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Literary Criticism Terms

Allegory
a story in which the narrative or characters carry an underlying symbolic, metaphorical, or possibly an ethical meaning

Alliteration
the repetition of one or more initial consonants in a group of words or lines of poetry or prose

Ambiguity
a vagueness of meaning; a conscious lack of clarity meant to evoke multiple meanings or interpretations

Anachronism
A person, scene, event, or other element in literature that fails to correspond with the time or era in which the work is set

Analogy
A comparison that points out similarities between two dissimilar things

Antithesis
a rhetorical opposition or contrast of ideas by means of a grammatical arrangement of words, clauses, or sentences

Aphorism
a short, pithy statement of a generally accepted truth or sentiment

Apostrophe
A rhetorical device in which the speaker addresses a person or personified thing not present

Archetype
An abstract or ideal conception of a type; a perfectly typical example; an original model or form

Assonance
The repetition of two or more vowel sounds in a group of words or in prose or poetry

Ballad
A simple narrative verse that tells a story that is sung or recited

Bathos
The use of insincere or overdone sentimentality

Bildungsroman
A German word referring to a novel structured as a series of events that take place as the hero travels in quest of a goal

Blank Verse
Poetry written in iambic pentameter

Burlesque
A work of literature meant to ridicule a subject; a grotesque imitation

Caesura
A pause somewhere in the middle of a verse, often (but not always) marked by punctuation

Caricature
A grotesque likeness of striking qualities in persons and things

Carpe Diem
Literally, “seize the day”; enjoy life while you can, a common theme in literature

Catharsis
A cleansing of the spirit brought about by the pity and terror of a dramatic tragedy

Classic
A highly regarded work of literature or other art form that has withstood the test of time

Coming-of-age story/novel
A tale in which a young protagonist experiences an introduction to adulthood. The character may develop understanding via disillusionment, education, doses of reality, or any other experiences that alter his or her emotional or intellectual maturity.

Connotation
the suggested or implied meaning of a word or phrase

Couplet
a pair of rhyming lines in a poem

Denotation
The dictionary definition of a word

Deus ex Machina
In literature, the use of an artificial device or gimmick to solve a problem.

Dramatic Irony
a circumstance in which the audience or reader knows more about a situation than a character

Elegy
a poem or prose selection that laments or meditates on the passing or death of someone of something of value

Elliptical Construction
a sentence containing a deliberate omission of words

Empathy
A feeling of association or identification with an object or person

Epic
an extended narrative poem that tells of the adventures and exploits of a hero that is generally larger than life and is often considered a legendary firgure

Epigram
A concise but ingenious, witty, and thoughtful statement

Epithet
an adjective or phrase that expresses a striking quality of a person or thing

Euphemism
a mild or less negative usage for a harsh or blunt term

Exergesis
a detailed analysis or interpretation of a work of literature

Explication
The interpretation or analysis of a text

Farce
a comedy that contains an extravagant and nonsensical disregard of seriousness, although it may have a serious, scornful purpose

Figure of Speech/Figurative Language
implies meanings

First-person narrative
A narrative told by a character involved in the story, using first-person pronouns

Foil
a minor character whose personality or attitude contrasts with that of the main character

Frame
a structure that provides a premise or setting for a narrative

Genre
A term used to describe literary forms, such as novel, play, and essay

Gothic Novel
A novel in which supernatural horrors and an atmosphere of unknown terrors pervades the action.

Harangue
A forceful sermon, lecture, or tirade

Hubris
The excessive pride that often leads tragic heroes to their death

Humanism
A belief that emphasizes faith and optimism in human potential and creativity

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