Pantheism: The idea that all things are both a manifestation or revelation of God and a part of God at the same time. Pantheism was a common attitude in the early societies of Egypt, India, and Greece the term derives from the Greek pan meaning "all" and theos meaning "deity." It later became a significant part of the Christian faith.
William Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson are among the many writers who have expressed the pantheistic attitude in their works.
Parable: A story intended to teach a moral lesson or answer an ethical question.
In the West, the best examples of parables are those of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, notably "The Prodigal Son," but parables also are used in Sufism, rabbinic literature, Hasidism, and Zen Buddhism.
Paradox: A statement that appears illogical or contradictory at first, but may actually point to an underlying truth.
"Less is more" is an example of a paradox. Literary examples include Francis Bacon's statement, "The most corrected copies are commonly the least correct," and "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" from George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Parallelism: A method of comparison of two ideas in which each is developed in the same grammatical structure.
Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Civilization" contains this example of parallelism: Raphael paints wisdom; Handel sings it, Phidias carves it, Shakespeare writes it, Wren builds it, Columbus sails it, Luther preaches it, Washington arms it, Watt mechanizes it.
Parnassianism: A mid nineteenth-century movement in French literature. Followers of the movement stressed adherence to well-defined artistic forms as a reaction against the often chaotic expression of the artist's ego that dominated the work of the Romantics. The Parnassians also rejected the moral, ethical, and social themes exhibited in the works of French Romantics such as Victor Hugo. The aesthetic doctrines of the Parnassians strongly influenced the later symbolist and decadent movements.
Members of the Parnassian school include Leconte de Lisle, Sully Prudhomme, Albert Glatigny, Francois Coppee, and Theodore de Banville. (Compare with Decadents, romanticism, and Symbolism.)
Parody: In literary criticism, this term refers to an imitation of a serious literary work or the signature style of a particular author in a ridiculous manner. A typical parody adopts the style of the original and applies it to an inappropriate subject for humorous effect. Parody is a form of satire and could be considered the literary equivalent of a caricature or cartoon.
Henry Fielding's Shamela is a parody of Samuel Richardson's Pamela. (Compare with Burlesque.) (See also satire.)
Pastoral: A term derived from the Latin word "pastor," meaning shepherd. A pastoral is a literary composition on a rural theme. The conventions of the pastoral were originated by the third-century Greek poet Theocritus, who wrote about the experiences, love affairs, and pastimes of Sicilian shepherds. In a pastoral, characters and language of a courtly nature are often placed in a simple setting. The term pastoral is also used to classify dramas, elegies, and lyrics that exhibit the use of country settings and shepherd characters.
Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Adonais" and John Milton's "Lycidas" are two famous examples of pastorals.
Pastorela: The Spanish name for the shepherds play, a folk drama reenacted during the Christmas season.
Examples of pastorelas include Gomez Manrique's Representacion del nacimiento and the dramas of Lucas Fernandez and Juan del Encina.
Pathetic Fallacy: (Also known as Poetic Fallacy.) A term coined by English critic John Ruskin to identify writing that falsely endows nonhuman things with human intentions and feelings, such as "angry clouds" and "sad trees."
The pathetic fallacy is a required convention in the classical poetic form of the pastoral elegy, and it is used in the modern poetry of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and the Imagists. (See also Pastoral and Imagism.)
Pelado: Literally the "skinned one" or shirtless one, he was the stock underdog, sharp-witted picaresque character of Mexican vaudeville and tent shows.
The pelado is found in such works as Don Catarino's Los effectos de la crisis and Regreso a mi tierra.
Pen Name: See Pseudonym
Pentameter: See Meter
Persona: A Latin term meaning "mask." Personae are the characters in a fictional work of literature. The persona generally functions as a mask through which the author tells a story in a voice other than his or her own. A persona is usually either a character in a story who acts as a narrator or an "implied author," a voice created by the author to act as the narrator for himself or herself.
Personae include the narrator of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Marlow in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. (Compare with Raisonneur.)
Personae: See Persona
Personal Point of View: See Point of View
Personification: (Also known as Prosopopoeia.) A figure of speech that gives human qualities to abstract ideas, animals, and inanimate objects.
William Shakespeare used personification in Romeo and Juliet in the lines "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,/ Who is already sick and pale with grief." Here, the moon is portrayed as being envious, sick, and pale with grief all markedly human qualities. (Compare with Anthropomorphism.)
Petrarchan Sonnet: See Sonnet
Phenomenology: A method of literary criticism based on the belief that things have no existence outside of human consciousness or awareness. Proponents of this theory believe that art is a process that takes place in the mind of the observer as he or she contemplates an object rather than a quality of the object itself.
Among phenomenological critics are Edmund Husserl, George Poulet, Marcel Raymond, and Roman Ingarden.
Picaresque Novel: Episodic fiction depicting the adventures of a roguish central character ("picaro" is Spanish for "rogue"). The picaresque hero is commonly a low-born but clever individual who wanders into and out of various affairs of love, danger, and farcical intrigue. These involvements may take place at all social levels and typically present a humorous and wide-ranging satire of a given society.
Prominent examples of the picaresque novel are Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, and Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe.
Plagiarism: Claiming another person's written material as one's own. Plagiarism can take the form of direct, word-for-word copying or the theft of the substance or idea of the work.
A student who copies an encyclopedia entry and turns it in as a report for school is guilty of plagiarism.
Platonic Criticism: A form of criticism that stresses an artistic work's usefulness as an agent of social engineering rather than any quality or value of the work itself.
Platonic criticism takes as its starting point the ancient Greek philosopher Plato's comments on art in his Republic. (Compare with Aristotelian Criticism.)
Platonism: The embracing of the doctrines of the philosopher Plato, popular among the poets of the Renaissance and the Romantic period. Platonism is more flexible than Aristotelian Criticism and places more emphasis on the supernatural and unknown aspects of life.
Platonism is expressed in the love Poetry of the Renaissance, the fourth book of Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier, and the poetry of William Blake, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Friedrich Holderlin, William Butler Yeats, and Wallace Stevens.
Plot: In literary criticism, this term refers to the pattern of events in a narrative or drama. In its simplest sense, the plot guides the author in composing the work and helps the reader follow the work. Typically, plots exhibit causality and unity and have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes, however, a plot may consist of a series of disconnected events, in which case it is known as an "episodic plot."
In his Aspects of the Novel, E. M. Forster distinguishes between a story, defined as a "narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence," and plot, which organizes the events to a "sense of causality." This definition closely mirrors Aristotle's discussion of plot in his Poetics.
Poem: In its broadest sense, a composition utilizing rhyme, meter, concrete detail, and expressive language to create a literary experience with emotional and aesthetic appeal.
Typical poems include sonnets, odes, elegies, haiku, ballads, and free verse.
Poet: An author who writes Poetry or Verse. The term is also used to refer to an artist or writer who has an exceptional gift for expression, imagination, and energy in the making of art in any form.
Well-known poets include Horace, Basho, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Edmund Spenser, John Donne, Andrew Marvell, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, George Gordon, Lord Byron, John Keats, Christina Rossetti, W. H. Auden, Stevie Smith, and Sylvia Plath.
Poete maudit: A term derived from Paul Verlaine's Les poetes maudits (The Accursed Poets), a collection of essays on the French symbolist writers Stephane Mallarme, Arthur Rimbaud, and Tristan Corbiere. In the sense intended by Verlaine, the poet is "accursed" for choosing to explore extremes of human experience outside of middle-class society.
The poete maudit is described in Charles Baudelaire's poem "Benediction," from which Verlaine may have taken his title. (Compare with Symbolism.)
Poetic Fallacy: See Pathetic Fallacy
Poetic Justice: An outcome in a literary work, not necessarily a poem, in which the good are rewarded and the evil are punished, especially in ways that particularly fit their virtues or crimes.
For example, a murderer may himself be murdered, or a thief will find himself penniless. (See also Deus ex machina.)
Poetic License: Distortions of fact and literary convention made by a writer not always a poet for the sake of the effect gained. Poetic license is closely related to the concept of "artistic freedom."
An author exercises poetic license by saying that a pile of money "reaches as high as a mountain" when the pile is actually only a foot or two high.
Poetics: This term has two closely related meanings. It denotes (1) an aesthetic theory in literary criticism about the essence of Poetry or (2) rules prescribing the proper methods, content, style, or diction of poetry. The term poetics may also refer to theories about literature in general, not just poetry.
Poetry: In its broadest sense, writing that aims to present ideas and evoke an emotional experience in the reader through the use of meter, imagery, connotative and concrete words, and a carefully constructed structure based on rhythmic patterns. Poetry typically relies on words and expressions that have several layers of meaning. It also makes use of the effects of regular rhythm on the ear and may make a strong appeal to the senses through the use of imagery.
Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee" and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass are famous examples of poetry. (Compare with Prose.) (See also Dramatic Poetry, Lyric Poetry, and Narrative Poetry.)
Point of View: The narrative perspective from which a literary work is presented to the reader. There are four traditional points of view. The "third person omniscient" gives the reader a "godlike" perspective, unrestricted by time or place, from which to see actions and look into the minds of characters. This allows the author to comment openly on characters and events in the work. The "third person" point of view presents the events of the story from outside of any single character's perception, much like the omniscient point of view, but the reader must understand the action as it takes place and without any special insight into characters' minds or motivations. The "first person" or "personal" point of view relates events as they are perceived by a single character. The main character "tells" the story and may offer opinions about the action and characters which differ from those of the author. Much less common than omniscient, third person, and first person is the "second person" point of view, wherein the author tells the story as if it is happening to the reader.
James Thurber employs the omniscient point of view in his short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is a short story told from the third person point of view. Mark Twain's novel Huck Finn is presented from the first person viewpoint. Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City is an example of a novel which uses the second person point of view. (See also character, narrative, novel, and Short Story.)
Polemic: A work in which the author takes a stand on a controversial subject, such as abortion or religion. Such works are often extremely argumentative or provocative.
Classic examples of polemics include John Milton's Aeropagitica and Thomas Paine's The American Crisis.
Pornography: Writing intended to provoke feelings of lust in the reader. Such works are often condemned by critics and teachers, but those which can be shown to have literary value are viewed less harshly.
Literary works that have been described as pornographic include Ovid's The Art of Love, Margaret of Angouleme's Heptameron, John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure; or, the Life of Fanny Hill, the anonymous My Secret Life, D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.
Post-Aesthetic Movement: An artistic response made by African Americans to the black aesthetic movement of the 1960s and early '70s. Writers since that time have adopted a somewhat different tone in their work, with less emphasis placed on the disparity between black and white in the United States. In the words of post-aesthetic authors such as Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, and Kristin Hunter, African Americans are portrayed as looking inward for answers to their own questions, rather than always looking to the outside world.
Two well-known examples of works produced as part of the post-aesthetic movement are the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Beloved by Toni Morrison.
Postmodernism: Writing from the 1960s forward characterized by experimentation and continuing to apply some of the fundamentals of modernism, which included existentialism and alienation. Postmodernists have gone a step further in the rejection of tradition begun with the modernists by also rejecting traditional forms, preferring the anti-novel over the novel and the anti-hero over the hero.
Postmodern writers include Alain Robbe-Grillet, Thomas Pynchon, Margaret Drabble, John Fowles, Adolfo Bioy-Casares, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Pre-Raphaelites: A circle of writers and artists in mid nineteenth-century England. Valuing the pre-Renaissance artistic qualities of religious symbolism, lavish pictorialism, and natural sensuousness, the Pre-Raphaelites cultivated a sense of mystery and melancholy that influenced later writers associated with the Symbolist and Decadent movements.
The major members of the group include Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne, and Walter Pater. (Compare with Decadents and Symbolism.)
Primitivism: The belief that primitive peoples were nobler and less flawed than civilized peoples because they had not been subjected to the tainting influence of society.
Examples of literature espousing primitivism include Aphra Behn's Oroonoko: Or, The History of the Royal Slave, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Julie ou la Nouvelle Heloise, Oliver Goldsmith's The Deserted Village, the poems of Robert Burns, Herman Melville's stories Typee, Omoo, and Mardi, many poems of William Butler Yeats and Robert Frost, and William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies. (Compare with Noble Savage.)
Projective Verse: (Also known as Breath Verse.) A form of free Verse in which the poet's breathing pattern determines the lines of the poem. Poets who advocate projective verse are against all formal structures in writing, including Meter and form.
Besides its creators, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, and Charles Olson, two other well-known projective verse poets are Denise Levertov and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka).
Prologue: An introductory section of a literary work. It often contains information establishing the situation of the characters or presents information about the setting, time period, or action. In drama, the prologue is spoken by a Chorus or by one of the principal characters.
In the "General Prologue" of The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer describes the main characters and establishes the setting and purpose of the work. (Compare with Epilogue.)
Prose: A literary medium that attempts to mirror the language of everyday speech. It is distinguished from poetry by its use of unmetered, unrhymed language consisting of logically related sentences. Prose is usually grouped into paragraphs that form a cohesive whole such as an essay or a novel.
Recognized masters of English prose writing include Sir Thomas Malory, William Caxton, Raphael Holinshed, Joseph Addison, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway.
Prosopopoeia: See Personification
Protagonist: The central character of a story who serves as a focus for its themes and incidents and as the principal rationale for its development. The protagonist is sometimes referred to in discussions of modern literature as the hero or anti-hero.
Well-known protagonists are Hamlet in William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. (Compare with Antagonist.) (See also conflict.)
Protest Fiction: Protest fiction has as its primary purpose the protesting of some social injustice, such as racism or discrimination.
One example of protest fiction is a series of five novels by Chester Himes, beginning in 1945 with If He Hollers Let Him Go and ending in 1955 with The Primitive. These works depict the destructive effects of race and gender stereotyping in the context of interracial relationships. Another African American author whose works often revolve around themes of social protest is John Oliver Killens. James Baldwin's essay "Everybody's Protest Novel" generated controversy by attacking the authors of protest fiction.
Proverb: A brief, sage saying that expresses a truth about life in a striking manner.
"They are not all cooks who carry long knives" is an example of a proverb.
Pseudonym: A name assumed by a writer, most often intended to prevent his or her identification as the author of a work. Two or more authors may work together under one pseudonym, or an author may use a different name for each genre he or she publishes in. Some publishing companies maintain "house pseudonyms," under which any number of authors may write installations in a series. Some authors also choose a pseudonym over their real names the way an actor may use a stage name.
Examples of pseudonyms (with the author's real name in parentheses) include Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet), Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), Currer Bell (Charlotte Bronte), Ellis Bell (Emily Bronte), George Eliot (Maryann Evans), Honorio Bustos Donmecq (Adolfo Bioy-Casares and Jorge Luis Borges), and Richard Bachman (Stephen King).
Pun: A play on words that have similar sounds but different meanings.
A serious example of the pun is from John Donne's "A Hymne to God the Father":
Sweare by thyself, that at my death thy sonne
Shall shine as he shines now, and hereto fore;
And, having done that, Thou haste done;
I fear no more.
Pure Poetry: Poetry written without instructional intent or moral purpose that aims only to please a reader by its imagery or musical flow. The term pure poetry is used as the antonym of the term "didacticism."
The poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, Stephane Mallarme, Paul Verlaine, Paul Valery, Juan Ramoz Jimenez, and Jorge Guillen offer examples of pure poetry.