Most Common Literary Devices Used by JAMB.

. *allegory* – a narrative in which characters, action, and sometimes setting represent abstract concepts or moral qualities (Examples: “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Fall of the House of Usher)

• *alliteration* – the repetition of same or similar consonant sounds in words that are close together (Example: She sells seashells down by the seashore.)

• *allusion* – a seemingly brief reference to something in history, politics, literature, art, or music which the writer expects the reader to understand and relate to the work (Example: “Then Eden sank to grief”)

• *ambiguity* – the purposeful creation of a statement with more than one possible meaning. Authors employ ambiguity when they want to create room for a variety of interpretations. If used well, ambiguity can enrich writing, making it more complex.

• *American Dream* – a uniquely American vision created by a feeling of optimism and unlimited opportunity

• *antagonist* – the character that opposes the hero

• *aphorism* – a proverb or concise statement designed to make a point or illustrate a commonly held belief. (Example: “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”)

• *archetype* – the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype; epitome. Archetypes function as powerful symbols and examples. (Example: Jack the Ripper is an archetype of the serial killer.)

• *atmosphere* – the mood or prevailing feeling created in a literary work

• *ballad* – a simple poem which tells a tragic story, usually created for singing

• *bandwagon* – a faulty argument which claims that since everyone is doing, thinking, or saying something, you should too. (Example: All teenagers engage in underage drinking, so the legal drinking age should be lowered to 13.) Not all teenagers engage in underage drinking. Even if many do, their actions do not make drinking acceptable at a young age.

• *caricature* – exaggeration or distortion of a character’s physical, emotional, and moral characteristics, for the purpose of comic criticism. Many political cartoons rely on caricature.

• *carpe diem* – literally “seize the day” advises the reader to enjoy the present pleasures because of the brevity of life and finality of death

• *character* – an imaginary person in a literary work

A. static character – does not change in the course of the story

B. dynamic character – changes in some important way as a result of the story’s action

C. flat character – have few personality traits; they can be summed up by a single phrase (Example: the noisy neighbor)

D. round character – have more dimension to their personalities; they are complex, just as real people are

• *characterization* – the creation of believable fictitious personalities. Although techniques of characterization are complex, writers typically reveal characters through their speech, dress, manner, and actions.

• *cliché* – an overused phrase which has lost its freshness (Example: “Once and for all” or “Last but not least” or “In this day and age”)

• *colloquial* – informal language of a region, the vernacular. (For example, depending upon where in the United States you live, a large sandwich might be a hero, a sub, or a hoagie.)

comedy – a play in which the complications are designed to amuse or interest the audience without evoking the deep sympathy of tragedy

confidant – (feminine, confidante) a character in a novel or a drama who takes little part in the action but is a close friend of the main character and who receives the confidences and intimate thoughts of the main character

conflict – the struggle between opposing forces in a story, usually resolved by the end of the work
A. internal conflict – involves opposing forces within a person’s mind
B. external conflict – exists between two people, between a person and a force of nature or a machine, or between a person and a whole society

connotation – the implied meaning of a word or phrase; the associations which come to mind when a word is used that go beyond its dictionary meaning. Poets especially tend to use words rich in connotation. (Example: The word house has a different emotional effect on the reader than does the word home, with its connotation of safety, coziness, and security.)

crisis – a significant action which changes inevitably the course of the literary work

denotation – the literal (dictionary) meaning of a word or phrase

dialect – a way of speaking that is characteristic of a certain group or of the inhabitants of a certain geographical area

dialogue – the conversation of characters in a story

diction – the choice or use of words in oral and written discourse. A work’s diction forms one of its centrally important literary elements, as writers use words to convey action, reveal character, imply attitudes, identify themes, and suggest values. The four literary levels:
A. formal (serious and formal books)
B. informal (relaxed and polite conversation of cultivated people)
C. colloquial (everyday, often regional, usage in a group but not necessarily universal. (Example: y’all)
D. slang (newly coined words which are not acceptable in formal usage)

didactic – from the Greek, meaning “good teaching.” Writing or speech is didactic when it has an instructive purpose or lesson. (Example: Some of Aesop’s fables are didactic in that they contain an underlying moral or social message.)

drama – the literary form designed for presentation in a theater by actors representing characters

epilogue – the concluding statement to a composition

euphemism – the use of a mild, delicate, inoffensive, or vague word or expression for one thought to be coarse, unpleasant, offensive, or blunt (Example: saying “passed away” instead of “died”)

fable – a brief story, often including animals as characters, in which a moral is explicitly provided

fiction – an imagined story, whether in prose, poetry, or drama

figurative language – a form of language in which writers and speakers mean something other than the literal meaning of their words

flashback – an interruption of a story’s chronology to describe an incident that occurred prior to the main time frame of the action. Writers use flashback to complicate the sense of chronology in the plot of their works and to convey the richness of the experience of human time.

foil – a character whose traits are the opposite of those of another character and who thus points up the strengths or weaknesses of another character

folk tale – a narrative which has a humorous tone, stereotyped characters, and unbelievable events are ascribed to hearsay (Example: “The Devil and Tom Walker”)


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