Literary Terms

 

Characterization in Literature

An important component of modern fiction is characterization. Historically, realistic characterization has only intermittently been considered an essential part of good writing; in eras when allegory and didacticism become more important than realism, characterization generally goes out the window. Read more...

 

Existentialism in Literature

The term “existentialism” refers to a literary movement of the mid-twentieth century which holds that man has complete freedom to determine his own fate. The actions he chooses in fact determine his existence. Existentialists believe that a particular individual is not the way he is because God made him that way, or because he is part of a great human community with common characteristics. He is the way he is because—that’s how he is. Read more...

 

Modernism in Literature

When we think of the modernist school of literature, we normally think of the seminal writers who came of age in the 1920s—Joyce, Pound, Eliot. Their writing seems so dramatically different from the Victorian sensibilities that had driven the generation before, that they almost seem to have had no antecedents, no role models, no mentors at all. Read more...

 

Naturalism in Literature

The literary movements of naturalism and realism are often confused, and indeed the difference does not seem to lay so much in style as in philosophy. Both movements developed in the mid-nineteenth century as reactions to the overblown lushness and sentimentality of Romanticism, which seemed increasingly out of tune with the experiences of real people. Read more...

 

Plot in Literary Fiction

Most people think that authors, when they write fiction, begin with a plot. This is actually very seldom true. Many stories and novels, particularly in this century, do not have a formal plot structure at all, although they do have an internal consistency. Let’s contrast a very formally plotted novel like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with an almost plotless one like James Joyce’s Ulysses. Read more...

 

Romanticism in Literature

The literary period known as Romanticism stretched from the late eighteenth century through the middle of the nineteenth. This deeply emotional style of writing originally evolved as a rebuttal to the elite and elegant modes of writing that dominated literature before the French and American revolutions. Read more...

 

Symbolism in Literature

Just as characterization and dialogue and plot work on the surface to move the story along, symbolism works under the surface to tie the story’s external action to the theme. Early in the development of the fictional narrative, symbolism was often produced through allegory, giving the literal event and its allegorical counterpart a one-to-one correspondence. Read more...

 

Theme in Literary Fiction

All works of literature have a theme, even if (in the case of many modernist and postmodern works) it is only that life is ultimately meaningless. The theme of Shakespeare’s Othello, for instance, is jealousy; the theme of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is liberation. In most cases it is not possible to reduce a theme down to one word, but a theme should be some abstract principle rather than simply a synopsis of the plot. Read more...

 

Tone in Literary Fiction

Tone is a difficult literary concept to describe, but not at all difficult to recognize. It refers to the attitude with which the writer approaches his work. Some works, such as the stories of James Thurber, are fundamentally comic in tone; others, such as those of D.H. Lawrence, are serious. Stories can be dark or light, gritty or romantic, or any of a thousand other attributes. Read more...

 

 

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