Satire: A work that uses ridicule, humor, and wit to criticize and provoke change in human nature and institutions. There are two major types of satire: "formal" or "direct" satire speaks directly to the reader or to a character in the work; "indirect" satire relies upon the ridiculous behavior of its characters to make its point. Formal satire is further divided into two manners: the "Horatian," which ridicules gently, and the "Juvenalian," which derides its subjects harshly and bitterly.
Voltaire's novella Candide is an indirect satire. Jonathan Swift's essay "A Modest Proposal" is a Juvenalian satire.
Scansion: The analysis or "scanning" of a poem to determine its Meter and often its rhyme scheme. The most common system of scansion uses accents (slanted lines drawn above syllables) to show stressed syllables, breves (curved lines drawn above syllables) to show unstressed syllables, and vertical lines to separate each Foot.
In the first line of John Keats's Endymion,
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever:"
the word "thing," the first syllable of "beauty," the word "joy," and the second syllable of "forever" are stressed, while the words "A" and "of," the second syllable of "beauty," the word "a," and the first and third syllables of "forever" are unstressed. In the second line:
"Its loveliness increases; it will never"
a pair of vertical lines separate the foot ending with "increases" and the one beginning with "it."
Scene: A subdivision of an Act of a drama, consisting of continuous action taking place at a single time and in a single location. The beginnings and endings of scenes may be indicated by clearing the stage of actors and props or by the entrances and exits of important characters.
The first act of William Shakespeare's Winter's Tale is comprised of two scenes.
Science Fiction: A type of narrative about or based upon real or imagined scientific theories and technology. Science fiction is often peopled with alien creatures and set on other planets or in different dimensions.
Karel Capek's R.U.R. is a major work of science fiction. (Compare with Fantasy.)
Second Person: See Point of View
Semiotics: The study of how literary forms and conventions affect the meaning of language.
Semioticians include Ferdinand de Saussure, Charles Sanders Pierce, Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva. (Compare with Structuralism.) (See also criticism.)
Sestet: Any six-line poem or stanza.
Examples of the sestet include the last six lines of the Petrarchan sonnet form, the stanza form of Robert Burns's "A Poet's Welcome to his love-begotten Daughter," and the sestina form in W. H. Auden's "Paysage Moralise."
Setting: The time, place, and culture in which the action of a narrative takes place. The elements of setting may include geographic location, characters' physical and mental environments, prevailing cultural attitudes, or the historical time in which the action takes place.
Examples of settings include the romanticized Scotland in Sir Walter Scott's "Waverley" novels, the French provincial setting in Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, the fictional Wessex country of Thomas Hardy's novels, and the small towns of southern Ontario in Alice Munro's short stories.
Shakespearean Sonnet: See Sonnet
Short Story: A fictional prose narrative shorter and more focused than a novella. The short story usually deals with a single episode and often a single
character. The "tone," the author's attitude toward his or her subject and audience, is uniform throughout. The short story frequently also lacks denouement, ending instead at its
Well-known short stories include Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants," Katherine Mansfield's "The Fly," Jorge Luis Borge's "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," Eudora Welty's "Death of a Travelling Salesman," Yukio Mishima's "Three Million Men," and Milan Kundera's "The Hitchhiking Game." (Compare with novel and novella.)
Signifying Monkey: A popular trickster figure in black folklore, with hundreds of tales about this character documented since the 19th century.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. examines the history of the signifying monkey in The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism, published in 1988. (See also Trickster.)
Simile: A comparison, usually using "like" or "as", of two essentially dissimilar things, as in "coffee as cold as ice" or "He sounded like a broken record."
The title of Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" contains a simile. (Compare with Metaphor.)
Slang: A type of informal verbal communication that is generally unacceptable for formal writing. Slang words and phrases are often colorful exaggerations used to emphasize the speaker's point; they may also be shortened versions of an often-used word or phrase.
Examples of American slang from the 1990s include "yuppie" (an acronym for Young Urban Professional), "awesome" (for "excellent"), wired (for "nervous" or "excited"), and "chill out" (for relax). (See also Colloquialism.)
Slant Rhyme: See Consonance
Slave Narrative: Autobiographical accounts of American slave life as told by escaped slaves. These works first appeared during the abolition movement of the 1830s through the 1850s.
Olaudah Equiano's The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African and Harriet Ann Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl are examples of the slave narrative.
Social Realism: See Socialist Realism
Socialist Realism: (Also known as Social Realism.) The Socialist Realism school of literary theory was proposed by Maxim Gorky and established as a dogma by the first Soviet Congress of Writers. It demanded adherence to a communist worldview in works of literature. Its doctrines required an objective viewpoint comprehensible to the working classes and themes of social struggle featuring strong proletarian heroes.
A successful work of socialist realism is Nikolay Ostrovsky's Kak zakalyalas stal (How the Steel Was Tempered).
Soliloquy: A monologue in a drama used to give the audience information and to develop the speaker's character. It is typically a projection of the speaker's innermost thoughts. Usually delivered while the speaker is alone on stage, a soliloquy is intended to present an illusion of unspoken reflection.
A celebrated soliloquy is Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. (Compare with Monologue.)
Sonnet: A fourteen-line poem, usually composed in iambic pentameter, employing one of several rhyme schemes. There are three major types of sonnets, upon which all other variations of the form are based: the "Petrarchan" or "Italian" sonnet, the "Shakespearean" or "English" sonnet, and the "Spenserian" sonnet. A Petrarchan sonnet consists of an octave rhymed abbaabba and a "sestet" rhymed either cdecde, cdccdc, or cdedce. The octave poses a question or problem, relates a narrative, or puts forth a proposition; the sestet presents a solution to the problem, comments upon the narrative, or applies the proposition put forth in the octave. The Shakespearean sonnet is divided into three quatrains and a couplet rhymed abab cdcd efef gg. The couplet provides an epigrammatic comment on the narrative or problem put forth in the quatrains. The Spenserian sonnet uses three quatrains and a couplet like the Shakespearean, but links their three rhyme schemes in this way: abab bcbc cdcd ee. The Spenserian sonnet develops its theme in two parts like the Petrarchan, its final six lines resolving a problem, analyzing a narrative, or applying a proposition put forth in its first eight lines.
Examples of sonnets can be found in Petrarch's Canzoniere, Edmund Spenser's Amoretti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese, Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, and Adrienne Rich's poem "The Insusceptibles."
Spenserian Sonnet: See Sonnet
Spenserian Stanza: A nine-line stanza having eight Verses in iambic pentameter, its ninth verse in iambic hexameter, and the rhyme scheme ababbcbcc.
This stanza form was first used by Edmund Spenser in his allegorical poem The Faerie Queene.
Spondee: In Poetry Meter, a Foot consisting of two long or stressed syllables occurring together. This form is quite rare in English Verse, and is usually composed of two monosyllabic words.
The first foot in the following line from Robert Burns's "Green Grow the Rashes" is an example of a spondee: Green grow the rashes, O
Sprung Rhythm: Versification using a specific number of accented syllables per line but disregarding the number of unaccented syllables that fall in each line, producing an irregular rhythm in the poem.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, who coined the term "sprung rhythm," is the most notable practitioner of this technique. (See also Accent, Rhythm, and Versification.)
Stanza: A subdivision of a poem consisting of lines grouped together, often in recurring patterns of rhyme, line length, and Meter. Stanzas may also serve as units of thought in a poem much like paragraphs in prose.
Examples of stanza forms include the quatrain, terza rima, ottava rima, Spenserian, and the so-called In Memoriam stanza from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem by that title. The following is an example of the latter form: Love is and was my lord and king, And in his presence I attend To hear the tidings of my friend, Which every hour his couriers bring.
Stereotype: A stereotype was originally the name for a duplication made during the printing process; this led to its modern definition as a person or thing that is (or is assumed to be) the same as all others of its type.
Common stereotypical characters include the absent-minded professor, the nagging wife, the troublemaking teenager, and the kindhearted grandmother.
Stream of Consciousness: A narrative technique for rendering the inward experience of a character. This technique is designed to give the impression of an ever-changing series of thoughts, emotions, images, and memories in the spontaneous and seemingly illogical order that they occur in life.
The textbook example of stream of consciousness is the last section of James Joyce's Ulysses.
Structuralism: A twentieth-century movement in literary criticism that examines how literary texts arrive at their meanings, rather than the meanings themselves. There are two major types of structuralist analysis: one examines the way patterns of linguistic structures unify a specific text and emphasize certain elements of that text, and the other interprets the way literary forms and conventions affect the meaning of language itself.
Prominent structuralists include Michel Foucault, Roman Jakobson, and Roland Barthes. (Compare with Semiotics.)
Structure: The form taken by a piece of literature. The structure may be made obvious for ease of understanding, as in nonfiction works, or may obscured for artistic purposes, as in some Poetry or seemingly "unstructured" prose.
Examples of common literary structures include the plot of a narrative, the acts and scenes of a drama, and such poetic forms as the Shakespearean sonnet and the Pindaric ode.
Sturm und Drang: A German term meaning "storm and stress." It refers to a German literary movement of the 1770s and 1780s that reacted against the order and rationalism of the enlightenment, focusing instead on the intense experience of extraordinary individuals.
Highly romantic, works of this movement, such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Gotz von Berlichingen, are typified by realism, rebelliousness, and intense emotionalism. (Compare with Enlightenment, The.)
Style: A writer's distinctive manner of arranging words to suit his or her ideas and purpose in writing. The unique imprint of the author's personality upon his or her writing, style is the product of an author's way of arranging ideas and his or her use of diction, different sentence structures, rhythm, figures of speech, rhetorical principles, and other elements of composition.
Styles may be classified according to period (Metaphysical, Augustan, Georgian), individual authors (Chaucerian, Miltonic, Jamesian), level (grand, middle, low, plain), or language (scientific, expository, poetic, journalistic).
Subject: The person, event, or theme at the center of a work of literature. A work may have one or more subjects of each type, with shorter works tending to have fewer and longer works tending to have more.
The subjects of James Baldwin's novel Go Tell It on the Mountain include the themes of father-son relationships, religious conversion, black life, and sexuality. The subjects of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl include Anne and her family members as well as World War II, the Holocaust, and the themes of war, isolation, injustice, and racism.
Subjectivity: Writing that expresses the author's personal feelings about his subject, and which may or may not include factual information about the subject.
Subjectivity is demonstrated in James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh, and Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. (Compare with Objectivity.)
Subplot: A secondary story in a narrative. A subplot may serve as a motivating or complicating force for the main
plot of the work, or it may provide emphasis for, or relief from, the main plot.
The conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is an example of a subplot. (Compare with plot.) (See also narrative.)
Surrealism: A term introduced to criticism by Guillaume Apollinaire and later adopted by Andre Breton. It refers to a French literary and artistic movement founded in the 1920s. The Surrealists sought to express unconscious thoughts and feelings in their works. The best-known technique used for achieving this aim was Automatic Writing transcriptions of spontaneous outpourings from the unconscious. The Surrealists proposed to unify the contrary levels of conscious and unconscious, dream and reality, objectivity and subjectivity into a new level of "super-realism."
Surrealism can be found in the poetry of Paul Eluard, Pierre Reverdy, and Louis Aragon, among others.
Suspense: A literary device in which the author maintains the audience's attention through the buildup of events, the outcome of which will soon be revealed.
Suspense in William Shakespeare's Hamlet is sustained throughout by the question of whether or not the Prince will achieve what he has been instructed to do and of what he intends to do.
Syllogism: A method of presenting a logical argument. In its most basic form, the syllogism consists of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.
An example of a syllogism is:
Major premise: When it snows, the streets get wet.
Minor premise: It is snowing.
Conclusion: The streets are wet.
Symbol: Something that suggests or stands for something else without losing its original identity. In literature, symbols combine their literal meaning with the suggestion of an abstract concept. Literary symbols are of two types: those that carry complex associations of meaning no matter what their contexts, and those that derive their suggestive meaning from their functions in specific literary works.
Examples of symbols are sunshine suggesting happiness, rain suggesting sorrow, and storm clouds suggesting despair. (Compare with Archetype and Symbolism.)
Symbolism: This term has two widely accepted meanings. In historical criticism, it denotes an early modernist literary movement initiated in France during the nineteenth century that reacted against the prevailing standards of realism. Writers in this movement aimed to evoke, indirectly and symbolically, an order of being beyond the material world of the five senses. Poetic expression of personal emotion figured strongly in the movement, typically by means of a private set of symbols uniquely identifiable with the individual poet. The principal aim of the Symbolists was to express in words the highly complex feelings that grew out of everyday contact with the world. In a broader sense, the term "symbolism" refers to the use of one object to represent another.
Early members of the Symbolist movement included the French authors Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud; William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and T. S. Eliot were influenced as the movement moved to Ireland, England, and the United States. Examples of the concept of symbolism include a flag that stands for a nation or movement, or an empty cupboard used to suggest hopelessness, poverty, and despair. (Compare with Realism and Symbol.) (See also Modernism.)
Symbolist: See Symbolism
Symbolist Movement: See Symbolism
Sympathetic Fallacy: See Affective Fallacy