer’s “The Odyssey”
Muse InvocationAppeals to the muses, who were believed to be goddesses of inspiration in classical mythology.“Sing to me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide…” – Homer’s “The Iliad”
Nature InvocationInvokes elements of nature or the universe for inspiration or assistance.“Hail, thou that art highly favored! The Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” – Bible (Luke 1:28)
Self-InvocationThe author invokes their own creative spirit or intellect for inspiration.“O my soul, summon the strength within and let words flow like a mighty river.”
Historical or Cultural InvocationCalls upon historical figures, events, or cultural symbols for inspiration.“O spirits of our ancestors, guide my pen as I tell the tales of old.”

Note: These examples are for illustrative purposes and may not be verbatim excerpts from the referenced works.

Invocation: Common Examples in Folk Literature
  1. Ancestral Invocation:
    • Calling upon the spirits of ancestors for wisdom and protection.
  2. Nature’s Blessing:
    • Invoking natural elements like the sun, moon, or earth for guidance.
  3. Animal Spirits:
    • Seeking inspiration and aid from the spirits of animals, often revered in folklore.
  4. Elemental Forces:
    • Calling upon elemental forces such as wind, fire, or water for strength.
  5. Fairy or Folk Creatures:
    • Invoking the assistance of mythical beings like fairies or elves for magical guidance.
  6. Spiritual Guardians:
    • Appealing to guardian spirits or deities associated with specific locations.
  7. Cultural Heroes:
    • Invoking legendary figures or cultural heroes for inspiration and support.
  8. Divine Intervention:
    • Seeking the intervention of gods or goddesses in times of need.
  9. Magical Objects:
    • Invoking the powers of enchanted objects or artifacts within the folklore.
  10. Ceremonial Rituals:
    • Performing rituals or incantations to summon supernatural aid in folk traditions.
Invocation in Literature: Examples
  1. Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” (8th century BCE):
    • Homer begins both of his epic poems with invocations to the Muse, asking for inspiration and guidance in telling the stories of the Trojan War and Odysseus’ journey.
  2. John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (1667):
    • Milton invokes the Muse to help him tell the story of the fall of man and the rebellion of Satan. The invocation sets the tone for this epic poem.
  3. Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” (1320):
    • Dante begins his journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven with an invocation to the Muses, asking for divine guidance in portraying the divine realms.
  4. Virgil’s “The Aeneid” (29–19 BCE):
    • Virgil starts his epic poem by invoking the Muse to aid him in narrating the adventures of Aeneas as he fulfills his destiny in founding Rome.
  5. Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” (14th century):
    • Chaucer invokes the divine influence at the beginning of “The Canterbury Tales,” seeking inspiration to tell the stories of the diverse group of pilgrims.
  6. Milton’s “Paradise Regained” (1671):
    • In this work, Milton again begins with an invocation, asking for inspiration to recount the story of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness.
  7. Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” (1590):
    • Spenser invokes the aid of the Muse to guide him in crafting his allegorical epic poem, which is dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I.
  8. William Wordsworth’s “Prelude” (1850):
    • Wordsworth begins his autobiographical poem with an invocation to the divine spirit, seeking inspiration to explore the development of his mind and imagination.
  9. T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1922):
    • Eliot’s modernist masterpiece opens with a complex invocation, drawing on various mythic and religious traditions to set the tone for the fragmented narrative that follows.
  10. Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (1956):
  • In this influential Beat Generation poem, Ginsberg begins with a passionate invocation, addressing the best minds of his generation and expressing a sense of urgency and rebellion.

These examples illustrate how invocations have been used across different time periods and genres to set the stage for epic or significant literary works.

Invocation in Literature: Relevance in Literary Theories
Literary TheoryRelevance of Invocation in Literature
Classical CriticismRelevance: Invocations align with classical notions of epic poetry, where poets sought divine inspiration to elevate their works to a higher level.
StructuralismRelevance: Invocations can be seen as structural elements that establish a framework for the narrative, signaling the beginning of an epic journey.
New CriticismRelevance: New Critics might analyze the nuances of language and imagery within invocations, exploring how these elements contribute to the overall meaning of the work.
Psychoanalytic CriticismRelevance: Invocations may be interpreted as expressions of the author’s subconscious desires, revealing the poet’s inner conflicts and aspirations.
Marxist CriticismRelevance: Marxist critics might examine invocations in relation to power dynamics, investigating how the call for divine inspiration reflects societal structures and values.
Feminist CriticismRelevance: Feminist theorists may explore gender dynamics in invocations, considering how the choice of language and the act of seeking inspiration reflect gender roles and expectations.
Postcolonial CriticismRelevance: Postcolonial theorists might analyze invocations in relation to cultural identity, exploring how the call for divine assistance intersects with colonial histories and indigenous perspectives.
DeconstructionRelevance: Deconstructionists may question the stability of meaning within invocations, examining how language and symbols in the invocation may have multiple interpretations.
Reader-Response CriticismRelevance: Reader-response theorists may focus on how invocations engage readers, considering how the call for inspiration invites readers to participate in the creation of meaning.
PostmodernismRelevance: Postmodernists might view invocations as intertextual elements, exploring how they reference and reinterpret literary traditions in a fragmented and self-conscious manner.
Invocation in Literature: Relevant Terms
InvocationA prayer or request for divine inspiration.
MuseA source of artistic inspiration, often linked to the arts and creativity.
Epic PoetryA genre characterized by long, narrative poems recounting heroic deeds and adventures.
TheodicyThe attempt to justify the ways of a deity in the face of evil and suffering.
AllegoryA narrative with symbolic meaning, often representing abstract ideas or moral qualities.
IntercessionA plea for intervention or assistance, often directed towards a higher power.
MythopoeiaThe creation of myths or myth-like stories, often invoking the divine.
Divine InterventionDirect involvement of a deity in the affairs of mortals, often seen in epic narratives.
Cultural SyncretismThe merging of different cultural and religious elements, reflected in invocations.
ImageryVivid and descriptive language that appeals to the senses, often used in invocations for evocative effect.
Invocation in Literature: Suggested Readings
  1. Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning, 2014.
  2. Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land. Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922.
  3. Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1998.
  4. Lodge, David. The Art of Fiction. Penguin, 1992.
  5. Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Oxford University Press, 2008.
  6. Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.
  7. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Translated by David Raeburn, Penguin Classics, 2004.
  8. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 2003.
  9. Watson, Gail. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Literary Terms. Alpha, 2012.
  10. Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Stylistic Devices in Literature

In literature, stylistic devices serve as literary tools employed by authors to impart depth and nuance to their writing.

Stylistic Devices: Etymology, Device: Literal and Conceptual Meanings

Stylistic devices, also known as rhetorical devices or figures of speech, are linguistic techniques used by writers to enhance the expressiveness of their language and create a more engaging and memorable experience for readers. These devices go beyond the literal meaning of words, adding layers of meaning, emphasis, or clarity to the text. Writers often deploy stylistic devices to evoke specific emotions, highlight key points, or craft a unique and artistic style. These devices contribute to the overall aesthetic appeal and effectiveness of literary and rhetorical works.

  • Stylistic Device – Literal Meaning:
    • Linguistic or rhetorical technique
    • Intentional application by writers or speakers
    • Enhances expressiveness, aesthetic quality, or impact
    • Deviates from ordinary, straightforward language use
    • Operates at the level of style
    • Contributes to overall artistry and effectiveness
    • Specific linguistic choices for rhetorical or artistic goals
Stylistic Devices in Literature: Definition as a Literary Device

In literature, stylistic devices serve as literary tools employed by authors to impart depth and nuance to their writing. These devices encompass a spectrum of techniques, including figures of speech, wordplay, and syntactical structures, allowing writers to convey meaning beyond the literal interpretation of words. Through the strategic use of stylistic devices, authors craft a distinctive narrative style, evoke emotions, and enrich the overall literary experience for their readers.

Stylistic Devices: Types, Categories and Examples
CategoryType of Stylistic DeviceExamples
Figures of SpeechSimile:“The clouds drifted across the sky like ships sailing on an ocean.”
Metaphor:“Time is a relentless river that carries us forward.”
Personification:“The stars danced in the night sky, celebrating the cosmic ballet.”
Sound DevicesAlliteration:“The playful puppies pranced in the park.”
Assonance:“The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”
Onomatopoeia:“The clock ticked and tocked, marking the passing seconds.”
Exaggeration and UnderstatementHyperbole:“I’ve told you a million times to clean your room.”
Litotes:“The task at hand is not the easiest.”
IronyVerbal Irony:Saying “What a beautiful day” during a thunderstorm.
Situational Irony:A fire station burning down during Fire Prevention Week.
ImageryVisual Imagery:“The vibrant sunset painted the sky in hues of orange and pink.”
Tactile Imagery:“The soft, velvety petals of the rose caressed her fingertips.”
SymbolismDove:Symbolizing peace, the dove gently landed on the windowsill.
Green Light:The green light across the bay represented Gatsby’s unattainable dreams.
RepetitionAnaphora:“I have a dream” – Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous repetition for emphasis.
Epistrophe:“Where now? Who now? When now?” – Samuel Beckett’s use of repetition in “The Unnamable.”
Puns“I used to be a baker because I kneaded dough.”
“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”
AllusionCupid:His love for her was like Cupid’s arrow, both sweet and piercing.
Pandora’s Box:Opening the mysterious package unleashed a series of unexpected troubles.
ParallelismNot only did she excel in academics, but she also shone in sports.
He likes hiking, swimming, and biking.
Stylistic Device in Literature: Shakespearean Examples
  1. Metaphor: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”
  2. Simile: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”
  3. Personification: “The wind, piping loud, sings through the leaves.”
  4. Irony: In “Julius Caesar,” Mark Antony’s speech praising Brutus as an “honorable man” is ironic, given the context.
  5. Alliteration: “Double, double toil and trouble.”
  6. Pun: In “Much Ado About Nothing,” the witty banter between Beatrice and Benedick is filled with playful puns.
  7. Oxymoron: “Parting is such sweet sorrow” from “Romeo and Juliet.”
  8. Foreshadowing: The witches’ prophecies in “Macbeth” foreshadow the tragic events that unfold.
  9. Soliloquy: Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech is a famous example of a soliloquy.
  10. Imagery: “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow” from “Macbeth” creates powerful visual imagery.
Stylistic Device in Literature: Relevance in Literary Theories
Literary TheoryRelevance of Stylistic Devices
FormalismAnalyzes the inherent structures and patterns in literary works, including the deliberate use of stylistic devices to shape form and meaning.
StructuralismExplores the underlying structures of language and literature, examining how stylistic elements contribute to the overall organization and meaning within a text.
PostcolonialismInvestigates how stylistic choices may reflect or resist colonial influences, providing insights into cultural and identity struggles in literature.
Psychoanalytic TheoryExamines how stylistic devices can reveal unconscious desires, conflicts, and symbolic representations, offering a deeper understanding of characters and themes.
Feminist CriticismAnalyzes how language, including stylistic choices, may reflect or challenge gender roles, contributing to the portrayal and empowerment of women in literature.
Stylistic Device in Literature: Relevant Terms
Stylistic DeviceDefinition
SimileComparison using “like” or “as”
MetaphorImplied comparison without “like” or “as”
AlliterationRepetition of initial consonant sounds
HyperboleExaggeration for emphasis
IronyA contrast between expectations and reality
PersonificationGiving human traits to non-human entities
OnomatopoeiaWords imitating the natural sound they represent
OxymoronContradictory terms used together
AllusionA reference to another work or historical event
ParallelismRepeated use of similar grammatical structures
Stylistic Device in Literature: Suggested Readings
  1. Eagleton, Terry. How to Read Literature. Yale University Press, 2013.
  2. Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines. Harper, 2014.
  3. Roberts, Edgar V., and Henry E. Jacobs. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Pearson, 2016.
  4. Strunk, William, and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. Pearson, 2009.
  5. Wyrick, Jean. Steps to Writing Well with Additional Readings. Cengage Learning, 2016.