ELEMENTS OF LITERATURE
Three are two major types of Elements of Literature namely; Form and Content.
This has the following elements:
This is a writer’s central idea, concern, or purpose in a literary work. A theme can usually be expressed as a generalization or a general statement about human beings or about life.
Although a theme may be directly stated in the text, it is more often presented indirectly.
When the theme is presented indirectly the reader must figure out what the theme is by looking carefully at what the work reveals about people or about life.
Common themes in literature include classes, poverty, unemployment, oppression, exploitation, corruption, marginalization, hypocrisy, love, identity, betrayal, racial segregation / discrimination, effects of colonialism / neo-colonialism, humiliation position of women in the society. Etc
This refers to the lesson taught by a literary work. A poem, novel, short story or play often suggests a lesson/moral that is not directly stated.
The lesson must be drawn by the reader based on the other elements of the work. e.g.
United we stand, divided we fall.
What goes around comes around.
Do unto others what you would have them do to you
Children should be given the right to education
A conflict is a struggle between opposing forces. A conflict is one of the most important elements of stories, novels and plays because it causes the actions. There are two kinds of conflict:
Internal conflict. This takes place within the mind of a character. The character struggles to make decision, take action, or overcome a feeling. For example THONI in “The black hermit” has this kind of conflict that later forces her to commit suicide.
External conflict. This is the one in which the character struggles against some outside forces, such as another person. In this category we can get further subdivisions of conflicts such as, economic conflict (rich vs. poor), political conflict (leaders vs. Citizens), family conflict (among family members), social conflict (one social group vs. Another), cultural conflicts (modernism vs. Traditionalism) etc
This is the applicability of a literary work in contemporary societies. We assess whether or not the author has been successful in addressing the issues that are relevant to our lives currently.
That is why we believe that literary works do not develop in a vacuum but they usually address issues in societies they evolve.
It is interesting however to note that a literary work may not necessarily be relevant across time and across space. In one case, a literary work might be relevant in one society but may be irrelevant in another.
In another case, a literary work that was once relevant in one society might be irrelevant in the same society as time passes by. E.g. most literary works that were about struggle for independence in Africa have now fallen out of favour.
This refers to the structure of a literary work. It has the following elements.
Characterization is the act of creating and developing a character. It is the way the writer reveals the personality of a character. A Character – Is a person or an animal that takes part in the action of a literary work.
Authors use two major methods of characterization; Direct and Indirect.
Direct Characterization. When using the direct characterization a writer tells the characters’ traits or characteristics. E.g. brave, corrupt, weak etc.
Indirect Characterization. When using indirect characterization a writer depends on the reader to draw conclusions /judgments about the characters’ traits by using the evidence the writer gives:
Through the words of the character.
Through the description of the character’s look and clothing.
Through the description of the character’s feelings and thoughts.
Through comments made about him by another character in the story.
Through the characters behaviour.
CLASSIFICATION OF CHARACTERS
There are different ways of classifying the characters
A. Major/main character and minor character
The main or major character is the one that is the most important in the story, poem or play. Usually the main character appears from the beginning to the end of the story. E.g. Juliette.
While a minor character is the one that takes part in the action of a story but is not the focus of attention. These help the main character to accomplish the mission.
B. Flat character and round character
Flat character is usually one-sided and often stereotypical. These characters are not well developed. They are introduced more to shed light on the character of the major figure.
While round character on the other hand is fully developed with complete personality and exhibits many traits, – often both faults and virtues. (strengths and weaknesses)
C. Dynamic character and static character
Dynamic character is the one who changes or grows in the course of the story this one is complex and multifaceted like a real person. E.g. Remi in “The Black Hermit”.
While a static character is the one who does not change. This one is one-dimensional. Like Mbarga in Three Suitors One Husband.
D. Protagonist and antagonist
A protagonist is the main character in a literary work. Often a protagonist is a person but sometimes it can be an animal.
An antagonist is a character or a force that is in conflict with the main character or protagonist.
E. Foil character
This is a character that provides a contrast to another character. A writer uses a foil to accentuate and clarify the distinct qualities of two characters.
The word foil is also used for a thin sheet of shiny metal that is placed beneath a gem to intensify its brilliance. A character who is a foil, like the metal behind the gem, sets off or intensifies the qualities of another character.
The setting of a literary work is the place and time of the action. Stories can be set in the present, past or future. What happens in the story and how characters look and act often depends on the time when the event took place.
It may include the year, time of the day, even weather. The place may be a specific country, state, region, community, neighbourhood, building, institution, or at home.
Details such as dialects, clothing, customs, and modes of transportation are often used to establish the setting. The setting can be real as in “Passed like a shadow” or imaginary as in Kusadikika.
This is the way the writer uses the language. It is also understood as the individual way in which a writer has used the language to express his or her ideas.
Style results from diction (word choice), sentence structure and tone. One writer may choose to use many figures of speech another may prefer to use straightforward language with few figures of speech.
4. POINT OF VIEW
We also look at the point of view. This is the perspective or the vantage point from which the story is told. It is either the narrator outside the story or a character inside the story.
Three commonly used points of view are first person, omniscient third person and limited third person.
In the first-person point of view, the narrator is a character in the story and refers to himself or herself with the first person pronoun “I”.
In omniscient third-person point of view, the narrator knows and tells about what each character feels and thinks.
In limited third-person point of view the narrator relates the inner thoughts and feelings of only one character and everything is viewed from this character’s perspective.
This is a sequence/arrangement of events in a literary work. In most novels, dramas, short stories and narrative poems the plot involves both the characters and a central conflict. Plot may be chronological or flashback.
A chronological plot is one that the incidents are arranged in the order they occur. The plot usually begins with EXPOSITION that introduces the setting, the characters and the basic situation. This is followed by the introduction of the central conflict.
The conflict increases during the RISING ACTION until it reaches the highest point of interest or suspense, THE CLIMAX. The climax is followed by the FALLING ACTION or the end of the conflict. These are events that during the falling action make up the RESOLUTION or Denouement.
The plot can also employ a flashback. This is an interruption of the current action of a plot to show events that happened at an earlier time. It breaks the normal forward movement of a narrative.
Although flashbacks often appear in the middle of the story it can also be placed at the beginning. They give background information the audience needs to understand in order to understand the present action.
Foreshadowing can also be used. This is the use of clues/hints to suggest events that will occur later in the plot. Foreshadowing is used to build suspense or anxiety in the reader or viewer. E.g. the character prepares his gun and hides it somewhere; this may foretell violence later in the story.
6. LANGUAGE USE/DICTION
This refers to the writer’s or speaker’s choice of words. People use different types of words depending on the audience they are addressing, the subject they are discussing and the effect they are trying to produce.
Diction is an essential element of a writer’s style and has a major effect on the tone of the piece of writing.
This is writing or speech that is not meant to be taken literally. One has to dig deeper and uncover the underlying meaning. The many types of figurative language are known as figures of speech.
FIGURES OF SPEECH
Figure of Speech is a word or group of words that describes one thing in terms of another and is not meant to be understood as literally true.
A figure of speech is a word or phrase that departs from everyday literal language for the sake of comparison, emphasis, clarity, or freshness.
Also known as, rhetorical figure, metaphorical language/ literary devices
Used well, figures of speech greatly enhance your fiction, and can be a very economical way of getting an image or a point across, but used incorrectly, they will confuse the reader.The special emphasis is typically accomplished by the user’s conscious deviation from the strict literal sense of a word, or from the more commonly used form of word order or sentence construction.
From ancient times to the present, such figurative locutions have been extensively employed by orators and writers to strengthen and embellish their styles of speech and composition.
A number of the more widely used figures of speech, some of which are also called tropes, follow.
1) Metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a direct comparison between two unlike things without using the words “like or as”. A metaphor suggests that one thing is another thing, or is equal to another thing.
It uses a word or phrase denoting one kind of idea or object in place of another word or phrase for the purpose of suggesting a likeness between the two. Metaphors create vivid descriptions with few words, as the subject of the comparison takes on the qualities of the thing with which it is compared.
‘He was a lion in the fight’.
In the biblical Book of Psalms, the writer speaks of God’s law as
“A light to his feet and a lamp to his path.”
“The LORD is my shepherd”
2) A simile is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things and uses the words “like,” “as,” “than” or “resembles”. Or Simile is specific comparison by means of the words “like” or “as” between two kinds of ideas or objects.
Similes make descriptions vivid by comparing their subjects with known events or things. Effective similes help readers visualize what is being described. Examples,
As cool as a cucumber’,
‘As white as snow’,
‘Life is just like an ice-cream, enjoy it before it melts’,
“Christianity shone like a beacon in the black night of paganism”
3) Irony: It is the expression of ideas which are exactly opposite to the implied meaning.
Or Irony is a disagreement or incongruity between what is said and what is understood, or what is expected and what actually occurs. Irony can be used intentionally or can happen unintentionally.
Authors can use irony to make their audience stop and think about what has just been said, or to emphasize a central idea. The audience’s role in realizing the difference between what is said and what is normal or expected is essential to the successful use of irony.
‘A student of psychology going insane’,
‘A bank lends you money provided you show that it’s not needed’
Or the warning found on every cigarette pack, ‘Smoking is injurious to health’ is an irony!
There are three scenarios in which irony occurs.
1. Verbal irony is when the intended meaning of the statement or work is different (often the opposite of) what the statement or work literary says.
For Example, Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is ironically used since Dr. Stockman who is declared an enemy, is in really sense, and is a friend of the people.
2. Situational Irony occurs when what happens is contrary to what is expected; or the actual outcome of a situation is the opposite of what is expected. For example
The son of the English teacher fails the English Exam.
The daughter of a rich merchant is expelled from school for lack of school fees of 20,000/=.
3. Dramatic Irony occurs when events or facts not known to the character on stage in a fictional work, are known to another character and the audience or reader. E.g. Oedipus the King.
4) Personification: It is a representation of abstract ideas or inanimate objects as having human attributes or qualities. Or Personification is the representation of inanimate objects or abstract ideas as living beings.
Personification connects readers with the object that is personified. Personification can make descriptions of non-human entities more vivid, or can help readers understand, sympathize with, or react emotionally to non-human characters.
‘Death laid its icy hands on kings’,
“Necessity is the mother of invention
“the mountains cried, the valleys wept, and the hills wailed all mourning the death of Nyerere.
5) Apostrophe: It is a direct address to the dead or an inanimate object creating an emotional surge. In Apostrophe,an actor turns from the audience, or a writer from readers, to address a person who usually is either absent or deceased, an inanimate object, or an abstract idea. As in John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud”
‘Caesar, only if you were alive’
‘O stone, O might, O heart of man-made God, Thou art the emblem of our hope’,
6) Rhetorical question is the act of asking questions not to gain information but just for emphasis. No answer, in fact, is expected by the speaker. The device is illustrated in the following series of sentences:
“Did you help me when I needed help? Did you once offer to intercede in my behalf? Did you do anything to lessen my load?”
7) Hyperbole/overstatement is a figure of speech in which the truth is exaggerated for emphasis or for humorous effect. In exaggeration a person or thing is depicted as being better or worse, or larger or smaller, than is actually the case. It is, used often to ridicule, create humour or any drastic emotional appeal.
‘The waves rose as high as the mountains,’
‘I am so hungry that I can eat a whole cow’
‘She wept and wept until there was a sea of tears’.
8) Litotes/ understatement: It is an understated expression when the actual idea to be expressed is quite significant.
It is like downplaying an idea when it seems to be the best possible course of action or description. Statements such as,
‘I was not feeling unhappy”. Meaning I was feeling happy
“The English poet Thomas Gray showed no inconsiderable powers as a prose writer, “meaning that Gray was in fact a very good prose writer
I am not unmindful- meaning I mind
9) Euphemism, this is the substitution of an offensive/unpleasant term or phrase by the one that has pleasant associations, as in the use of “lavatory” or “rest room” for “toilet,” and “pass away” for “die.”
10) Metonymy is a figure of speech that associates the name of one thing with that of something else. This is a word that substitutes for an object, the name of an attribute or concept associated to that object. The use of ‘crown’ for ‘king’ or for the government ruled by a king is an example of a metonym.
- “We waited hopelessly for two sunsets”
“Sunsets” here implies two days,
- “He has a good name in our society.” Or,
“They spoilt his name.” “Name” refers to reputation
- “A press conference by the “Statehouse”. Here,statehouse refers to the officials of the Statehouse who will be holding the press conference.
A metonym is not necessarily one word. As in a hotel -“Room 44 needs a bottle of champagne” “Room 44” here refers to the customer who is in that room.
- “The hostess kept a good table,” when “good food” is implied.
11) Synecdoche: is a figure of speech in which the whole is represented by a part or a part by the whole is called as synecdoche. Example
‘He has several mouths to feed’. Here mouths represent people.
“50 head of cattle; “head” is used to mean whole animals,
“The president’s administration contained the best “brains” in the country; “brains” is used for intellectually brilliant persons.
12) Onomatopoeia, imitation of natural sounds by words. Examples in English are the italicized words in the phrases
“The humming bee,”
“The cackling hen,”
“The whizzing arrow,”
“The buzzing saw.”
The Hissing snake,
The Splashing water,
The Bang of a door.
13) Oxymoron: This is a figure of speech which includes words or ideas opposite in meaning placed one after the other. Oxymoron combines two seemingly contradictory or incongruous words.
o ‘True lies’,
o ‘Open secret’,
o ‘Pretty ugly face’,
o ‘Feeling alone in a crowd’,
o Living deaths,
o Dear wounds,
o Fair storms,
o Silent noise
o Freezing fires
o Pain for pleasure
o Clearly confused
o Cruel kindness
o Deafening silence
o Only choice
o Random order
o Alone together
o Awfully good
o Dark light
o Light darkness
o Appear invisible
o Goodbye reception.
o Growing smaller
o True myth
o Unpopular celebrity
o Worthless gold
o Sad joy
o Sweet agony
o Daydream in the night
14) Paradox, this is a figure of speech which includes a statement or sentiment that appears contradictory to common sense yet is true in fact. Simply put it is a statement that seems to contradict itself but is, nevertheless, true.
These statements or assertions, according to logic, cannot be true, yet the figure links them in a way that creates a new meaning, one that defies logic but works on situation. Example of paradox is found in Martin Luther’s speech “I Have a Dream”
“..The Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land”
In the above sentence, logically speaking, one cannot be in exile while he is still in his own land, as the true meaning of the word exile is. But the situation described, is the one that makes us see as if the Negros are in exile, since they have nothing to enjoy in their own land.
15) Climax, It is the arrangement of ideas in an increasing order of their importance. It emphasizes the meaning in a clear and effective way.
Or it is the arrangement of words, clauses, or sentences in the order of their importance, the least forcible coming first and the others rising in power until the last, as in the following sentences:
“It is an outrage to bind a Roman citizen; it is a crime to scourge him; it is almost parricide to kill him; but to crucify him—what shall I say of this?”
‘He came, he saw, he conquered, ‘her village, her state, her nation were her pride’,
‘Eat, drink and sleep’ and so on.
16) Anticlimax is a sequence of ideas that abruptly diminish in dignity or importance at the end of a sentence or passage, generally for satirical effect. The following sentence contains an illustration of anticlimax:
“Among the great achievements of Benito Mussolini’s regime were the revival of a strong national consciousness, the expansion of the Italian Empire, and the running of the trains on time.”
17) Antithesis is a juxtaposition of two words, phrases, clauses, or sentences contrasted or opposed in meaning in such a way as to give emphasis to contrasting ideas. An example of antithesis is the following line by the English poet Alexander Pope: “To err is human, to forgive divine.” “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
18) Conceit, it is an elaborate, extended and sometimes surprising comparison between things that, at first sight, do not have much in common. It is also defined as an elaborate, often extravagant metaphor or simile making an analogy between totally dissimilar things.
The term originally meant “concept” or “idea.” The use of conceits is especially characteristic of 17th-century English metaphysical poetry. An example occurs in the poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” by the English poet John Donne, in which two lovers’ souls are compared to the legs of drawing compasses.
19) Allusion is a literary device in which the writer or speaker refers either directly or indirectly to a famous person, event, place or thing in history, religion, mythology, politics, sports, science or to a work of art or literature.
Allusion connects the content of a text with the larger world. Allusion calls to mind the ideas and emotions associated with a well-known event or published work. Those ideas and emotions then contribute to what the author conveys. As in Martin Luther’s speech
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
20) Parallel structure /parallelism / Parallel constructionism a repetition of the same pattern of words or phrases within a sentence or passage to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance.
Parallel structure helps to organize ideas, making a text or speech easier to understand. Parallel structure can also create a satisfying rhythm in the language an author uses. In this literary device, the idea to be stated is repeated in some other form to emphasize the articulation.
‘She cried, she wept but he was unmoved’,
‘Show me your strength, your stamina, your energy only where it is needed’
21) Anaphora Also called epanaphora, the repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases for rhetorical or poetic effect, as in Lincoln’s
“We cannot dedicate-
We cannot consecrate-
We cannot hallow this ground”
I am a true Acoli
I am not a half-caste
I am not a slave girl
22) Imagery This is a figure of speech which creates mental pictures that appeal to readers, five senses. Writers use sensory details to make readers imagine how things look, feel, smell, sound and taste. There are different types of images depending on the five senses.
o Visual image- this is an image of sight e.g.
Greater than the Rift-Valley;
Camera film to light, coils of the greatest python
Stronger than the blows of the sea
When the hurricane is at its height.
o Organic image -this is an image of feeling
Dying in agony
More painful than the yell
o Audio image – this is an image of sound
The yell of a woman
I plead the cry of the nation
The screams of a man
o Kinetic image -this is an image of motion.
Is faster than camera film
But as slow as tropism
I declare running Better than walking
o Tactile image – this is an image of touch
As it falls on the seemingly soft soil
Standing hard and ready..
o Olfactory image – this is an image of smell.
a stinking room
o Gustatory image. This is an Image of taste
In search of sweetness
o Thermal image this is an image of heat.
23) Anadiplosis; the repetition in which the last expression of one statement becomes the first expression in the following statement. As in the poem “Africa” by David Diop
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
The slavery of your children
24) Symbolism is a literary device that uses one object to stand for something else or to mean something else. Actions can also be symbolic, such as washing hands to indicate non-involvement.
Some symbols are universal, with generally accepted meanings, such as a crown to mean superiority or the colour red to mean danger. Symbols, especially specific ones, often mean more than one thing.
Sunrise symbolizes the beginning of the struggle and sunsetsymbolizes the end of the struggle in the poem “Sunrise”
25) Pun – It is a humorous play on two or more meanings of the same word or on two different words with the same sound. It is also understood as a play on the multiple meanings of the word or on two words that sound alike but have different meanings.
It uses words that have similar or identical sounds but very different meanings.Quite often it is used to pass a witty remark or bring about a sarcastic effect. Examples are,
“It is better to have loved a short person and lost, than never to have loved A TALL.”
‘I KNEAD the dough so that I can eat’,
Another good pun is found in the last but one line of Shakespeare’s “When My Love Swears That She Is Made of Truth.” He says;
‘Therefore, I LIE with her and she with me’ Shakespeare Sonnet 138
26) Allegory is a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself.
The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy.
Thus an allegory is a story with two levels of meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning. A more modern example of allegory is George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which on the surface level is about a group of animals who take over their farm but on the deeper level is an allegory of the Russian Revolution and the shortcomings of the Communism.
27) Anastrophe: Also known as inversion, it is a sentence or a poetic expression which reverses or changes the order of words for greater emphasis. The following are examples of anastrophe.
‘Ten thousand saw I at a glance’ instead of “I saw ten thousand at a glance”
‘Forward they go” which is not a normal English structure of SVA. ‘They go forward’
‘And away they go’ instead of ‘and they go away’
‘While your hive they plunder’ instead of ‘while they plunder your hive’.
28)Satire: is a literary technique which principally ridicules its subject which includes individuals, organization or states often as an intended means of provoking or preventing changes.
Satire is any piece of writing that uses devices such as irony. It is a text or performance that uses irony, derision or wit to expose or attack human vice, foolishness or stupidity.
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