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World Literature Terms

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Allusion
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In a literary text, an allusion is a reference, without explicit identification, to a person, place, or event, or to another literary work or passage. Like cultural shorthand, it is often a kind of appeal to a reader to share some experience with the writer, and enriches the text by that association
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Fable
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A short narrative–prose or verse–which points to a specific, singular moral. Non-human creatures or inanimate things/objects are normally the characters.
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Frame Narrative
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A frame narrative is a literary technique whereby an introductory or main narrative is presented, at least in part, for the purpose of setting the stage either for a more emphasized second narrative or for a set of shorter stories.
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Magical Realism
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Magic(al) realism writers interweave, in an ever-shifting pattern, a sharply and clearly depicted realism (in representing ordinary events with descriptive details) together with fantastic and dramatic elements, as well as materials derived from myth and fairy tales.
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Myth
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Generally speaking, myth is a story which is not “true” and which involves (as a rule) supernatural beings; myth is primarily concerned with creation, and how something came into being, in conjunction with explanations of the natural order and cosmic forces; a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.
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Symbolism
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In the broadest sense, a symbol is anything which signifies something; in this sense all words are symbols. In discussing literature, however, symbol is applied only to a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which in turn signifies something, or has a range of reference beyond itself. Some symbols are “conventional” or “public”: thus “the Cross,” “the Red, White and Blue,” the Good Shepherd” are terms that refer to symbolic object of which the further significance is determined within a particular culture.
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Embedded Narratice
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Contained within a frame narrative, an embedded narrative hinges contextually on the frame narrative, while typically becoming the bulk of the story itself. In other words, the embedded narrative usually comprises the majority of the text, while the framing narrative occupies just the first and last few pages.
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Fairytale
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A type of short story that stems from oral tradition and involves folkloric characters, as well as fantastic characters (goblins, elves, trolls, fairies). Highly stylized with easily identifiable conventions, fairy tales are often engaged in the socialization of children through the transmission of cultural norms/values.
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Dramatic Irony
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Involves a situation in a play or a narrative in which the audience or reader shares with the narrator knowledge of present or future circumstances of which a character is ignorant; in that situation, the character unknowingly acts in a way we recognize to be inappropriate to the actual circumstances, or expects the opposite of what we know is in store, or says something that anticipates the actual outcome, but not at all the way the character intends. In other words, dramatic irony is a situation in which we (the reader/audience) and the narrator (or another character) know something a character does not, and can partake in the humorous or awkward tension that ensues as a result of that knowledge.
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Point of View
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The manner in which a story gets told–the method through which an author presents characters, dialogue, setting and events which constitute the narrative in a work of fiction.
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First Person
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In a first person narrative, the narrator speaks as “I” and is herself/himself to a greater or lesser degree, a participant in the story. First person usually conveys an intimate, or highly internal perspective.
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Third Person
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The narrator is distanced in their usage of “he, she, it, or they” to describe the actions and characters in the narrative. The narrator is an unspecified entity, uninvolved. Within third-person narration, there is limited and omniscient points of view. In omniscient point of view, the narrator knows everything about characters, events, action, etc., and also has access to the characters’ thoughts, feelings and motives. The narrator is free to move at will in time and place, and to shift from character to character, and to report or conceal whatever suits the narrative. Limited point of view is when the narrator is either restricted to the awareness and action of a single character, or the narrator has no access at all, and is a minor or peripheral participant.
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Epic
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an epic is a long, narrative poem about the deeds of warriors and heroes. An epic is a multi-dimensional “heroic” story, which incorporates myth, legend, folk tale, and history. Epics are often of national significance in the sense that they embody the history and aspirations of a nation. The Odyssey, one of the two Homeric epics (The Iliad being the other) and was composed and recited orally, and then written down.
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Odyssey
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a long journey full of adventures; a series of experiences that bring about knowledge or understanding; a long, wandering voyage marked by many changes of fortune; quest.
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Similie
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a figure of speech in which one thing is compared/likened to another, in such a way as to clarify and enhance an image. It is an explicit comparison, recognizable by the use of the words “like” or “as.”
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Metaphor
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a metaphor, as opposed to a simile, is when the comparison between two things is implicit, as opposed to the explicit comparison of a simile. In other words, a metaphor directly compares/likens one thing to another; in which one thing is described in terms of another.
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Allusion
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In a literary text, an allusion is a reference, without explicit identification, to a person, place, or event, or to anther literary work or passage. For example, in Thomas Nashe’s “Litany in Time of Plague,” Nashe states “Queens have died young and fair,/ Dust hath close Helen’s eye.” The reference to Helen is an allusion to Helen of Troy. Most illusions serve to illustrate or clarify or enhance a subject. An allusion is often a kind of appeal to a reader to share in some experience with the writer, and give a depth beyond their own words.
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Polymetis
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(etymology–Greek in origin; poly meaning many, and metis meaning skills, wisdom)–“Polymetis” is an adjective, and is one of the primary words Homer uses to describe Odysseus. While many English translations have circulated over the centuries (multitalented, crafty-minded, many aptitudes, etc.) “skilled in all ways of contriving” seems to best fit Odysseus’ particular brand of wisdom. No wonder Athena is such a fan!
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Verbal Irony
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Someone says something, but they mean something else
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Situational Irony
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The opposite of what you think will happen happens
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Verse
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(as distinct from prose): Three main things may be distinguished: (a) a line of metrical poetry; (b) a stanza; (c) poetry in general
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Stanza
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(as distinct from paragraph): A group of lines of verse. A stanza may be of any number, but more than twelve is uncommon.
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Enjambment
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Literally, running on; running on of the sense beyond the second line of one couplet into the first line of the next.
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End-Stop
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(or end-stopped line): A term applied to verse where the sense and meter coincide in a pause at the end of a line, usually with the use of punctuation.
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End-Rhyme
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This occurs at the end of a line of verse, and is distinguished from head-rhyme or alliteration and internal rhyme.
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Denotation
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The most literal and limited meaning of a word, regardless of what one may feel about it of the suggestions and ideas it connotes; dictionary definition.
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Connotation
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The suggestion or implication evoked by a word or phrase; connotation may be personal and individual, or general and universal; the way one feels about what a word suggests and the ideas that accompany that suggestion.
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Tone
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A writer’s attitude, manner, mood, moral outlook; often determined through diction choices. Remember: syntax + diction = tone!!
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Meter
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The term that refers to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse. (Iambic meter follows the pattern of unstressed/stressed. The combination of unstressed/stressed pairing is called a foot, and the feet are denoted numerically (tetrameter is 4 feet; iambic tetrameter is 4 feet following the unstressed/stressed pattern; pentameter is 5 feet; iambic pentameter is?)
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Rhyme-Scheme
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The patter of end-rhymes in a stanza, usually noted by lower-case letters (abab). (When a poet glosses a syllable to make it fit, or “cuts short a word” by omitting a letter or syllable, it is called a syncope; this is not to be confused with elision, which is also the omission or slurring of a syllable, which was also used to secure the proper meter.)
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Heroic Couplet
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A couplet is two successive rhyming lines; a heroic couplet is comprised of rhymed decasyllables [a line of verse of ten syllables] nearly always in iambic pentameters rhymed in pairs. (aa bb cc dd ee ff gg, etc.)
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Assonance
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It consists of the repetition of similar vowel sounds, usually close together, to achieve a particular effect of euphony [i.e. pleasing verbal sound produced by long vowels rather than consonants]; has an almost hypnotic or drowsy effect on the listener/reader.
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Consonance
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The close repetition of identical consonant sounds before and after different vowels. (For example, flip-flop, slip-slop, creak-croak, black-block).
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Alliteration
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A figure of speech in which consonants, especially at the beginning of words, or stressed syllables, are repeated. (She sells sea shells by the sea shore).
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Anaphora
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A rhetorical device involving the repetition of a word or group of words in successive clauses. (“Till east and west and south and north” or “Mangled, and gashed, and torn, and cleft” from Griffith’s translation of Valmiki)
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Scansion
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The analysis of the metrical patterns of verse.
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Caesura
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A break of pause in a line of poetry dictated by the natural rhythm of language and/or enforced by punctuation.
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Satire
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can be described as the literary art of diminishing or derogating a subject by making in ridiculous and evoking towards it attitudes of amusement, contempt, scorn, or indignation. Satire is unique in that it “derides,” i.e. uses laughter as a weapon, and against a ridiculed entity outside the work itself. Simply put, satire is the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
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proverb
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a short, pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice; a short popular saying that expresses some commonplace truth or useful thought; an adage. For example “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” OR “A picture paints a thousand words.” OR “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
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Backlooping
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:Backlooping, according to Eugene C. McCarthy’s article entitled “Rhythm and Narrative Method in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart” is the following concept: “…oral expression is ‘additive rather than subordinative,’ ‘aggregative rather than analytical,’ ‘redundant or copious,’ that is, ‘backlooping’ by means of ‘redundancy, repitation of the just-said'”(245). In other words, backlooping is the pattern within Things Fall Apart whereby Achebe repeats a phrase, and then adds additional information about the phrase at a later point in the story. For example, with the name “Amalinze the Cat,” Achebe introduced the notion of the Cat in the opening of the text within the context of Okonkwo’s initial claim to fame, when he “threw the Cat.” Once this name is introduced, Achebe proceeds by moving the narrative forward with new information. Achebe then reaches back to the previous information about the Cat, and elaborates and expands on the original information with new information. The new detail, accumulating more and more elaboration on the original concept, expanding upon Okonkwo’s “fame” and “honour” by calling the Cat “the man that Okonkwo threw,” repeats what has gone before and underscores its importance in the characterization of Okonkwo. To put it simply, backlooping is the pattern of repetitive storytelling in Things Fall Apart which seems initially and superficially redundant, be in fact serves a purpose; it provides a predictable narrative rhythm in the storyline of Things Fall Apart. Backlooping is imitative of the oral storytelling tradition in African narratives, as a distinct form from the English “literary” tradition.
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Motif
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One of the dominant ideas in a work of literature; a part of a main theme, and deeply useful in the establishment of that theme. It may consists of a repeated image or verbal pattern. A motif is a conspicuous element, such as a type of incident, device, reference, which occurs frequently in works of literature, and is used to help a theme materialize. For example, the wicked stepmother’s jealousy is a common motif in fairy tales, used to develop a theme of punishment for female wickedness in that genre.