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Glossary of Terms

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N

Narration: The telling of a series of events, real or invented. A narration may be either a simple narrative, in which the events are recounted chronologically, or a narrative with a plot, in which the account is given in a style reflecting the author's artistic concept of the story. Narration is sometimes used as a synonym for "storyline."
The recounting of scary stories around a campfire is a form of narration.

Narrative: A Verse or prose accounting of an event or sequence of events, real or invented. The term is also used as an adjective in the sense "method of narration." For example, in literary criticism, the expression "narrative technique" usually refers to the way the author structures and presents his or her story.
Narratives range from the shortest accounts of events, as in Julius Caesar's remark, "I came, I saw, I conquered," to the longest historical or biographical works, as in Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, as well as diaries, travelogues, novels, ballads, epics, short stories, and other fictional forms.

Narrative Poetry: A nondramatic poem in which the author tells a story. Such poems may be of any length or level of complexity.
epics such as Beowulf and ballads are forms of narrative poetry. (Compare with Dramatic Poetry and Lyric Poetry.)

Narrator: The teller of a story. The narrator may be the author or a character in the story through whom the author speaks.
Huckleberry Finn is the narrator of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (See also narration and narrative.)

Naturalism: A literary movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The movement's major theorist, French novelist Emile Zola, envisioned a type of fiction that would examine human life with the objectivity of scientific inquiry. The Naturalists typically viewed human beings as either the products of "biological determinism," ruled by hereditary instincts and engaged in an endless struggle for survival, or as the products of "socioeconomic determinism," ruled by social and economic forces beyond their control. In their works, the Naturalists generally ignored the highest levels of society and focused on degradation: poverty, alcoholism, prostitution, insanity, and disease.
Naturalism influenced authors throughout the world, including Henrik Ibsen and Thomas Hardy. In the United States, in particular, Naturalism had a profound impact. Among the authors who embraced its principles are Theodore Dreiser, Eugene O'Neill, Stephen Crane, Jack London, and Frank Norris.

Negritude: A literary movement based on the concept of a shared cultural bond on the part of black Africans, wherever they may be in the world. It traces its origins to the former French colonies of Africa and the Caribbean. Negritude poets, novelists, and essayists generally stress four points in their writings: One, black alienation from traditional African culture can lead to feelings of inferiority. Two, European colonialism and Western education should be resisted. Three, black Africans should seek to affirm and define their own identity. Four, African culture can and should be reclaimed. Many Negritude writers also claim that blacks can make unique contributions to the world, based on a heightened appreciation of nature, rhythm, and human emotions — aspects of life they say are not so highly valued in the materialistic and rationalistic West.
Examples of Negritude literature include the Poetry of both Senegalese Leopold Senghor in Hosties noires and Martiniquais Aime-Fernand Cesaire in Return to My Native Land.

Negro Renaissance: See Harlem Renaissance

Neoclassical Period: See Neoclassicism

Neoclassicism: (Also known as Age of Reason.) In literary criticism, this term refers to the revival of the attitudes and styles of expression of classical literature. It is generally used to describe a period in European history beginning in the late seventeenth century and lasting until about 1800. In its purest form, Neoclassicism marked a return to order, proportion, restraint, logic, accuracy, and decorum. In England, where Neoclassicism perhaps was most popular, it reflected the influence of seventeenth-century French writers, especially dramatists. Neoclassical writers typically reacted against the intensity and enthusiasm of the Renaissance period. They wrote works that appealed to the intellect, using elevated language and classical literary forms such as satire and the ode. Neoclassical works were often governed by the classical goal of instruction.
English neoclassicists included Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, Sir Richard Steele, John Gay, and Matthew Prior; French neoclassicists included Pierre Corneille and Jean-Baptiste Moliere. (Compare with Age of Johnson, classicism, Enlightenment, Renaissance, Restoration Age, and romanticism.)

Neoclassicists: See Neoclassicism

New Criticism: A movement in literary criticism, dating from the late 1920s, that stressed close textual analysis in the interpretation of works of literature. The New Critics saw little merit in historical and biographical analysis. Rather, they aimed to examine the text alone, free from the question of how external events — biographical or otherwise — may have helped shape it.
This predominantly American school was named "New Criticism" by one of its practitioners, John Crowe Ransom. Other important New Critics included Allen Tate, R. P. Blackmur, Robert Penn Warren, and Cleanth Brooks.

New Journalism: A type of writing in which the journalist presents factual information in a form usually used in fiction. New journalism emphasizes description, narration, and character development to bring readers closer to the human element of the story, and is often used in personality profiles and in-depth feature articles. It is not compatible with "straight" or "hard" newswriting, which is generally composed in a brief, fact-based style.
Hunter S. Thompson, Gay Talese, Thomas Wolfe, Joan Didion, and John McPhee are well-known New Journalists. (See also Journalism.)

New Negro Movement: See Harlem Renaissance

Noble Savage: The idea that primitive man is noble and good but becomes evil and corrupted as he becomes civilized. The concept of the noble savage originated in the Renaissance period but is more closely identified with such later writers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Aphra Behn.
First described in John Dryden's play The Conquest of Granada, the noble savage is portrayed by the various Native Americans in James Fenimore Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales," by Queequeg, Daggoo, and Tashtego in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, and by John the Savage in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Novel: A long fictional narrative written in prose, which developed from the novella and other early forms of narrative. A novel is usually organized under a plot or theme with a focus on character development and action.
The novel emerged as a fully evolved literary form in the mid-eighteenth century in Samuel Richardson's Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded.

Novella: An Italian term meaning "story." This term has been especially used to describe fourteenth-century Italian tales, but it also refers to modern short novels.
The tales comprising Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron are examples of the novella. Modern novellas include Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilich, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and Henry James's "The Aspern Papers."

Novel of Ideas: A novel in which the examination of intellectual issues and concepts takes precedence over characterization or a traditional storyline.
Examples of novels of ideas include Aldous Huxley's Crome Yellow, Point Counter Point, and After Many a Summer.

Novel of Manners: A novel that examines the customs and mores of a cultural group.
The novels of Jane Austen and Edith Wharton are widely considered novels of manners. (Compare with Comedy of Manners.)

O

Objective Correlative: An outward set of objects, a situation, or a chain of events corresponding to an inward experience and evoking this experience in the reader. The term frequently appears in modern criticism in discussions of authors' intended effects on the emotional responses of readers.
This term was originally used by T. S. Eliot in his 1919 essay "Hamlet."

Objectivity: A quality in writing characterized by the absence of the author's opinion or feeling about the subject matter. Objectivity is an important factor in criticism.
The novels of Henry James and, to a certain extent, the poems of John Larkin demonstrate objectivity, and it is central to John Keats's concept of "negative capability." Critical and journalistic writing usually are or attempt to be objective. (Compare with Subjectivity.) (See also Journalism.)

Occasional Verse: Poetry written on the occasion of a significant historical or personal event. Vers de societe is sometimes called occasional Verse although it is of a less serious nature.
Famous examples of occasional verse include Andrew Marvell's "Horatian ode upon Cromwell's Return from England," Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" — written upon the death of Abraham Lincoln — and Edmund Spenser's commemoration of his wedding, "Epithalamion." (Compare with Vers de societe.)

Octave: A poem or stanza composed of eight lines. The term octave most often represents the first eight lines of a Petrarchan sonnet.
An example of an octave is taken from a translation of a Petrarchan sonnet by Sir Thomas Wyatt:
The pillar perisht is whereto I leant,
The strongest stay of mine unquiet mind;
The like of it no man again can find,
From East to West Still seeking though he went.
To mind unhap! for hap away hath rent
Of all my joy the very bark and rind;
And I, alas, by chance am thus assigned
Daily to mourn till death do it relent.

Ode: Name given to an extended lyric poem characterized by exalted emotion and dignified style. An ode usually concerns a single, serious theme. Most odes, but not all, are addressed to an object or individual. Odes are distinguished from other lyric poetic forms by their complex rhythmic and stanzaic patterns.
An example of this form is John Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale." (Compare with Lyric Poetry.)

Oedipus Complex: A son's amorous obsession with his mother. The phrase is derived from the story of the ancient Theban hero Oedipus, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother.
Literary occurrences of the Oedipus complex include Andre Gide's Oedipe and Jean Cocteau's La Machine infernale, as well as the most famous, Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. (Compare with Electra Complex.)

Omniscience: See Point of View

Onomatopoeia: The use of words whose sounds express or suggest their meaning. In its simplest sense, onomatopoeia may be represented by words that mimic the sounds they denote such as "hiss" or "meow." At a more subtle level, the pattern and rhythm of sounds and rhymes of a line or poem may be onomatopoeic.
A celebrated example of onomatopoeia is the repetition of the word "bells" in Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Bells."

Opera: A type of stage performance, usually a drama, in which the dialogue is sung.
Classic examples of opera include Giuseppi Verdi's La traviata, Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme, and Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Major twentieth-century contributors to the form include Richard Strauss and Alban Berg.

Operetta: A usually romantic comic opera.
John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, Richard Sheridan's The Duenna, and numerous works by William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan are examples of operettas.

Oral Tradition: See Oral Transmission

Oral Transmission: A process by which songs, ballads, folklore, and other material are transmitted by word of mouth. The tradition of oral transmission predates the written record systems of literate society. Oral transmission preserves material sometimes over generations, although often with variations. Memory plays a large part in the recitation and preservation of orally transmitted material.
Breton lays, French fabliaux, national epics (including the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, the Spanish El Cid, and the Finnish Kalevala), Native American myths and legends, and African folktales told by plantation slaves are examples of orally transmitted literature.

Oration: Formal speaking intended to motivate the listeners to some action or feeling. Such public speaking was much more common before the development of timely printed communication such as newspapers.
Famous examples of oration include Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

Ottava Rima: An eight-line stanza of Poetry composed in iambic pentameter (a five-Foot line in which each foot consists of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable), following the abababcc rhyme scheme.
This form has been prominently used by such important English writers as Lord Byron, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and W. B. Yeats.

Oxymoron: A phrase combining two contradictory terms. Oxymorons may be intentional or unintentional.
The following speech from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet uses several oxymorons:
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O anything, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.

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