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Glossary of Terms

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A

Abstract: Used as a noun, the term refers to a short summary or outline of a longer work. As an adjective applied to writing or literary works, abstract refers to words or phrases that name things not knowable through the five senses.

Examples of abstracts include the Cliffs Notes summaries of major literary works. Examples of abstract terms or concepts include "idea," "guilt" "honesty," and "loyalty." (Compare with Concrete.)

Absurd, Theater of the: See Theater of the Absurd

Absurdism: See Theater of the Absurd

Accent: The emphasis or stress placed on a syllable in poetry. Traditional poetry commonly uses patterns of accented and unaccented syllables (known as feet) that create distinct rhythms. Much modern poetry uses less formal arrangements that create a sense of freedom and spontaneity.

The following line from William Shakespeare's Hamlet:
"To be or not to be: that is the question"
has five accents, on the words "be," "not," "be," and "that," and the first syllable of "question." (See also Cadence, Foot, Measure, Meter, poem, Poetics, Poetry, Scansion, Sprung Rhythm, Verse, and Versification.)

Act: A major section of a play. Acts are divided into varying numbers of shorter scenes. From ancient times to the nineteenth century plays were generally constructed of five acts, but modern works typically consist of one, two, or three acts.

Examples of five-act plays include the works of Sophocles and Shakespeare, while the plays of Arthur Miller commonly have a three-act structure. (Compare with Scene.) (See also drama.)

Acto: A one-act Chicano theater piece developed out of collective improvisation.

Actos were performed by members of Luis Valdez's Teatro Campesino in California during the mid-1960s.

Aestheticism: A literary and artistic movement of the nineteenth century. Followers of the movement believed that art should not be mixed with social, political, or moral teaching. The statement "art for art's sake" is a good summary of aestheticism. The movement had its roots in France, but it gained widespread importance in England in the last half of the nineteenth century, where it helped change the Victorian practice of including moral lessons in literature.

Oscar Wilde is one of the best-known "aesthetes" of the late nineteenth century.
(See also Decadents.)

Affective Fallacy: (Also known as Sympathetic Fallacy.) An error in judging the merits or faults of a work of literature. The "error" results from stressing the importance of the work's effect upon the reader — that is, how it makes a reader "feel" emotionally, what it does as a literary work — instead of stressing its inner qualities as a created object, or what it "is."

The affective fallacy is evident in Aristotle's precept from his Poeticsthat the purpose of tragedy is to evoke "fear and pity" in its spectators.

Age of Johnson: (Also known as Age of Sensibility). The period in English literature between 1750 and 1798, named after the most prominent literary figure of the age, Samuel Johnson. Works written during this time are noted for their emphasis on "sensibility," or emotional quality. These works formed a transition between the rational works of the Age of Reason, or Neoclassical period, and the emphasis on individual feelings and responses of the Romantic period.

Significant writers during the Age of Johnson included the novelists Ann Radcliffe and Henry Mackenzie, dramatists Richard Sheridan and Oliver Goldsmith, and poets William Collins and Thomas Gray. (Compare with Neoclassicismand romanticism.)

Age of Reason: See Neoclassicism

Age of Sensibility: See Age of Johnson

Agrarians: A group of Southern American writers of the 1930s and 1940s who fostered an economic and cultural program for the South based on agriculture, in opposition to the industrial society of the North. The term can refer to any group that promotes the value of farm life and agricultural society.

Members of the original Agrarians included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren.

Alexandrine Meter: See Meter

Allegory: A narrativetechnique in which characters representing things or abstract ideas are used to convey a message or teach a lesson. Allegory is typically used to teach moral, ethical, or religious lessons but is sometimes used for satiric or political purposes.

Examples of allegorical works include Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene and John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.
(See also Exemplumand Fable.)

Alliteration: A poetic device where the first consonant sounds or any vowel sounds in words or syllables are repeated.

The following description of the Green Knight from the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight gives an example of alliteration:

And in guise all of green, the gear and the man:
A coat cut close, that clung to his sides
An a mantle to match, made with a lining
Of furs cut and fitted — the fabric was noble....
(Compare with Assonanceand rhyme.) (See also poem, Poetics, Poetry, Verse, and Versification.)

Allusion: A reference to a familiar literary or historical person or event, used to make an idea more easily understood.

For example, describing someone as a "Romeo" makes an allusion to William Shakespeare's famous young lover in Romeo and Juliet.

Amerind Literature: The writing and oral traditions of Native Americans. Native American literaturewas originally passed on by word of mouth, so it consisted largely of stories and events that were easily memorized. Amerind proseis often rhythmic like Poetry because it was recited to the beat of a ceremonial drum.

Examples of Amerind literature include the autobiographical Black Elk Speaks, the works of N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, and Craig Lee Strete, and the poetry of Luci Tapahonso.

Analogy: A comparison of two things made to explain something unfamiliar through its similarities to something familiar, or to prove one point based on the acceptedness of another. Similes and metaphors are types of analogies.

Analogies often take the formof an extended simile, as in William Blake's aphorism: "As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys." (Compare with Simileand Metaphor.)

Anapest: See Foot

Angry Young Men: A group of British writers of the 1950s whose work expressed bitterness and disillusionment with society. Common to their work is an anti-hero who rebels against a corrupt social order and strives for personal integrity.

The term has been used to describe Kingsley Amis, John Osborne, Colin Wilson, John Wain, and others.

Antagonist: The major characterin a narrativeor dramawho works against the heroor protagonist.

An example of an evil antagonist is Richard Lovelace in Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, while a virtuous antagonist is Macduff in William Shakespeare's Macbeth.(Compare with protagonist.) (See also anti-hero, conflict.)

Anthropomorphism: The presentation of animals or objects in human shape or with human characteristics. The term is derived from the Greek word for "human form."

The Fables of Aesop, the animated films of Walt Disney, and Richard Adams's Watership Downfeature anthropomorphic characters. (Compare with Personification.)

Anti-hero: A central characterin a work of literature who lacks traditional heroic qualities such as courage, physical prowess, and fortitude. Anti-heros typically distrust conventional values and are unable to commit themselves to any ideals. They generally feel helpless in a world over which they have no control. Anti-heroes usually accept, and often celebrate, their positions as social outcasts.

A well-known anti-hero is Yossarian in Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22.(Compare with Antagonist, Hero, and Protagonist.)

Antimasque: See Masque

Anti-novel: A term coined by French critic Jean-Paul Sartre. It refers to any experimental work of fictionthat avoids the familiar conventions of the novel. The anti-novel usually fragments and distorts the experience of its characters, forcing the reader to construct the reality of the story from a disordered narrative.

The best-known anti-novelist is Alain Robbe-Grillet, author of Le voyeur.

Antithesis: The antithesis of something is its direct opposite. In literature, the use of antithesis as a figure of speech results in two statements that show a contrast through the balancing of two opposite ideas. Technically, it is the second portion of the statement that is defined as the "antithesis"; the first portion is the "thesis."

An example of antithesis is found in the following portion of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address"; notice the opposition between the verbs "remember" and "forget" and the phrases "what we say" and "what they did": "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

Apocrypha: Writings tentatively attributed to an author but not proven or universally accepted to be their works. The term was originally applied to certain books of the Bible that were not considered inspired and so were not included in the "sacred canon."

Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Middleton, and John Marston all have apocrypha. Apocryphal books of the Bible include the Old Testament's Book of Enoch and New Testament's Gospel of Thomas.

Apollonian and Dionysian: The two impulses believed to guide authors of dramatic tragedy. The Apollonian impulse is named after Apollo, the Greek god of light and beauty and the symbol of intellectual order. The Dionysian impulse is named after Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and the symbol of the unrestrained forces of nature. The Apollonian impulse is to create a rational, harmonious world, while the Dionysian is to express the irrational forces of personality.

Friedrich Nietzche uses these terms in The Birth of Tragedyto designate contrasting elements in Greek tragedy. (Compare with classicismand romanticism.)

Apostrophe: A statement, question, or request addressed to an inanimate object or concept or to a nonexistent or absent person.

Requests for inspiration from the musesin poetry are examples of apostrophe, as is Marc Antony's address to Caesar's corpse in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:
"O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!...
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!..."
(Compare with Monologueand Soliloquy.)

Apprenticeship Novel: See Bildungsroman

Archetype: The word archetype is commonly used to describe an original pattern or model from which all other things of the same kind are made. This term was introduced to literary criticismfrom the psychology of Carl Jung. It expresses Jung's theory that behind every person's "unconscious," or repressed memories of the past, lies the "collective unconscious" of the human race: memories of the countless typical experiences of our ancestors. These memories are said to prompt illogical associations that trigger powerful emotions in the reader. Often, the emotional process is primitive, even primordial. Archetypes are the literary images that grow out of the "collective unconscious." They appear in literatureas incidents and plots that repeat basic patterns of life. They may also appear as stereotyped characters.

Examples of literary archetypes include themes such as birth and death and characters such as the Earth Mother.

Argument: The argument of a work is the author's subject matter or principal idea.

Examples of defined "argument" portions of works include John Milton's Arguments to each of the books of Paradise Lost and the "Argument" to Robert Herrick's Hesperides.

Aristotelian Criticism: Specifically, the method of evaluating and analyzing tragedy formulated by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in his Poetics.More generally, the term indicates any form of criticismthat follows Aristotle's views. Aristotelian criticism focuses on the form and logical structure of a work, apart from its historical or social context, in contrast to "Platonic Criticism," which stresses the usefulness of art.

Adherents of New Criticism including John Crowe Ransom and Cleanth Brooks utilize and value the basic ideas of Aristotelian criticism for textual analysis. (Compare with Platonic Criticism.) (See also catharsis, New Criticism.)

Art for Art's Sake: See Aestheticism.

Aside: A comment made by a stage performer that is intended to be heard by the audiencebut supposedly not by other characters.

Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude is an extended use of the aside in modern theater.

Assonance: The repetition of similar vowel sounds in Poetry.

The following lines from Gerald Manley Hopkins's "God's Grandeur" contain several patterns of assonance:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
(Compare with Alliteration, Dissonance, and rhyme.)

Audience: The people for whom a piece of literatureis written. Authors usually write with a certain audience in mind, for example, children, members of a religious or ethnic group, or colleagues in a professional field. The term "audience" also applies to the people who gather to see or hear any performance, including plays, Poetry readings, speeches, and concerts.

Jane Austen's parody of the gothic novel, Northanger Abbey, was originally intended for (and also pokes fun at) an audience of young and avid female gothic novel readers.

Autobiography: A connected narrative in which an individual tells his or her life story.

Examples include Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography and Henry Adams's The Education of Henry Adams.(Compare with Biography.) (See also Diaryand Memoirs.)

Automatic Writing: Writing carried out without a preconceived plan in an effort to capture every random thought. Authors who engage in automatic writing typically do not revise their work, preferring instead to preserve the revealed truth and beauty of spontaneous expression.

Automatic writing was employed by many of the Surrealist writers, notably the French poetRobert Desnos. (See also Surrealism.)

Avant-garde: A French term meaning "vanguard." It is used in literary criticismto describe new writing that rejects traditional approaches to literaturein favor of innovations in style or content.

Twentieth-century examples of the literary avant-gardeinclude the Black Mountain Schoolof poets, the Bloomsbury Group, and the Beat Movement.

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